Chapter I: Safer At Home
In a two bedroom apartment in Burbank there lived a human…
A human who had spent the better part of five months as an unkempt recluse. The months of gaining weight from bloated Instacart orders were followed by months of losing it through intense twenty-mile excursions on my stationary bike. I let my hair grow out for the first time in a decade, but at the 100-day mark I could no longer endure it… so out came the buzzer. For some unknowable reason I kept the ragged and untamed beard. I suppose it’s a marker of the madness that 2020 has wrought. Maybe I’ll shave it after Election Day. Maybe when a vaccine is ready. Or maybe I’m destined to look like a backwater lunatic for the rest of my days. After having ditched cigarettes in 2018, I finally kicked vaping and nicotine all together at the start of the pandemic. So there’s that. But this human, in his suburban apartment, found himself at the five month mark of the global pandemic feeling disjointed, misaligned, and generally off in every way imaginable.
I spent the beginning of the pandemic working on my first television gig thanks to my dear friend Bert. Our writers’ room abruptly closed up the office in mid-March, sending us home to continue script work. I took it in stride. After years of toiling, the door was finally cracked open. I had my WGA card and in short order would have a real honest to goodness TV credit. I’d even get to produce my episode when it filmed in mid-June. With any luck, the show would be a success and we’d be back to work on season two by the end of the year. That was the plan anyhow. But like the plans of millions upon millions of people around the world, they were shredded and tossed to the unforgiving winds of Covid.
I struggled without the ability to host Game Nights and Hunts and other ridiculous events from my game-addled mind. I tried to do a weekly online puzzle, but it wasn’t the same. I’d occasionally venture out from the safety of my little apartment for a drive around Burbank. On a feisty day I might even meander all the way to Sherman Oaks. But even those drives felt like visitations at a prison behind plexiglass. Each week another long-standing plan would crumble. I tried to drown out the nerves with all manner of media. From Tiger King to Baghdad Central to Picard to Dear White People and on and on. Giant chunks of days were spent down the binging rabbit hole. And when my mind was too scattered for a serialized show, I’d just blankly watch hours of Beat Bobby Flay or Impractical Jokers.
When my work on the first season of the show wrapped, I began the scramble to assemble new writing samples. I dug in and put together an hour-long pilot that I was mostly happy with. As happy as I am with anything I write. After some helpful notes from trusted friends, I did another pass. By then my brain was running low on juice. My fingers ached. My eyes were a bit blurry.
I get it, poor me. I remained gainfully employed and free of the deadly virus. What was I complaining about? My on-demand groceries? My dependable health insurance? The whole thing made (and still makes) me feel like an entitled fraud. But the psychological toll of so much time spent in my little box with no yard or trees or open spaces began to weigh on me. Eventually my slowing devolving brain matter hit a breaking point. I needed to escape.
Back in 2019 I had started an ambitious stockpile of camping and road trip supplies. The layoff and severance I was anticipating at the close of the Fox / Disney merger would give me ample time to take a breather after a soul-crushing few years. Two months on the road with no real plan. Wake up in the morning, check the paper atlas, and point to a new spot on the map. That was the dream. However, the deal closed but those layoffs weren’t immediate. Weeks became months. I resigned myself to the fact that my epic road trip would not be happening in 2019. A buddy of mine was kind enough to let me store my heaps of camping gear in his garage in Woodland Hills.
But then the shutdown hit and furloughs began flying. I got a call from my pal informing me that he and his wife were giving up the house in Woodland Hills and heading to Iowa. I swung through and crammed everything into my Mazda. That’s where it sat for the better part of three months. I took a look at my old wish list and started ordering the odd outstanding item. Retail therapy, I suppose. Soon I’d assembled it all and, in my truly nerdy organizational fashion, I labeled and cataloged the shit out of every single item. But there it sat… in my Mazda.
Chapter II: The Decision
One fine, scorching day in early August, I made a snap decision. I needed to get out of LA. I needed to see my family. I needed to get on the road. No airplanes for this Covid-phobic dude. I hit up Instacart for some Chex Mix, sandwich supplies, and Diet Mountain Dew and readied myself for a quick jaunt across this wide and wonderful country. Alicia recently got a full set of new tires and an oil change, so she was ready to go. To be clear, my Mazda CX-5 earned her moniker because the first song to play on the radio when I bought her was “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys.
She and I departed during an epic heat wave. I spent the first day traversing the Mojave where temperatures screamed from 105 to 120. The air conditioning did what it could, but the rays of the sun cut deep like fire. And I didn’t dare crack a window. Not unless I wanted the force of fifty hairdryers bearing down upon me all at once. It was still a miserable 95 degrees as I set up camp outside of Flagstaff. I cursed the heat as I tossed and turned in the struggle to find sleep.
At 2am that night, I woke up shivering in a cocoon made of a single cotton blanket. That’s the desert for ya. 47 degrees. There was a thicker wool-lined blanket tucked UNDERNEATH my sleeping pad, but I was too cold to roll over to pull it free. I tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep. Screw it. I made the move for the other blanket… and it made all the difference in the world. As the warmth slowly returned, my mind drifted to the state of my face. I’d never suffered under the weight of facial hair like that before. And in that moment it was twisted and matted with sweat and mayo droppings. And it was only night one. I started to worry about my cleanliness in the coming days considering my personal hygiene for the trip would distill down to two words… Wet Ones.
The next day I made a detour up to the Southern Entrance of the Grand Canyon. It had been several years since I saw the old crack, so I figured it was worth a peak. I cruised by the steakhouse where my brother Jason and I went for my 22nd birthday fifteen years ago. We camped right by the rim of the canyon that night and listened to Sinatra. That was a great birthday. I snap the requisite pics along the south rim and slide precariously to the edge of an overhang to scoop up some sand before getting back on the road.
I roamed into New Mexico with my sights set on the mountains near Santa Fe. But first I popped in on Walter White’s stomping grounds in Albuquerque and took in a few noteworthy locales. I remember hearing stories about fans throwing pizzas onto the roof of the house that was used for the show. Stupid people. The current owners have taken care of that problem by putting up a big, angry-looking fence. Good for them.
Suddenly the skies decided to get all impressionist on me. Big swirling, sweeping clouds filled the foreground. Fat raindrops began slapping down on the windshield. I took that as my cue to depart The Duke City and head for the mountains. I watched the graffiti zip past as I followed the bones of historic route 66 to a spot north of Santa Fe. The rain let up, but the winds were howling from the moment I hammered in the first stake at my campsite. They wouldn’t relent for most of the night.
The next day I cut north. I clipped the southeastern corner of Colorado on county roads that wound through the Comanche National Grasslands. Long, straight stretches of pavement were lined with… well, grasslands. I tried to find a radio station with enough juice and landed on 96.9. NON-STOP CHRISTMAS HITS! So I sang along to some holiday favorites as I gazed out at the stream of abandoned structures that seem plucked straight from an old Western. Before I knew it, I was in Kansas and it was a little less dry, but still flat and empty. I lost the Christmas station, but suddenly was greeted by a news radio alert informing me that an enormous and unexpected storm was bearing down on my position. Hail the size of golf balls, they said. Get to safety, they said. I had planned to camp for the night right over the border in Nebraska, but after fighting through the first band of nasty weather, I can spot the sequel approaching on the horizon. Push through, I decided. I charged straight at that second band and luckily encountered no hail; golf-ball sized or otherwise.
I found a campground in central Nebraska near Grand Island. The trouble was I had run out of daylight and everything in sight was drenched. I decided to give the whole sleeping in my car thing a try. Unfortunately Alicia was packed so tightly, I couldn’t even lean my chair back an inch. It was a rocky night with next to no shuteye. Finally, at 5am, I gave up on the experiment and decided to get back on the road.
I stopped off in West Des Moines to say a socially distanced hello to my buddy Pat and meet his new baby. And by meet, I mean the baby was dangled from the upstairs window. Safely behind a screen, of course. I moseyed along toward Illinois and snapped a few pictures at the original Antique Archaeology store in LeClaire (American Pickers fans, anyone?). I crossed the mighty Mississippi and found a camping spot in central Illinois. It was a beautiful wooded grove surrounded by farmland. I noticed the brush was a bit thick and the humidity had started to climb, but I didn’t think much of it until I was lying in my tent later that night. I began to hear a strange sound. It was as if those big fat raindrops from Albuquerque had returned and were pelting my tent. I held up my lantern only to discover that an army of insects had invaded the space between my rain cover and the top mesh portion of my tent. We’re talking a solid wall of creepy crawlers. I quickly switched off the lantern and rolled over, muttering a prayer that the horde wouldn’t find a way inside.
Luckily they did not, though cleaning out the stragglers in the morning while packing up wasn’t particularly pleasant. I got back on the road and began to notice some stark differences. When you find yourself east of the Mississippi, suddenly the roads are shittier. Not mildly, but dramatically. Construction becomes an endless plague as far as the eye can see, yet the roads never seem to improve. And just to add insult to injury, suddenly there are tolls EVERYWHERE. Theoretically that toll money is helping to fund the construction that hinders my drive, but in no way improves the quality of the roads. I call shenanigans.
I slide south slightly to avoid Chicago and roll into Indiana. I find myself at a quaint little National Park called Indiana Dunes. My favorite feature is the distant silhouette of Chicago floating on the other side of Lake Michigan. Momentum is carrying me now. I quickly make my way into Ohio. You know what’s distinct about crossing the border into Ohio? Cops. In the other nine states through which I had passed, I may have seen a total of five police cruisers. TOTAL. But the Buckeye State must have higher quotas because you can’t drive more than ten miles down the highway without seeing another trooper. After skimming the top of this speed trap paradise, I finally dip down and cross the border into my beloved Pennsylvania. The change is almost instantaneous. The flatness gives way to rolling hills and thick woods. The serpentine roads curve back and forth through the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. I’m home.
Chapter III: That Old Familiar Feeling
Outside of my parents, no one was aware that I was making this unplanned visit. That allowed me to both surprise my family and better control expectations around visiting with folks. Southwestern Pennsylvania is a different beast than Los Angeles. I wasn’t sure how seriously people outside of my family were taking the Covid crisis. I hated the idea of being forced into an uncomfortable position. But that first morning, none of that mattered. I ducked down around the corner on the front porch at my sister’s house and loudly played the Mario Bros theme music on my phone. My nephew Noah crept out from the front door looking for his 5th birthday surprise. His face said it all. Deep down I knew he had zero understanding of the rigors that led up to that moment, but I’ll tell him one day. I’ll remind him in excruciating detail of how Uncle Chewy dared leave the controlled confines of his eremite existence to venture across this vast country. How he braved heat waves and freezing nights just to see everyone after a very long eight months.
It was a relief to let my sister and brother and their families know that I had arrived. I’d missed them terribly. It had become the norm for me to come home three or four times a year since they started popping out kids. I’d get to see a lot of them in the following weeks. Zealand would proudly show me his fidget spinners, proving that the fad is alive and well. Lily would ask me to watch her do a dance routine or jump rope or any variety of activities that sprung to her mind. Karis would sweet talk me into anything she wanted and then make me laugh with her infectious giggle. Noah would read off a list of video games he desperately needed and give me detailed descriptions of all of the creatures in the Mushroom Kingdom. Callan would calculate every way in which he could test my limits, all while wearing that shit-eating grin on his adorable face. They’re quite the troop.
Chapter IV: Projects Aplenty
The most entertaining part of spending time with those kids was watching their little imaginations at work. Ever since Jason and Elizabeth and the brood returned from Texas, the united cousins have created a fantastical role-play whenever they come together. They refer to the area around my parents’ house as “the Kingdom.” Zealand long ago claimed the title of King, which the others seem strangely okay with. The rest end up being guards or cooks or some other role they’ve concocted on any given day. This little game of theirs gave me an idea. I took a strip of brown paper from a roll once used to cover tables for a crab boil and got to work. I spent many late nights with an assortment of colored pencils and markers by my side as I meticulously recreated the area between my parents’ house and my sister’s house. A map of the Kingdom. I decided to give their whimsical world some added dimension by naming things like The Portal, The Spy Hollow, The Sacred Stump, and the Eyes of Evil. I rolled that sucker up and left it as a parting gift that the kids would receive only after I left town.
In the meantime, they often acted as dutiful assistants by helping collect the beans and tomatoes and zucchini from my parents’ garden. It may be hell to get them to eat anything that they picked, but they sure liked carrying around those baskets. That also provided the stage for the biggest project of my visit. An old cement pad sat idle near the bee-riddled chive plants. At one time it was home to a doghouse. Later it would be a pen for an oversized goat named Loki. In more recent years, it simply acted as a good area to stack things. But all that was about to change.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I did my best to assist my stepfather in constructing a greenhouse on that fabled cement strip. He had a vision in his mind, but we had nothing on paper. It started with cementing cinder blocks and anchor bolts. Then came wood framing and roof struts. Admittedly, I’m not the handiest person in the world. Fifteen years in Los Angeles have made me soft. However, I did my best to fetch the right tools and do the odd math problem. Slowly it took shape. When we encountered a problem, we devised a solution. We built the damn thing AROUND the roof of the shed. And it worked. My brother brought over his handy paint sprayer to cover the naked beams with a deep brown to match the rest of the house. In went repurposed sliding glass doors as windows. By the end of my time there, I stood back in wonder. The dang thing really came together. Not only did it look functional and organic, it was unique and, quite honestly, special. And despite the odd bruise or miscalculated cut, we had a damn good time together bringing it to life.
My other contribution to the homestead during my visit was helping my mother dig through boxes of papers and keepsakes. It not only gave me a chance to laugh heartily at old relics like my ventriloquist dummy, my POG collection, and a foam Stone Cold Steve Austin middle finger, it also gave me time to reminisce with my ma. We broke down looking at some of the ridiculous tapes in her old cassette collection. We realized where those reading glasses had been hiding for seven or eight years. We waxed nostalgic as the pile of photographs grew larger and larger and larger. It was cathartic, often frustrating, but mostly joyful. I know going through things like that can be hard to do on your own, so I’m glad I was able to ride shotgun for part of it.
Chapter V: Thanks for the Memories
As time went on, I was able to visit with my aunts and uncles who live in the area. It was obviously hard not being able to hug everyone, but just seeing them outside, distanced and behind a mask was comforting. This was especially true of my visits to my grandmother. She’s about to turn 91 and there was no way I’d risk her health. But she enjoyed sitting on the shade of her porch while I kept my distance and talked to her about the comings and goings. During one visit I decided to bring a small tripod for my phone. She protested when I asked to record her. She hadn’t done her hair, you see. But eventually I got her to relent and for over two hours I asked her questions. Questions about her childhood. About the world in which she grew up. The world in which she raised her kids. Not all of the answers came quickly or clearly, but I was surprised by how much she could recall. She talked about dances at Jimmy’s and performing with her father’s band. There were moments where I could tell that her mind had found a particularly vivid memory and she would smile. It was really something.
I got a chance to see some close friends and witness what little people their kids were becoming. It’s terrifying how fast they grow. They all have interests and thoughts and attitudes. It’s cute… until you remember their entire purpose is to replace us. Little shits.
For the better part of a month, I was perpetually covered in slobber thanks to my folks’ golden retriever Addie. For years we said she’d outgrow her puppy-like intensity and for years she has refused to take the hint. I also found myself covered in mosquito bites. Those blood-sucking, winged devils are infatuated with my blood. Maybe I’m just a big target, but they are unrelenting. If I forgot to slather myself in 95% deet before the sun began to set… BAM! Six new bites! But I suppose that’s a small price to pay to be outside surrounded by sky and trees and sunlight.
As the days drifted by, I watched Lily shoot pool with pap and Noah don his Link costume. Much to their parents’ chagrin, I told spooky stories to Zealand and Karis and Callan around the fire right before they were set to camp out in the backyard. We had hibachi nights on the flattop grill and discussed the issues of the day for hours on end. I had the chance to visit the cabin up in the mountains and fumbled my way through a shaky fantasy football auction draft. I spent $20 on Le’Veon Bell. Seriously. There were makeshift gym classes in the yard, sand ceremonies, and a special play called “Under the Sea” that involved stirring performances from my parents. My buddy Pia decided that our pal Danny and I should head over for a socially distanced football night on his back patio. It was a chance for us to watch the first Steeler game of the season together since our annual excursion to a December game would be on ice this year. And there were somber moments, like when we gathered outside to release balloons in remembrance of my cousin Daniel’s passing. How quickly a year slips by.
I feel blessed to have a family that took the pandemic seriously. It allowed me to visit and be comfortable in that temporary bubble. I appreciate those friends and family members who never pressured me to come inside or to give them a hug or to take off my mask. Because of that, I was able to recharge and defragment. During my last week there I felt torn. Why did I want to leave? Why not stay a little longer?
But I had to go. It would have been easy to heed the siren call and stay in the relative safety and familiarity of my parents’ home. But time moves differently there. A two week visit became three. Then why not stay for my sister’s birthday? Oh look, the air quality in LA is bordering on nuclear winter. What’s another week? The nighttime temperatures are too chilly. Best wait for a brief late September warm up. Suddenly it’s been five weeks since I left Burbank on this spur of the moment adventure. Five weeks without much writing. I had convinced myself that I deserved a little break, but now R&R had become a bog of avoidance. The clock was ticking.
That didn’t make leaving any easier. You start to think about life. How many more chances will there be to spend a big chunk of time like this with my parents? The kids are growing up so fast. In the blink of an eye they’ll be teens and “Uncle” will become just another lame adult. My remaining grandparents are pushing the envelope on longevity, but that can only last so long. It’s painful to knowingly trade time with them to venture back to my isolated existence for the long shot hope of getting my life in order.
Chapter VI: Northward Bound
But let’s give it a go. I reloaded Alicia, grabbed some more Chex Mix, and got back on the road. That sweet mistress of boundless possibility. I make my way across the uninspired bits of northern Ohio before cutting up into Michigan. A drive around Ann Arbor prodded my already emotionally raw state. I delved into memories of college days that now seem so very distant. I spotted reminders of the “normal” world that had been so completely and dramatically upended in 2020. I stood outside of the Big House and wished that there was a slightly inebriated crowd pouring in for a game. Instead, it was silent. A jogger passed by with a mask limply hanging around his neck.
I found a spot in Sleepy Hollow State Park that night. I sprawled out in the darkness of my tent listening to other campers chat and laugh around distant campfires. It was good to be back on the road. Out here I could keep moving. You never have to sit still long enough to dwell.
The next morning I backtracked a bit and took a turn through East Lansing. The Circle portion of Michigan State’s Campus is strikingly beautiful. I parked near the stadium and found my way to the Sparty statue. It’s no Nittany Lion Shrine, but worth a photo. I passed through the botanical gardens before doubling back to the car. I didn’t get very far before a Zoom call sidelined me for an hour. At least it gave me a chance for a rare sighting… a Family Video store. I remembered working on that account back in the day. Back when movie rentals drove the business. Another dose of nostalgia shot directly into the veins.
I gassed up at a Chevron when I hit the coast of Lake Michigan. An older gentlemen spotted my California license plate and struck up a distanced conversation. He gave me a couple tips for places to stop as I headed north. It was the first human interaction I’d had on either leg of this drive. It reminded me that meeting people has always been one of the great joys of road tripping. Such a shame.
Route 22 follows the coast of the lake for much of its northward journey. But as grand as that lake may be, it was the foliage that took center stage. Suddenly bursts of color swarmed from all directions. Butterscotch and tangerine whipped by as Alicia hugged the curves of the road. I stop briefly at the Point Betsie Lighthouse and plopped down on a sun-bleached chunk of driftwood to watch the waves. When I got back on the road, a scourge of new colors emerged… red and blue. Even growing up around that door-to-door grassroots style of political campaigning, I had never seen such a sea of electoral signage. The only respites from the partisan pageantry were brief detours through quaint little lake towns like Glen Arbor and Lake Leelanau. I slipped east to Suttons Bay and followed the shoreline south to Traverse City. I only managed a quick glance at the charming downtown and lakefront before I made my way to a campground on the edge of the town.
The next morning I got an early start. I set out north on State Route 37. It was as if I entered the eternal land of autumnal postcards. The highway ran the seam straight up the peninsula. On either side, carefully manicured vineyards and orchards blanketed the rolling hills that swept down to meet the blue waters of the lake. Red farmhouses were nestled in the corners; perfectly positioned for photographs. Every few miles I came across another stand selling pumpkins or apples. No one manned these stands, of course. They operated on the honor system. Take a bushel of cherries and toss your payment in the bucket. This unreal drive culminated in a stop at the end of the peninsula at the equally picturesque Old Mission Lighthouse. Black squirrels scurried about, blissfully unaware of how unsettling I found their appearance. I’m a grey or fox squirrel kinda guy.
I made my way back down 37 the way I came and turned northeast through the Gaylord State Forest and up toward Mackinaw City. Then came the wait. A two-hour crawl to get across that damn bridge. It brought back memories of getting stuck on the Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel or sitting on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge en route to Ocean City. It wasn’t pleasant. And when I finally made it onto the bridge, I found myself in a lane that consisted of an odd green grate. I could feel Alicia’s tires slipping and sliding on this strangely slick surface. I forced myself into the other lane to escape it. At the other end of the bridge, I took a quick look around Saint Ignace and stopped at a couple bridge view overlooks. I came across a statue of a blue-collar worker that was dedicated to those who had died building the Mackinac Bridge. You never think about things like that. Nearly every major infrastructure project of serious scale that was undertaken in the early to mid 20th century came at a price. Not just in dollars, but lives. Five died building the Mackinac Bridge. That’s the same number who died building the Empire State Building. Eleven lost their lives for the Golden Gate Bridge and an astounding ninety-six humans died building the Hoover Dam.
I had made it to the Upper Peninsula. I cruised along the coast and ignored the signs for the Mystery Spot tourist trap while I pined for the pasties that seemed to be for sell every couple of miles. If it wasn’t pasties, it was smoked fish or firewood. The noble Scandinavian blood runs heavy in the UP. There was something charming about the kitsch. The brilliant colors I’d witnessed the day before became sparser as stretches of pines overtook maples and oaks. However, even those evergreens took on an otherworldly rust motif at intermittent points. I rode the brakes along the coast as other travelers pulled off to the side and played a live game of Frogger to get to the sandy shores.
Eventually I turned northward and hunted down Sable Falls near Grand Marais. I followed the signs down a path to a set of wooden stairs that descended into the forest. I could hear the water roaring in the distance. What are a few steps? 168 don’t sound like that many. I couldn’t know at the time, but that was only the beginning of my stair-related misery. The falls were stunning, of course. I huffed and puffed my way back to the top and set out on H-58. If ever there was a road begging to be in a car commercial, it’s H-58. A tunnel of autumn hues framed the winding journey past Sable Lake and along the coast of Lake Superior. I stopped for a moment at Hurricane River near Twelvemile beach. I sat my ass on the sand and looked out on yet another Great Lake. It was a perfect moment until the sand flies came. I imagine they locked in on my mosquito-ravaged legs and wanted their share. That was all it took to send me swatting my way back to the car. I didn’t get nearly enough time to explore the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. It became obvious that it would require its own trip. I made my way south to Green Bay and left the surprisingly stunning state of Michigan behind.
Chapter VII: Lactose Intolerant in the Land of Cheese
In the morning I couldn’t help but take a quick trip over to Lambeau Field. Another one of those wishful moments. I wanted to be wearing long johns and six other layers, eating a brat slathered in hot mustard, and getting ready for a late December game on the Frozen Tundra. Maybe some day. I headed south on Route 41. After the pristine drives of the past few days, this was underwhelming. Too much cement. Too many shopping centers. A dull, gray sky didn’t help. The sun clawed its way through just as I rolled into more appealing farmland. The trade off was the sudden, unavoidable stench of manure. I held my nose for as long as I could on the way down to Devil’s Lake.
I decided to save the lake itself for later and made my way to the Baraboo Bluffs and one of the paths that promised a short hike to the Balanced Rock. I’m not claiming it was false advertisement, for I’m sure the point to point distance was accurate, but what I failed to realize was that my hike would consist of nearly two hours of climbing and scrambling up boulders and shoddy stone steps. Each time I reached another plateau I was certain I had made it to the top. And each time I would turn the corner to find another stretch of jumbled rock that needed to be traversed. I wanted to quit so many times. I had vivid flashbacks to my ascent through the thousands of gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. My lungs were burning as if il Diablo himself had shoved his fiery fist down my windpipe. My heart pounded like a bass drum. But just like Kyoto, I somehow put one foot in front of the other (though admittedly with many, many breaks) and made it to the top. The Balanced Rock wasn’t much to look at, but the view from the top of the bluff was pretty rad. I passed up on the gentle grade forest path back down, as it was something like eight miles long. Instead, I decided to test out my knees and climb back down the way I came.
I hobbled around the lake, trying to recover from the punishment I just inflicted on every inch of my body. There were a few families having picnics and a handful of kids splashing around the murky blue-green waters, but the most notable contingent of park goers that day were the Amish. In what I can only imagine was some type of courtship outing, young Amish women in simple dresses and bonnets walked alongside young Amish men in trousers and flannel shirts. I’m guessing protocol prevented them from holding hands. It was just about the most wholesome damn thing I’ve ever seen. Leaving the romance behind, I traveled up to Wisconsin Dells and marveled from my car at the bonanza of saltwater taffy kitchens, fudge shops, mini golf courses, and tourist hot spots of escalating bizarreness. I ignored the eye candy, as I was in search of the mysterious Witches Gulch! I spent a solid hour scouring the back roads that are tucked behind the giant plaster Wizards and Pirates. Eventually I stumbled upon some posts online that regretfully informed me that the Witches Gulch was now only accessible by a specific boat tour. Unwilling to get on any enclosed vehicle with strangers, I had to leave the Gulch un-gazed upon.
Instead, I set out to see a man-made wonder. The Rudolph Grotto Gardens in Rudolph, WI. It’s hard to describe exactly what I found adjacent to St Philip’s Church. My only reference point would be Salvation Mountain alongside the Salton Sea. Christianity-inspired creativity. Heaps of stones are intertwined with flowers and sculptures. Carefully designed mosaics weaved through towering stone monoliths. Golden leaves fluttered down from above. Wind chimes lulled me into a peaceful repose. As a general rule, I find religious iconography unsettling. But all in all, this place was quite beautiful. I felt a calm come over me. Then I made a horrible mistake. I forked over the $3 surcharge to enter the Wonder Cave. This manmade mound was built for people much shorter then me. First strike. I had to walk with my head bowed nearly to chest level just to navigate the jagged overhanging rocks. I did that for fifteen minutes as I weaved through the brightly colored lights, which illuminated an array of bizarrely placed statues and tin plates embossed with biblical quotations. An eerie soundtrack called out from somewhere deep inside. When I finally emerged into the daylight, I praised God. Maybe that was the point.
I covered a bit more ground that afternoon on my way to Eau Claire. The scent of manure became ubiquitous as I jumped from one many-lettered county road to the next. E to HH to CX to D to ZZ. Who can keep track? Regardless of which road I was on, the sea of grain and corn stretched out in every direction and was only interrupted by the occasional deer or wild turkey crossing.
The next morning was a straight shot north on SR 53. The most interesting part of those couple of hours was when I witnessed two bald eagles and a handful of enormous crows engaged in a dustup alongside the highway. I don’t know who did what to whom, but these birds were not happy. I can’t remember ever seeing more than one bald eagle at a time. Nor can I remember witnessing a bird fight club. My only regret was that I was driving over 70mph and couldn’t safely slam on the brakes to snap a photo. I was still thinking about it when I arrived at Pattison State Park. I skirted the lake and took the tunnel down to the falls. I was struck by the strong smell of pine even as brightly colored leaves gently rained down from above.
Chapter VIII: Lake Country, Dontcha Know
Having eaten absolutely no cheese, I left Wisconsin behind and found myself in Duluth, MN. This is a land of brick and stone. It’s hearty looking and it smells of roasting meat. I can dig that. I head over the Aerial Bridge and out onto the sandbar that stretches seven miles into Lake Superior (the longest freshwater sandbar in the world, if you believe what you read online). It’s a fascinating little community. The lake is a mere stone’s throw in either direction. I made a quick stop at Point Park to take in the bay before heading back to the Lakewalk Area. I watched the Aerial Bridge make a full up and down rotation before meandering out to the North Pier Lighthouse. Never have I seen such bold and aggressive seagulls. I’m guessing it was because the people on the pier refused to heed the voice on the loudspeaker begging them not to feed the damn birds.
The plan for the day was to follow the North Shore Scenic Drive on SR-61 about two thirds of the way to the Canadian border and then turn around. But I couldn’t resist a stop at the Leif Erickson garden in Duluth on my way out of town. The beloved Viking hero has a well-manicured rose garden dedicated to him that overlooks the sandbar. I can understand why he’s a hero around these parts. There are a vast and undeniable number of blonde, Scandinavian folks wandering the streets in this corner of America.
With the day flying by, I got back on the road and zipped northward along Lake Superior. My first stop was a place called Black Beach. Not complicated to see why; the sand was a spooky shade of black. But unlike say the lava flow beaches of Hawaii, this sandy spot is not a natural occurrence. You can thank the mining companies for dumping tons of taconite into the lake over the years. It fused with the sand and gave birth to this otherworldly locale. I see the massive mining operations hunkered down on the shore as I pass back through Silver City. Just to the south lies the Split Rock Lighthouse. It’s a beautiful landmark, which only gets better as you follow the nearby trails that provide spectacular views of the rock face. Unfortunately for me, that meant more steps. A lot more steps. Thoroughly exhausted, I made my way to Gooseberry Falls State Park. I slid the $7 entry fee into an envelope and dropped it in the box like a big goober. While the falls themselves were impressive, it was the pitted stone shores at the lake that won me over. Tiny pools of water reflected the sky above as gentle waves splashed into hollowed out slots in the hardened coast. I leapt and climbed over the alien landscape for a solid half hour before deciding to call it a day. I would have stayed longer to goof around like a teenager if I had known what awaited me. Hello, two hours of near standstill traffic. It seems everyone decided to go out and enjoy the lakefront on that mild Sunday afternoon and there was only a single lane back to Duluth.
The next morning was cold and wet. I broke out the jeans and the knit cap. I made a brief stop in Bemidji, which is admittedly fun to say. There stands the famous Paul Bunyan and Babe statues. Big and blue and screaming for a selfie. The soundtrack for this stop was a man cutting down trees with a chainsaw just a hundred yards behind good ole Paul. Where’s the ax, dude? I leave my new pals behind and jump on the road to Lake Itasca. What’s special about this lake in the land of ten thousand lakes, you ask? Headwaters. Specifically the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. That’s right. The whole damn thing starts as a bubbling brook up at Lake Itasca. I hop across the headwaters from stone to stone like a big oafish child. It’s an interesting place. To think that something so big and powerful and integral to our society begins in such a small, gentle way. Without hesitation I choose to take the one-way Wilderness Drive around the lake. As expected, it’s stunning. Fall foliage is on point. Not a soul anywhere in sight. Perfection.
I soaked in what I could before heading southwest to Glendalough State Park. Gone were the thick woodland areas and in their place I met the soft, flowing prairie grasses. It was cold there. The wind would slice through with a wicked bite before vanishing into a near perfect stillness. Annie Battle Lake was calm and pristine. There were lodges along the shore that reportedly hosted US Presidents at some point back in the day. I wonder if there was nearly as much goose shit back then as there is now? This would be one of many lakes I would see over the next several hours. The country roads I followed toward the North Dakota border weaved their way through dozens upon dozens of lakes. Everything from expansive shimmering bodies of water to tiny fishing holes. I couldn’t help but wonder… what’s hiding at the bottom of those things? Cars? Treasure? Bodies?
Chapter IX: The 49th State
The winds pick up on my way to Fargo. I suddenly become aware of some aerodynamic deficiency in poor Alicia. Every time the wind hits her just so, it lets out a screeching whistle. The first time absolutely terrified me. Okay, not just the first time. I made it to the border and parked in central Fargo. I wandered down Broadway and snapped some pictures of the famous murals tucked away in the alleys. This was sort of a big deal for me. North Dakota was one of two states (Alaska being the other) that I had yet to visit in my lifetime of US travel. Here I was, finally standing in Roughrider Country. This was a big thrill for a person who likes making lists and checking boxes. I was, however, disappointed to learn while researching that much of the movie Fargo was not shot anywhere near Fargo. And regardless, the actual filming locations don’t exist anymore either. They’ve all been torn down or remodeled to the point where you can’t recognize them.
I left downtown and found myself at the Oak Grove Pedestrian Bridge where I was able to straddle the state line between North Dakota and Minnesota above the Red River. I’d only just arrived in ND, but I heard the call and roamed back into Minnesota. Here I stopped at one of the oldest Dairy Queens in America. This Moorhead institution isn’t just old; it’s where they invented the Dilly Bar. The twenty-five foot shrine outside of the shop won’t let you forget it. I took my dairy-free dilly and found my way to a local landmark near Concordia College to watch the sun set. The “Crazy Tree,” as it is affectionately called, is a massive twisted beast of a tree that seems to have slipped deep into the earth. Somehow the main trunk of the tree is buried underground. It is… crazy. There was another stadium to check off the list… the FargoDome. Welcome to the home of the sixteen time national champion North Dakota State Bison football team. Go Thundering Herd!
The next day would take me to Bismarck. Now, I have nothing mean to say about Bismarck. It seems like a fine town. A lot of chain restaurants. Some houses. But when you google “interesting things to do in Bismarck” and the top result is the state capital building, you aren’t setting the tourism world on fire. I did check out that state capitol, by the way. It’s a nice art deco building. There’s a groovy statue of Sakakawea outside near the heritage museum. It’s all very fine. I slipped over to the Missouri River to check out a few attractions. A couple of dry-docked riverboats, a pair of eagle statues, and a model Keelboat. All very fine, indeed.
I decided to ditch Bismarck and taken an unexpected detour north. I wound my way through the prairies toward Lake Sakakawea State Park and dodged a monstrous piece of farming equipment in an intense game of chicken. A cute ranger lady at the main office slipped me a map and told me I didn’t need to pay the entry fee if I was just looking around for a bit. The park, like so many on this trip, was nearly empty. I could spot the odd camper or fisherman in the distance, but that was about it. It turns out this lake was created by a damning operation in the 1950s. Tragically its creation destroyed several towns, including those belonging to native populations. One of the many sad tales that are too often left out of our history books.
The next several hours were nothing but an endless streak of ambers and tans and rusts. It was unnerving because the deer blended in so seamlessly with the landscape that they always caught me off guard when they bolted across the highway. God bless my brakes. Eventually, the flat prairielands gave way to more interesting panoramas as I approached the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is where North Dakota came alive. The rugged terrain featured sweeping rock formations with pronounced layers of gray and tan sediment. Occasionally I’d turn a corner and find slashes of bright white or deep red cutting through the rock face. Hard scrabble bushes and trees filled the valleys and soft spots in the ridges. All of it was dressed with yellow flowers popping against the earthy tones of the park like the fringe icing on the top of a cake. As I drove along the winding loop road, I encountered vista after vista. Each was filled with a multitude of beasts like bison or wild horses or the squeaky little prairie dogs. Those things were everywhere. Anytime I stepped too close to their domain, a wave of yipping would sweep across the assembled masses. I knew it was best to retreat. I had no beef with them. I eventually came uncomfortably close to a rattlesnake, climbed atop some strange sandstone formations, and had a chat with a lonely bison that had strayed far from his herd. This was the crown jewel of my North Dakota experience. One I won’t soon forget.
Chapter X: The Great Wide West
I spent the next few hours hustling across the dark to Billings, MT. It was a drive filled with frustration. First, with the avalanche of bugs that suddenly materialized as I crossed the border. I literally had to stop twice at gas stations to scrape off their viscous juices from my windshield just so that I could see properly. Second, I was listening to the first Presidential “Debate” on the radio. An exhausting and exasperating experience. It wasn’t the best way to cap off an otherwise excellent day.
But luckily another excellent day is always just around the corner when you’re on the road. I debated a trip up to Glacier National Park and over to the state of Washington, but the reportedly frigid temperatures dissuaded me. Instead, I explored a bit of Montana including Pictograph Cave State Park. Before long I got antsy and decided to turn south and head for Cody, WY. My GPS got confused several times as the trip began and eventually it shot me out on a backcountry cattle road. It went on for miles. Alicia slid and danced across the loose gravel as my fingers tightly gripped her steering wheel. Occasionally a giant pickup truck would rumble towards me at great speed and disappear in a smattering of stone and dust. I wasn’t sure whether I was in Montana or Wyoming. It was… unnerving. But soon it gave way to your standard two-lane highway and I carved my way through the parched landscape toward Buffalo Bill’s stomping grounds.
Cody is a groovy little town. Sure, there are countless tourist traps and plenty of cheesy cowboy gimmickry, but there’s also an old world charm to it. I discovered Old Trail Town on the edge of the city. At first blush I thought I was about to waste $10 on some tacky life-size dioramas. But I was very wrong. It turns out a man named Bob Edgar started roaming around the Old West back in the 1960s and scooped up deteriorating places of interest. He had them broken down, reassembled in Cody, and restored. It was actually quite something. Frontier cabins of every sort lined the property. There were even a few that were once used by Butch Cassidy and his gang. Luckily for me, on this Covid-cautious trip, the whole thing was viewable from an outdoor boardwalk.
I left Cody and made a quick stop at the Buffalo Bill Dam. Somehow they built this mighty wall back in the early 1900s without any steel reinforcement whatsoever. It’s impressive. Not to be a downer, but seven workers did perish during its construction. I couldn’t seem to shake those thoughts since the Mackinac Bridge. But the other important thing about the dam was that it also served as the opening act to the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway. This curvaceous and pictorial drive hugged the Shoshone River for fifty odd miles from Cody to Yellowstone. It was my first time entering the great park from the east.
With no particular plan, I charged headfirst into the wild and wonderful land of hydrothermal oddities. I zipped along the stretches of dead, stripped pines. It’s unnerving, even though I know it is part of the natural death and rebirth of the park that is allowed to occur without interference. I made my way down to Yellowstone Lake and slid my hand into the crystal clear water. That unmistakable scent of sulfur suddenly hit me. I smiled and cringed simultaneously. I found my way up to Artist Point and did the short hike out to the prime overlook. I cursed the heavens as traffic suddenly bottlenecked when tourists stopped in the middle of the road to get a blurry picture of a lone gray wolf in the distance. I meandered through the wafting steam at the top and bottom of the Mammoth Hot Springs in search of smelly, bubbling cracks in the earth. I passed a massive herd of bison as I high-tailed it down to Old Faithful before dusk. That blowhole goes off on average every 60 to 100 minutes and it was just my luck that about fifteen minutes after arriving, it put on a grand show just as the sun was fading below the horizon. My drive out of the park was a bit of a nightmare as traffic backed up for miles approaching the West Entrance. When I finally hit the open road, I realized I had a brilliant, nearly full moon to keep me company as I drove into Idaho. At one point I spotted police lights flashing desperately in the distance. I slowed as I approached. Two police cruisers were parked alongside a small sedan that had been absolutely smashed to bits. But there was no other car nearby. No tree in its path. Oof. A splattering of blood stretched across the road. A massive beast the size of a horse lay mangled and still. I couldn’t tell if it was a moose or a very large elk or mule deer. Either way it was very sad. Needless to say, I drove much slower from that point on.
Chapter XI: Alien Landscapes
I woke up the next morning in Idaho Falls and set out early to hunt down one of my most anticipated targets of the trip. But first was a lot of driving through empty Idahoan farmland. The strangest part of it was that I never lost cellular signal. I was plagued on every step of my journey by piss poor reception, but out here, in the middle of nowhere, I had full, unwavering bars. Then I saw the discreet sign for Idaho National Laboratory. Ah, secret science experiments. That makes sense. I avoided any portals into the Upside Down and found myself at the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (don’t call me a Park). Haven’t heard of it? I hadn’t either before this trip. In the middle of the Snake River Plain in Idaho I found a volcanic wonderland. Hardened lava flows and mounds of lava rock were scattered around the dormant cinder cones. Sagebrush emerged from the cracks and reached for the sky in the shadow of juniper trees. Way back in the day, some preacher found his way here and thought it was a ghastly and wicked place. That’s why you have names for formations like the Devil’s Orchard and the Inferno Cone. Later, astronauts would use this area to train for moon missions (hence the name). I call it the Tilda Swinton of the National Park Service: admittedly creepy, but oddly beautiful. It’s also here where my entry fee got upgraded to an annual NPS pass!
After waterfalls that required countless steps and a bounder-ridden hillside in Wisconsin, I was not looking for any major climbs. So when I stood at the bottom of the Inferno Cone and looked up at the Star Wars-like horizon of black lava rock, I was reticent. The signs said it was only a quarter of a mile to the peak. What the hell, right? The problem is that there are no switchbacks on that bastard. You don’t realize that the slope is gradually growing and growing and growing. It’s not until my calves began to ache and flashes of pain exploded through my lungs that I realized how damn steep this climb was going to be. Like so many ascents before it, the mound taunted me by revealing an even steeper slope just as I crested the first. I wanted badly to just roll down the damn hill and take my lumps, but my fat ass slowly made it to the top with a palm planted on each knee. As I’ve said before, it was worth whatever long-term cardiac damage it may have done, but I hate climbing things.
With the eerie landscape behind me, I traversed more backcountry in Idaho. At one point, I was jamming to some Johnny Cash with my arm hanging out of the window when a juicy critter smacked off the inside of my forearm and its carcass flew into the car. I swerved a bit, of course, and looked down at the glob of orangish goo that was smeared on my skin. I pulled into some overgrown RV park and had a zoom call about a TV project as I disinfected my arm. A quick drive across the belly of the state led me to Shoshone Falls. According to signage, this natural waterfall is actually bigger than Niagara. It sure is more beautiful, in my opinion. The Snake River carved smooth, winding paths through the hardened cliffs and poured down into a long, beautiful canyon. You can still see the big hump on one side of the rim where Evel Knievel tried unsuccessfully to jump the Snake River on his rocket motorcycle back in the 70s.
As I pushed south, I knew I was entering a new phase of my trip. Salt Lake City lay ahead. The sudden emergence of a ten-lane highway was nearly as unnerving as the damn mosquitos that attacked during a gas station stop. As I rolled into the city, I couldn’t ignore the many, many Jesus-related billboards. Way to stay on brand, SLC. I made a quick stop for a backyard visit with my buddy Amin and his kin. We quickly found ourselves in an impassioned argument about a story point in a project of ours. I won, of course, but more importantly I gave Meg and her dad a thoroughly entertaining show. I took a winding mountain road over to the State Capital before descending down to the Temple Square. I snapped a few photos, but it’s hard to enjoy visiting a new city when you can’t interact with people or explore the landmarks.
So I took a rain check on peeling back the layers of the Salt Lake City onion and shot out into the Great Salt Lake Desert. I noticed rather quickly that people seemed to just drive off of the highway and into the desert willy-nilly. Not at predetermined exits. Not at a particular sign or juncture. Every few miles I would pass some makeshift art piece on the side of the road. Some amateur Banksy (or maybe just drunk University of Utah students) had assembled a sea monster made of old tires and foam balls. Things like that. Eventually I came across the Tree of Utah. The massive concrete structure and its spherical adornments protruded into the desert sky like an alien probe. What does it mean? I’m not even sure the Swedish artist who built in the 80s knew what it meant. Distractions aside, I found myself near the Nevada border at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. A four-mile asphalt road came to an abrupt end. A sign welcomed me to this legendary land of speed. I started off timidly, unsure how Alicia would handle this new surface. Nadal is much better on clay than grass, if you know what I mean. It was a strange experience. Flat, chalky white, hardened salt stretched into the distance without end. There were no roads or lines or guardrails. No rules, apparently. It was equal parts thrilling and disconcerting as I gradually picked up speed. If you get a chance, go here.
Chapter XII: The Final Stretch
As I crossed into Nevada, I could have taken the straight and boring I-80 route straight across the state, but I wasn’t having any of that. I cut south and took a less-traveled route toward the Ruby Mountains. Almost immediately the terrain was starkly different from Utah. Tan plains pulled up tightly to the base of rocky outcroppings like animal hide stretched out to dry. I lost signal less than an hour from Bonneville and wouldn’t get it back the rest of the day. That meant that I had to break out the paper maps at one point when I found myself unsure what to do at a remote intersection. I would get lost several times that day. Each led me to a close encounter with a herd of inky black cows or a gaggle of grazing horses. I eventually found my way to a pass through the mountains toward Elko just as the sun was starting to set. They say the mountains are named for the garnet gems that were discovered there long ago, but as that dusk light hit the peaks they all took on a warm reddish hue. You rarely regret taking the scenic route.
The next day brought hours upon hours of dusty, unappealing Nevada desert. It’s the kind of place you just need to get through. I tried to visit Pyramid Lake, but only caught glimpses of it from afar as the road was closed to non-local traffic. I called an audible and stopped at Fort Churchill State Park. The remnants of a 19th century army base littered the landscape. While historically interesting, it was what I found when I crossed a grove of cottonwood trees and passed through a squeaky gate that really grabbed my attention… a sandy beach on the banks of the Carson River. It was oh so serene and peaceful. A complete contrast with the towns I encountered after leaving the park. Everything was hot, dry and dusty. Off road drivers kicked up clouds of earth as they unleashed their ATVs. Unkempt trailers lined the highway in every direction. I looked for a way out of this place.
That’s when I found the Six Mile Canyon. This legendary source of gold and silver was also a refreshing sight away from the dirt and decay. The short drive led me directly to Virginia City, NV, which was one of the great tragedies of my trip. The central stretch of the town is at the top of a hillside, overlooking the valley. Well-preserved Old West structures line the thoroughfare in either direction. Timeworn churches, schoolhouses, and relics of the region’s prospector past offer plenty to explore. Boy, did I want to explore it. This place had the ideal formula of history and spectacle. Folks un-ironically roamed South C Street in cowboy gear. It was magnificent. But as much as I would have liked to park and investigate, there were far too many people out and about. The sidewalks were teeming with bikers and Reno gamblers on day trips. Based on the volume of Trump signs in the area, it was unsurprising that most of them weren’t wearing masks. So the Red Dog Saloon and Washoe Club and Grant’s General Store would have to wait for a post-pandemic visit.
A curvy descent from the mountains led toward Reno, but I kept pushing. For the first time, Alicia seemed to struggle a bit as I asked for a great deal of elevation climbing in a short stretch. I stopped at Incline Village on the coast of Lake Tahoe. I skirted the resident-only beaches and drove south until I found Sand Harbor State Beach. The striking blue water of the lake carved its way into a shoreline of sand and rounded boulders. Families hunkered down on the beach as kayakers glided over the still water across the shallow harbor. Alpine lakes, man. Nothing quite like them.
Chapter XIII: The Golden, Yet Somewhat Hazy, State
The next day was a big one. I crossed the border into California, returning to my adopted state for the first time in nearly two months. I stopped at various beaches and coves around South Lake Tahoe. It reminded me of Big Bear on steroids. The highlight was Emerald Bay. Highway 89 climbs up to the peaks above the sapphire waters and provides incredible 360-degree views. I tried to soak it all in, for this was sure to be the last pleasant bit of my trip.
I made my way to I-80 and spent the entire afternoon riding my brakes as I descended from 8,000 feet to 180 feet near Sacramento. It suddenly got very hot. The air quality bottomed out. The highways were lined with trash. It was a far cry from the fall foliage of northern Michigan or the mysterious lake country of Minnesota or the otherworldly setting of Craters of the Moon. As I descended into the San Joaquin Valley, the side effects of the recent and ongoing wildfires became strikingly clear. Thick, Silent Hill-like smoke had settled into the valley. Luckily it didn’t affect driving visibility, but everything on either side of the road quickly dissolved into the murky gray vapor. It brought with it dread. The next day I would return to the life that I had paused for this unexpected adventure. I would be back in my tiny apartment, far from the open spaces I had become accustomed. Career uncertainty loomed large. My reflections of time, mortality, health, family, love, and purpose… what would they mean when I was back in my own bed?
When I arrived in Los Angeles the next morning, I shot straight for an Urgent Care in Glendale. I had a swab jammed into my cerebral cortex for a rapid Covid test. It didn’t hurt. Rather it felt like eating salt and vinegar chips… in my nasal cavity. The results were negative. So off I went to lock down my storage unit. I wasn’t about to spend the next several months with all of this camping gear trapped inside Alicia’s guts. So for the first time in my life, I carved out a little piece of cement-floored, tin-walled heaven. For someone who has lived for over a decade with nearly zero storage capability at my apartment, having a storage unit was a rapturous experience. I had a little 5×5 chunk of land where I could put anything. Camping gear? Sure. Game night crap? You betcha. That stationary bike? No… you have to start doing that again, Matt. Fuck. I made my way to Dodger Stadium for Covid test number two. This one required a near two-hour slow crawl up the hill to the testing site. It was one of those cough and swab every corner and crevice of your mouth and throat kinda tests. I drop my saliva bag in the slot and head home to Burbank.
Not much changed in the world while I was gone. Wildfires and floods and hurricanes remind us that the climate crisis is real and dire. Covid cases continue to intermittently spike across the country, reminding us how precarious the situation remains. Our political situation remains broken and volatile and unreflective of the needs of too many. I still don’t know what my future holds, but I undoubtedly will find out eventually. Until then, it’s time to get to work.
Our country is big and diverse. We wonder why there’s so much division, but seeing how different our lives are from one another, it amazes me that we agree on anything at all. But I’m sure glad that we do. I’m blessed to have been able to take this journey. It was a gift to spend so much time with my family. To hear my nieces and nephews laugh. To help my parents in the small ways I could. To see old friends, even behind masks. And to soak in the splendor that America has to offer. I might not have been able to chat with new people or dig deep into exploring any cities but, I had a beautiful, inspiring, recharging, sometimes sad, sometimes overwhelming, unexpectedly incredible trip there and back again.
follow me on instagram to see the photos from the trip @absenceofbrevity