Sunday, July 31, 2011

The epic overview

Hello all!
We have returned. Washington  to Washington and back. 7845 miles. 25 days.
I will give a full recording over the coming days and weeks, but wanted to run through the highlights quickly.
Coolest discovery: we can travel in a small minivan for that many days and miles with only mild squabbling.
Favorite state: Montana
Least favorite state: New Jersey
Most surprising state: North Dakota
Favorite city in MT: Bozeman
Favorite town across the whole country: Medora, ND
Hottest temperature: 115 with heat index, Washington DC
Coldest temperature: below 45 (estimated) Gallatin National Forest, MT
Favorite accommodation: Sandy's house!
Nicest hotel: Hyatt Place by the Dulles airport
Most surprising hotel: Baymont Inn and Suites Des Moines, IA
Worst motel: Thoroughbred Lodge White River, SD
Best campground: Langohr in the Gallatin National Forest
Worst campground: KOA in Kankakee, IL
Best public transit experience: Staten Island Ferry
Best surprise: 1. Finding out the Dude's sister and brother-in-law were stuck at a hotel right by Dulles when we were there. We got to see them before they returned to Paris.
2. Museum of Modern Art was open on Tuesday in summers. Very shocking!
Worst surprise
1. The $800 worth of repairs in DC
2. The unflushed (very unflushed) toilet in our motel room in White River, SD
Coolest souvenir:
A hook newly forged before our eyes by a blacksmith at a living history museum. Won by Magnus (oldest son)  for answering the test question correctly. What was the  blacksmith's favorite working temperature for steel? 1800 degrees F.
Most prolific free/odd souvenir finder: Luigi (Youngest son)
Strangest roadside find:
1. A long distance unicyclist on the freeway in northern Idaho
2. A dead top half of a garter snake with 2 live babies inside at a rest stop in Iowa.
Coolest unplanned museum stop: Museum of the Rockies Bozeman, MT
Guiding motto of the trip:
In 10 years what will we remember? That we got there on time or that we got in late and had a lot of fun?
Best boat trip:
Maid of the Mist (Niagara Falls)
Worst boat trip:
Chicago Water Taxi across Lake Michigan (riding backwards on the engine)
Best Beach:
Lake Michigan, Michigan
Best roadside picnic stop:
Theodore Roosevelt National Park rest stop, ND->Bison across the canyon and horses in the parking lot
Fort Niagara State Park. Eating dinner on the banks of Lake Ontario with the sun setting over the lake and Toronto skyline looming in the distance
Thing that brought me closest to the tear: Star Spangled Banner (THE Star Spangled Banner) at Smithsonian American History Museum
Coolest things to see:
1. Hope Diamond
2. The Air and Space Museum
3. Prairie Dog Towns
4. Les Demoiselles D'Avignon
5. Forevortron
6. Family and friends
7. Hundreds of different types of barbed wire on display
8. Opera singer in a tunnel in Central Park complete with crutches
9. Moon rise over Lake Wassota
10. Thousands of fireflies in Illinois
Coolest things we did
1. See Lincoln Memorial
2. Rode subway to Times Square
3. Horse and buggy ride in Medora, ND
4. Drive through liquor store Dayton Ohio
5. Dune climbing at Lake Michigan, Michigan
6. See the world's largest Holstein cow: Salem Sue New Salem, ND
7. Setting up camp by moonlight on Cayuga Lake, NY
8. Visited the ugliest state capitol (building not city) in the US: Bismarck, ND
9. Bought lunch meat from an Amish butcher in Nappanee, IN
10. Rode the "trolley" in Chicago
Scariest happenings:
1. Car trouble in DC
2. Connecticut driving
3. New Jersey driving
4. Driving directly into a huge and damaging thunderstorm in SD and then turning back to outrun it and finding the only motel for 50 miles to have the office closed. While waiting for the manager, we then heard a siren, possibly tornado!
5. Gas station northern Idaho
6. Gas station Livingston MT
7. Getting lost in Niagara Falls, NY
8. Skinhead campground neighbors, Kankakee, IL
9. Driving north of Chicago
10. Losing Magnus at the Lincoln Memorial

Biggest disappointments:
1. Missing Lego store at Mall of America
2. Jamestown, ND
3. Not finding our campsite-Flathead Lake, MT
4. Field Museum (Sue) and missing MOSI and other museums in favor of that one
5. Not going to National Archives
6. Atlantic City
7. Not camping in Badlands
8. Not visiting Greenwich Village
9. Our motel room in Wildwoods, NJ
10. The heat and humidity from Chicago-DC

State Awards
Awesomest: Montana
Crappiest: NJ
Worst road conditions: NJ and NY tie
Worst road signage: NJ
Worst drivers: CT honorable mention: IL
Most overpriced for time spent ratio: Delaware
Most overpriced food: DC (not a state, but)
Most toll booths: IL
Best rest area welcome center: Wyoming
Saddest rest areas: Montana Honorable mention: Minnesota (closed due to govt shut down while we were there)
Most exciting: South Dakota
State with most sandbags holding water off the freeway: Iowa. Runners-up Minnesota and North Dakota

Most sanity saving device: Audio books
Favorite audiobooks:
Stormy Weather Carl Hiassen
Smoke Jumper
Journey James Mitchener
A Reason for Hope Jane Goodall

More to come. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Over the river and through the woods...

Long time no post. That whole graduate school deal got in the way of my blogging!

A while back I wrote a whiny rant about our lack of travel. We have decided to do something about it. The Dude's dad got sick last month and it put the need to see him on the front burner. We looked into airline tickets for the Dude to fly out. Over $600. We figure that it wouldn't cost too much more for us all to drive out and then boys could see their grandfather.

We have some interesting things in our house. For one, our youngest has never seen fireflies. He really wants to and has been angling for a trip east of the Rockies in order to fulfill this desire. For another, my boys want to see Washington DC. My oldest had the opportunity to go with his class this year, but the package was $2500. I really thought we could take him and his brothers to see DC for around the same price. So we began to plan for such a trip. But when? First we thought of this summer, but I want to work on my thesis and the cost seemed like a lot. Next summer? Maybe, but I will have a conference in Denver and so that puts DC out of reach. The following summer I will need to prep for my qualifying exam. It was getting further and further out and became a "someday." Of course, the oldest is entering 9th grade in the fall and we are running out of somedays. But the conversation got shelved for several months.

The youngest was writing a poem and somehow the Smithsonian came up. He asked if we were ever going to go there. We began talking and realized this is a priority. We thought about going next year and tacking it onto our Denver trip. But then we realized that the Dude would be paying $600 to fly out, so we thought it would make more sense to roll that into our travel fund, add to it, and take off this summer. We have money in the bank and are able to at this time.

We leave tomorrow. This blog will turn into my travel blog for a little while. I thought of starting a new blog for the journey, but decided that this is a good example of living well while broke.

The trip is 3 1/2 weeks long. We wanted to upsize to a Suburban so that we would have more leg and elbow room, but it came down to: we can stay home and buy an SUV or keep our minivan and hit the road. The road beckoned all of us. So we will be spending the next 3 1/2 weeks in a small minivan. We have downscaled our things. Everyone is taking 3 days worth of clothes. We have a small box of books on tape and compact games to keep us entertained. We will be buying food along the way. This smaller scale living should help the gas mileage some as well.

Best way to save money while traveling is to camp. We will be doing this all along the way. We splurged a bit and bought an air mattress. It is more than paid for the first night in a tent instead of a hotel. All the rest of the camping equipment was bought used. We will be camping at state, city, and national parks, with a few private campgrounds thrown in. I did use the reservation services. This is a mixed bag. It is nerve wracking to travel without knowing whether you have a site, especially if you are driving late into the night. But with each reservation, I was greeted with a $5-$9 reservation fee. And if I needed to change a reservation, there would be a double penalty-a cancellation charge and a new reservation fee. For some nights we are going without a reservation. However, even with fees, our lodging for 3 1/2 weeks is running about $500. We have budgeted another $500 for meals out. I don't think we will use that much, but I wanted to overplan. I am not including camp and road food that we buy at grocery stores because we would be eating anyway.

Gas is our biggest expense and there is no way around it. I used Gas Buddy to try to find our cheapest option.

For attractions, I have scoured guide books and the Internet seeking out the best free and cheap things to do. We have a rich and varied itinerary and are spending less than $200 on activities. All told, our 3 1/2 week vacation for 5 should cost around $3000. I know that this is a lot, but for what it is, I think it is pretty good.

2 days in Chicago, 3 days in DC, 2 days in NYC
Museum of Modern Art
Greenwich Village
Staten Island Ferry as mode of transportation
Maid of the Mist (maybe) Niagara Falls
Cape May
DoWop tour in Wildwood, NJ
Field Museum of Natural History (Sue!)
Museum of Science and Industry (largest science museum on the western hemisphere)
Lake Michigan boat ride
National Zoo
Air and Space
Sand Dunes
Deep River Muster
Lego Stores
SPAM Museum
Music Man Square
and the list goes on...

I will be blogging about it when I can, but I intend to keep notes and update and dump pictures here after the trip is over.

25 days, 7000 miles, 18 states, lots of nights under the stars.
Stayed tuned....