Sometimes you need to do something in life that completely shakes you up. Like Claudia from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I didn’t run away to come home the same.
And so, on July 14, at 3:30 in the morning, I began an adventure across America and back. It was dark out and I was tired, but all good stories begin in the middle of the night and this one is no exception.
My husband and I had been planning a cross-country trip for years, before we were even married. We knew we wanted to make it BIG, explore as much as possible, and come away with some awesome stories. Even so, in the days leading up to the trip, a few people said, “A cross-country trip? That’s crazy!” And I started to believe it.
We flew into Portland, Oregon, first. As the plane was descending, there was a HUGE mountain to our left, my first West Coast mountain. It was white-capped and massive. I believe it was Mount Hood. My husband said, “Even if we turned around now, that would have been worth it.”
We lugged our luggage around Portland for a few hours before going to our AirBnb. Now, here’s the thing about AirBnb…you never know what you’re gonna get. What I did know…this was a mud hut. Our first stop. Unfortunately, the bed was crawling with ants, but as my husband reminded me…it’s a mud hut. I adjusted my expectations accordingly, and tried to make peace with the bugs (unsuccessfully). Luckily, it had an amazing view of the St. John’s Bridge, a bridge we became fascinated with.
The next morning, we walked over the bridge to get to Forest Park for a hike. We also saw the Portland Japanese Gardens, explored Powell’s Books for three hours (HEAVEN!), and ate some insanely amazing doughnuts. In the Blue Star Donuts vs. Voodoo Doughnut debate, I have to side with Blue Star (blueberry bourbon basil doughnut for the win!).
We headed to the Oregon Coast. Nothing like the mighty Pacific Ocean to make you feel so small. We celebrated our third anniversary by climbing a mountain-size sand dune, reading on a chilly beach, and eating lots of clams. Our AirBnb host opened for Led Zeppelin and The Doors in the ‘60s and ’70s. You never know who you’re gonna meet!
Next stop: Montana. And not just Montana, but the teensiest little town of 200. We stayed in an old post office in the middle of nowhere because…AirBnb. It was converted into an art studio and it had an awesome view of the mountains. We explored the National Bison Range and Glacier National Park. At Glacier, my fear of heights was tested…but I won. The view was so worth it as we slipped and slid on snow up a mountain trail, a mountain goat ambling by us.
The following day, we visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton…in the same day because we are crazy people. Old Faithful is as awesome as they say, though not as punctual as I believed as I stood in the baking heat. And unfortunately, the only animals we saw were a marmot and a goose. I blame it on our lack of time in the park. We did see a moose in Grand Teton!
We spent a few days crossing the dusty, flat, scrub-dotted plains and plateaus of America, from Montana through Wyoming to Colorado. Getting antsy in the car, I had to remind myself that this was what it was all about. For the first time in my life, I felt like it really was about the journey and not the destination. It was about now and not later. So I sunk into the moment, watched the horizon grow farther under that big Western sky.
In Colorado, we hiked over six miles on a mountain trail in Roosevelt National Forest. And I swear, it was like walking into a postcard. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything so intensely beautiful. We stayed with friends and nearly fell down at their feet for a home cooked meal. Up until then, it’d been all French fries, burgers, and breakfast sandwiches.
After passing through the dustier parts of Colorado and Texas (random roadhouse BBQ was the BEST), we stopped in Oklahoma and stayed on a military base with more friends. We were so thoroughly checked and fingerprinted before staying that I can no longer start a life of anonymous crime. Drats. There, because it’s mad-hot and I tend to wilt in the heat, we spent the day making a Christmas-in-July feast and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol, because it’s just the best.
By this point in the trip, I was legit feeling like a drifter. I forgot I had a job to go back to. I truthfully forgot I had a book coming out. We wove our way through Arkansas and landed ourselves in Memphis, Tennessee, and then Nashville. We also stayed in our last AirBnb of the trip…a tree house. Ya’ll… (I can say “ya’ll” now because I’ve traveled the South)…stay in a tree house if you get the chance. It was AWESOME.
The ride from Nashville home to Buffalo felt like the longest drive of my life (darn you, Ohio!). We’d been on the road for two weeks, and like most weary travelers, we just really missed our dog and cat. Pets, by the way, give the best welcomes.
And so, our cross-country adventure came to an end, as all good things must. It was some of the best times I’ve ever had, a journey I’ll never forget. And I know I didn’t run away and come back the same. I met some part of myself on the journey, and that’s something that changes you forever.