One Last Road Trip Before Pandemic Panic Shut Down the World

Are you stuck at home on a Friday night worrying that the world is ending or just bummed that your plans got cancelled as a “social distancing” measure? I’m in the latter category since the Banff Film Festival screening in Albuquerque got called off, just like everything else it seems. So, to fill this unexpected spare time I’m having at home and provide you with a little hysteria-free reading material, here’s a new blog post about a 2+ week road trip to California and Nevada that we got back from last weekend…just in time to hunker down and embrace hermit life.

Far before the words “Coronavirus” and “COVID-19” began bombarding our lives, the husband, dog, and I began planning a trip to the Bay Area of California to visit his family and check out a few fun places along the way. We opted against taking the RV since that would have added significantly to our drive time and also because Bay Area camping is notoriously expensive, unavailable, or inconveniently located. Instead, we stayed at a local Airbnb in Point Richmond, California which was wonderfully cozy and really felt like a home away from home.

At seven months pregnant and with a dog in tow, flying never really crossed our minds for something as easy as this 17-hour drive. The main purpose of the trip was to visit my in-laws before my due date in case it takes a little while for us to get back out there again. Fortunately, I’ve been feeling healthy, and Baby Boy is already a great traveler.

My favorite things about visiting the Cali side of the family is doing art projects with my super-crafty sister-in-law and pigging out on my mother-in-law’s home-cooked meals. Plenty of that happened, but we also made time to hike in a few really cool places and check out some live performances too before cancellations started being the norm. Here are a couple of the craft projects we made together: the creepiest dolls ever and hand-painted rocks!

The road trip had a little bit of everything weather-wise: rain in New Mexico, snow in Arizona, and warm sunshine in California. Our new Jeep Grand Cherokee proved to be an awesome road-trip-mobile on this trip, the longest we’ve driven with it, with a smooth ride and plenty of space to work in the passenger seat and store stuff (and a dog) in the back. How we’ll fit a baby and all his stuff back there though in a couple months is still a baffling mystery.

While in the Bay Area of California, I also got to check out Muir Woods for the first time. We’ve been in that area lots of times before but were always turned off by the high crowds, mandatory shuttles, and no-dogs-allowed policy. But with Monkey stowed safely back at the Airbnb, we went on a non-shuttle-required weekday and surprisingly had the whole place to ourselves for a little while.

The husband has one of those little national park passport books that he gets stamps in and I collect national park patches, so we always make a point to stop by any NPS site along the way during our travels. For a lunch stop, we tried to visit the César E. Chávez National Monument around Bakersfield. However, there was some utility issue that closed down the visitor’s center that particular day, meaning that we could do no more than walk outside the grounds. At least the flowers were pretty and the sun was shining.

In fact, the blooming flowers all over California really wowed us after being in the desert during winter for so long.Another random roadside attraction we stopped by was Seven Magic Mountains, a bizarre art installation in the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas. This is a series of colorful boulders stacked into towers over 25 feet high, made by a Swiss artist named Ugo Rondinone. It isn’t far off of I-15 south of Vegas and a sweet place to get out and stretch your legs…especially while wearing pregnancy compression socks because some blog told you to.

On the way back to New Mexico, we stayed in Vegas for a few days to party it up…well, as much as one can party it up at 32 weeks. With a taro-flavored boba tea in hand, I made my way down Fremont Street, reminiscing about the last time I was here a year ago ziplining high above the crowds with my gal pals.

Since Vegas resorts are notoriously un-dog-friendly or charge exorbitant pet fees, we stayed in a LaQuinta in the suburb of Summerlin, which worked out well for our low-key vibe in Sin City. The trend of pretty spring flowers continued as well.

Since the weather was absolutely fabulous during our time in Nevada, we planned a few hikes to get outside and active. One hiking spot was the Desert Wildlife National Refuge, which had a dog-friendly trail that was pretty chill and well-marked for almost two miles.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the newest additions to the NPS system and doesn’t have really anything in the way of designated trails or signage. While I’m not totally sure what I was looking at or there were really any fossils where we were, it was super peaceful to blaze our own path and wander through the low-lying rock formations and wide open desert.  Our last outdoors stop on the trip was the Lake Mead Recreation Area, which was a first for me. The rock formations were more impressive than I was expecting, and the crowds much lower than I expected too. We only got a taste of what’s in this huge park, so I’m looking forward to exploring more of it again later – hopefully in a camper next time.

Before every concert and event started getting cancelled due to virus panic, we were able to squeeze in two really fun shows. The first one was a Korean band called Black String, which played at Freight & Storage in Berkley, California. This was a unique show featuring a geomungo (6-stringed zither), bamboo flute, electric guitar, and traditional drums with instrumental music that was jazzy, catchy, and improvisational. Apparently, the little guy inside my belly was a big fan because I’ve never felt him move as much as I did that evening.

The next show we caught was Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine at the Red Rock Casino in Vegas, which was also fun in it’s own weird way. Mr. Cheese is a parody-style lounge singer that we’ve gotten a kick out of listening to for many years and finally got to see live in concert at our last night in the city. After the show, we played video roulette and walked out with a $4 profit, making $24 on a $20 initial bet. Big gamblers over here…watch out! 

So, as I sit here click-clacking away on a Friday evening, I’m feeling super happy that we made this trip work because virus-pending and baby-pending, who knows when our next little getaway will be. This two-week California/Nevada trip tided over my wanderlust for a little while so I can enjoy the first days of springtime in New Mexico with no regrets. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful time to be here and get outside, which seems to be the safest and healthiest place to be right now anyway.

Stay safe and sane, my friends!

RV-Free Road Trip to the Midwest & Back: A Nonstandard Month #25 of Camper Life

It’s been a long, weird month. Most of month #25 on the road was actually spent outside of the RV and in other people’s houses, a tent, and on long drives in the Jeep instead.

What do I have to show for it? Lots fun times with family and friends, a crazy number of photos (brace yourself, readers), way more miles on the odometer, and a whopping seven more state stickers* added onto our camper life map.* The West: conquered.

*Note: we only add a state sticker if we have camped overnight in a state (hotels and people’s houses don’t count, nor does just driving through) since full-time camper life began on 7/14/16.

To attend a friend’s wedding in Chicago, visit buddies in our old stomping grounds, and put in my annual summer family trip to Illinois, we decided to make a tent camping adventure out of this journey. On the way from Montana to Chicago, we camped for one night each in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Iowa. Then on the way back from Arthur to Montana, we pitched the tent in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Sure, checking states off a list is a bit arbitrary, but having silly little goals helped make the long driving days more bearable and it was fun to see parts of the country that we probably wouldn’t be visiting otherwise anytime soon.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Bozeman, Montana: Home on the Road #78

Back in April 2013, we stopped by the Bozeman Hot Springs for a much-needed warm-up and shower after tenting in Yellowstone National Park with no facilities and 19-degree temperatures. With fond memories of the place, we brought our RV here for two nights to treat ourselves before heading out on the cross-country road trip.

  • Highlights: Refreshing hot spring pools with live music, lovely sunsets, the chill and semi-dog-friendly Outlaw Brewing nearby, free campground breakfasts
  • Lowlights: Insanely expensive to camp here, crowded and traffic-y in town

After ditching our RV at a storage facility just outside of Bozeman, we headed east and made overnight stops in each of these places.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Monkey wasn’t a fan of braving a thunderstorm in a tent, but the storms resulted in an epic double rainbow and a peaceful hike around this crazy rock formation the next morning.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This was our second time to both Devil’s Tower and the Badlands, both areas I really get a kick out of. In between these stops, we also checked out Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore Brewing, and Mount Rushmore.

We rarely get to camp in national parks and national monuments due to the lack of RV hookups for workweek convenience and internet reception for actually getting work done. But on these road trip days, we were getting in half days at best and most of that was done in the Jeep’s passenger seat between driving shifts.

Nations Bridge Park, Stuart, Iowa

Tenting here was a bit rough due to ruthless mosquitoes and no showers yet again. Iowa: check.

Chicago, Illinois

The main reason for this whole road trip was going to my awesome friend from college’s wedding in Chicago. A couple amazing friends in town let us stay over for a couple nights and soak up the luxury of a real bed, shower, and even a couple games of shuffleboard. Monkey particularly loved this part of the trip because she got to hang out with her new best friend, Moki, and coexisted with another dog quite nicely to my surprise.

In addition to two nights of wedding stuff, we managed to squeeze in a brewery outing with a bunch of friends, brunch with gal pals, and a visit to my favorite family in the ‘burbs. It was a whirlwind of visits and conversations that reminded me that I haven’t entirely lost my social skills just yet. This was also a great opportunity to show off our four- minute and 20-second “RV Life Film Festival” trailer that my crazy-talented husband finished on the way here. If you haven’t seen this epic video and would like to, send me a quick note!

Arthur, Illinois

After the wedding bliss came to an end, it was time for a family visit a few hours further south. My parents were cool enough to celebrate my birthday a month early and planned lots of things for us to do together, including an Amish buggy ride, lunch out with Grandma, a sightseeing tour of over-sized roadside attractions in Casey, Illinois, yard games, and a backyard spa day for my Jeep.


When we set out for this trip, there a reluctant side trip to Georgia hanging over our heads. Last December, we made a special trip back to Atlanta to get an emissions test so that we could renew the Jeep’s license plate sticker and continue driving legally as nomads. Long story short, some idiot typed the VIN number wrong on the report, the DMV wouldn’t accept it, and no one would help us resolve the issue. However, that silly sticker was expiring at the end of August, so we had to take care of it ASAP.

After starting the eastbound journey, I had this strange feeling that I should make one final attempt to get out of driving all the way back to Georgia for the sole purpose of doing the test all over again. I got a different person on the phone who was strangely willing to help this time. We completed some forms, provided proof of campground stays and recent auto repairs, waited a few days, and magically, we were granted an exemption literally on the day before we would have begun the Georgia journey! What a relief not to have to waste 20 more hours on the road with two more back-to-back driving days!

Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

With Georgia off of our itinerary, we spent a few more days in Arthur and then headed north to Lake Wissota State Park in Wisconsin. Spending that extra time at my parents’ house was exactly what I needed to recharge and do nothing. Wissota was a spacious and wooded park that felt nice to call home and be back on the road again.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

I’ve been wanting to visit Minnesota really for just one reason lately: the Happy Gnome restaurant in St. Paul. This was an amazing spot all around: dog-friendly outdoor patio, 90+ beers and lots of Belgian ones, mutually agreeable food menu, and gnomes all over the freaking place. From there, we kept heading west to the tiny town of Fergus Falls to set up camp for the night at Delagoon Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Prior to this month, there were two states in the lower 48 that I had never been to: North Dakota and Idaho. After crossing into North Dakota for the first time ever, we stopped at in Jamestown to see the world’s largest buffalo and check out the roadside tourist shops.

From there, it was a Panera lunch and a brewery stop in Bismarck and then on to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. By the time we rolled into the park, it was 100 degrees outside and since national parks hate dogs, so we took turns going on hot hikes and making sure Monkey didn’t melt back at the campsite.

Lewis & Clark Caverns, Montana: Home on the Road #79

After another grueling day of driving, we finally got back to our RV in storage – safe and sound. To transition back to normal life, we spent the weekend at Lewis & Clark Caverns for our last Montana home. The caves were accessible by group tour only, which was a bit annoying but totally worth it. As an added bonus, the park provided free and shaded dog kennels onsite so we could do the two-hour tour together without having to worry about Monkey boiling in the heat.

  • Highlights: Felt so good to be back home and in the mountains specifically, awesome cave tour, great dog kennels, peaceful park
  • Lowlights: Super stinkin’ hot outside, still using public showers here

Arco, Idaho: Home on the Road #80

Our first-ever visit to Idaho began in the tiny town of Arco (population 995) to check out Craters of the Moon National Monument and the atomic energy historic stuff. This was a great place to fully transition back into standard camper life because there wasn’t much to do here, making it ideal for catching up with work and settling back into normal routines.

  • Highlights: Hiking at Craters of the Moon, pulling off the side of the road to take a dip in natural hot springs, learning about the disturbing world of nuclear testing and fatal meltdowns
  • Lowlights: Not being allowed to go in the caves at Craters of the Moon because of bat drama, most things are out of business and boarded up here

This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Work, work, and more work – so much of it.

  • One out of three machines working isn’t too bad, right? Laundry on the road can be rough at times.

  • Monkey really gets a lot out of having a dog pal around. Having two goons in a camper sounds like a really bad idea, but she’ll get a dog sibling one day when camper life comes to a close. In the meantime, she’s literally the best road trip dog ever.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’re hanging out in Idaho a little while longer – Bellevue and Boise – before making our way into Eastern Oregon by Labor Day. Bellevue is a fun stop because we actually have a couple friends that live here – former full-time RVers that we met on the road last year. Then I’ll ring in the big 3-5 in the Boise area next week with apparently, some surprise shenanigans planned.

After that, we’ll try being Oregonians again in a different part of the state (the John Day and Bend areas) that promise to be much warmer and drier than our spring on the coast. Constant travel research and planning feel more tiring and burdensome to me than even before the road trip, which doesn’t bode well for keeping this lifestyle going for the long-term.

While tenting for a couple weeks was a fun adventure and reminiscent of the four- and six-week tenting trips we did back in 2013 and 2014, it feels damn good to be back in our comfy and cozy RV. The experience reminded me about all the things that make tent life harder: sharing a bathroom with strangers, walking outside to pee in the middle of the night after a few too many beers, trying to get work done, keeping devices charged, showering every three days at best, etc. It’s funny how the little creature comforts of this home on wheels make this lifestyle so pleasant and sustainable – little things like my amazing bed pillow, not having to say good morning to strangers on my way to release a morning pee, and not worrying how I’ll put in another long day of writing work. But while I’m not cut out for full-time tenting right now, I do still love it for a few days at a time so we can get off the grid in ways that RV life doesn’t allow.

On that note and before this rambling carries on any longer than it already has, I’m signing off. We have a lot more to see and do in this rugged wilderness of potatoes in month #26 and until Christmas before another RV-free road trip is in the cards.

Happy trails!

Catch up with the journey:

Hiking around Albuquerque: Southwest Road Trip Series

So today marks day #29 of my Southwestern road trip and I’m just now getting around to my first blog post. Womp womp.

I’d almost forgotten how time-consuming it is to hold down a full-time job while exploring towns and natural sites in new places. But I must say that working in a pop-up camper is MUCH easier than seeking out pavilions, arcade rooms, and laundry rooms while tent camping.


But to keep track of it all, we’ve been taking tons of photos and I’ve been keeping up with my trusty travel journal at least every couple days. Just this morning, my husband literally just sent me two dozen photo album links of our trip so far, so I thought it was high time to start writing about some of the awesome adventures we’ve been having so far!

This first road trip post is all about hiking around Albuquerque. After starting in Atlanta and briefly passing through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, Albuquerque was the first destination on our list. Hiking is a big part of our travel style, so I’m aiming to highlight the best hikes we did in each of our destinations.


Why Albuquerque?

Well as the largest city in New Mexico, it seemed like a logical place to start a month-long exploration of the state. Besides, we’re big Breaking Bad fans and were excited to visit as many film sites as possible around town.


Sandia Mountains

While staying in Albuquerque, one of the first hikes we did was in the Sandia Mountains. We set out on the South Crest Trail and looped around the Faulty Trail and Upper Faulty Trail. This hike kind of reminded me of hiking in Georgia with its dirt/rock terrain and lush greenery. However, this hike was definitely hillier than most Georgia State Park trails, but they didn’t have much in the way of wildflowers.


We hiked about five miles on this route since we still weren’t exactly sure what Monkey’s hiking capacity is. At this time, she hadn’t even been with us for two months, but already I’d noticed that she does quite a bit better hiking on trails than walking around in cities. Her excitement level is more chill without all those distractions, which is totally understandable. By the way, I’m also working on a post about what to do when your dog is more social than you are, because that’s definitely the scenario here!


Read more: 

Old Town Albuquerque

Of course, we also did a fair amount of “urban hiking” as well to check out Old Town Albuquerque and the downtown area. This is a cute artsy area with lots of shops and nice for an afternoon stroll.


This is where I first got in my head that I wanted to buy myself a silver and turquoise cuff bracelet as a souvenir. Shortly after making this decision, I discovered that the ones I liked were in the $1,000 range and totally out of budget.

Throughout this trip, I proceeded to browse shops for my dream bracelet. But in the end, I decided to give up and settle for a $19.99 knock-off. Whatever, it’s still cute and I got some other awesome turquoise jewelry too that I’m planning to chat about exclusively in an upcoming post!


But moving on from my jewelry woes, there was also a pretty interesting sculpture garden that we checked out near Old Town ABQ as well. It was outside the city’s art and history museum on the other side of a pretty large park.


Read more: 

Petroglyph National Monument

But my favorite place to hike in the area was Petroglyph National Monument. I few years ago, I wrote a post about petroglyphs and pictographs after checking some out on hikes in Montana and Wyoming. And I’m still a bit fascinated about ancient rock carvings and all that.


Related: Pictographs v. Petroglyphs v. Graffiti

The trails of choice were Rinconada Canyon and Piedras Marcadas, which were both dog-friendly. On the first of these routes, we hiked about a mile to reach the petroglyphs and then they slowly started to reveal themselves. The carvings were bit far away from the trail but still totally visible and easy to point out. Round trip, Rinconada Canyon involved about 2.2 miles of hiking.


Then we drove about six miles up the road to Piedras Marcadas, which was oddly located right in the middle of an urban subdivision. These people’s backyards literally back right up to the petroglyph trail, which was kind of cool and kind of ridiculous at the same time.

Between the two trails though, this one was definitely the better one to scope out petroglyphs. There are lots more of them, and you can walk right up to the rocks with carvings.


Surprisingly, there really wasn’t much graffiti out here either, which was refreshing. Piedras Marcadas was a little over two miles round-trip as well and offered lovely views of the town down below and nearby mountains.


Read more: 

A Dirt Road Near Cochiti Lake

One pretty random hike that we ventured out in in the Albuquerque area was along a dirt road near Cochiti Lake. This was actually a backup hike after finding out the hard way that Tent Rocks National Monument doesn’t allow dogs.

This is in an area full of Native American pueblos. We tried to stop by one, Santa Domingo Pueblo, but it was early morning on a Sunday and nothing was open and we felt kind of awkward just lurking around.

Anyway, the national park dude at Tent Rocks recommended that we just drive down the road and pull over wherever to hike with our dog without hassle and for free. So that’s what we did.


We parked and hiked down a paved road until we hit a barricaded dirt road and turned down on it. There was only one other couple around and quite a bit ahead of us down the trail, so we actually let Monkey off-leash for a bit. As a recovering stray, she doesn’t go too far away from us and is slowly earning our trust.


We hiked this route until we got to a dried-up river, which seems to be a pretty common occurrence in New Mexico given the climate. The weather was absolutely perfect – sunny and 70s. From here, we moved on from Albuquerque and drove to our next destination: Santa Fe, which we quickly discovered had plenty of awesome hiking spots of its own!

How I Wrapped Up My 30th Year in New York City

While cranking out some sort of work article one afternoon, a random text message appeared from the void that read something like this: Hey, we’re road tripping to New York in a couple days to see The Unicorns’ 10-year reunion. Join us?

In a couple days? So soon. No way. Well maybe. Don’t be lame. Could be fun. Remember, this is a self-employment perk. Screw it, why not?!

The text came from one of my longest-time childhood buddies, who through all sorts of weird life events, has been my constant best friend for two and a half decades. At that particular point in time, he was halfway between a relocation from Japan to Ireland with his new(ish) wife (who I would have my stolen away as my new friend even without her marital ties). They were making lots of American pit stops along the way, and I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along.

And if convincing myself that spontaneous road trips were an essential occupational perk wasn’t enough, the trip was planned over my birthday weekend – a weekend that I had planned absolutely nothing. That sealed the deal, and off we went…in a Mustang!

In photos, here’s how I wrapped up my 30th year on this planet with two amazing travel companions in New York City.


A scenic vista in Pennsylvania beckoned the Mustang crew to pull off for a photo op and a leg stretch.

backseatwork‘Tis the rough life of a traveling freelancer. Over the past year and a half, I’ve pretty much mastered the fine art of switching on my work focus at the drop of a hat…or in this case, at the drop of a convertible top. Thank the Lord Almighty for tangled-hair-prevention bandannas.

hollandtunnel1$13 to drive through the Holland Tunnel? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. And I thought Chicago tolls were bad. hollandtunnel2The tunnel was pretty futuristic-rad, snapping pics in the backseat with the top down. But seriously, $13?nycThe sights, sounds and er, smells of NYC as we entered Manhattan through Chinatown. bridgedrive

(singing) New York bridges falling down, falling down, falling down. Fortunately not today.


Our first Airbnb experience: We stayed in a nice 1-bedroom apartment/condo in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It completely suited our needs, especially since all we did here was sleep and stash our stuff.

walkingbrooklynWandering around Brooklyn with no destination in mind…my favorite way to explore a new place.

brooklynThis was my fourth trip to New York City, so I was more interested in exploring random neighborhoods that revisiting the crowded tourist circuit. Brooklyn was perfect for experiencing that sort of local, unpretentious vibe, with plenty of creative street art along the way. Brooklyn gnome muralThis photo goes to show that I have the uncanny ability to uncover gnomes absolutely ANYWHERE. You can’t imagine my surprise when I strolled past a garage door painted with climbing and roller skating gnomes. These particular gnomes belonged to a craft studio, Baked in Brooklyn. crappypretzelsStreet side dining has a nostalgic appeal that often sounds better in our heads than tastes in our mouths. Exhibit A: crappy soft pretzels in the park. sodabear#peopleleavingdrinks – I never found out what this bear did to warrant incarceration, but at least he seems to receive a steady flow of soda.
creepyfencecreaturesI have no idea why this exists, and I find it wonderful. miscellaneousbookstoreOne of couple Brooklyn bookstores that deserved a bit of browsing time.

oldcheeseAfter hopping on a subway with the Lower East Side and East Village in mind, we wandered around a few unique parts of Manhattan. The oldest cheese store in America apparently exists in Little Italy. I’m still curious how old their oldest cheese block really is though. shoe shopThere’s no time for a busted flip flop in New York City. Rj patiently waited as an aggressive cobbler ripped a dying flip flop in half before making it whole again. mosaic trailAlthough I was only able to follow the Mosaic Trail for a few blocks before getting distracted by something else, I’m sure it leads somewhere really colorful.
weirdasianstuffCreepy scenes never cease to amuse me. Anyone: what’s a “crust jacket”?

Brooklyn Bridge pic

After what seemed to be a never-ending journey to stroll across the elusive Brooklyn Bridge, we found it! Skillful photo credit goes to Sarah for capturing our next album cover.

Arcade Fire picSpeaking of album cover, the entire point of the road trip was this concert! Equipped with not-so-real tattoos x3, our photo booth shot was nothing shy of epic.

theunicornsThe Unicorns! Those mythical creatures do exist! Apparently this indie band hasn’t performed in a decade and reunited, at least in part, because of a 2004 “joke song”  called “The Unicorns: 2014.” The lyrics go a little like this:

“I looked in into my crystal ball – See gummies in the sunny – Riding moonbeams into money.”

DJ Dan DeaconAfter dancing our way through The Unicorns set in sadly empty stands at the Barclays Center, a DJ named Dan Deacon took control of the back stage. The highlight of his performance was when he called out the “people dancing to the Unicorns way up in the stands”. THAT WAS US. Five seconds of fame were OURS and no one else’s.

Dan’s crowd-interactive dance-off circle was fun to watch as well…a distant second highlight.
ArcadeFireThen came Arcade Fire, which was a ridiculously glitzy stage set with no less than a dozen people on stage at any given time. I knew a good number of the AF songs from radio play, some more catchy than others. But ultimately, they put on a super entertaining performance up down there.
expensiveboozeGetting too concert-drunk was a non-issue because one mixed drink cost a whopping $14.75. I expected to find chunks of gold at the bottom of my Jack & Ginger, but alas…nothing more than a few chips of melted ice.


Hellooo, Jersey City!

And in the true spirit of a whirlwind journey, we were back on the road again in the blink of an eye. So what if we spent nearly as much time going below speed limit on the interstate and taking rest stop breaks than actually in the heart and belly of New York. Road trips are about the journey more than the destination, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

About a decade ago, Rj and I attempted to road trip from Arthur, Illinois to Canada. However, we didn’t even make it past Beloit, Wisconsin. So in that regard, I consider this trip a huge success.

I loved getting to know Sarah over these quick and random road trip days and meeting her welcoming friends who kindheartedly fed us snacks and wine and engaged us in clever conversation one evening in their flat. A trip to visit the newlyweds in Ireland next summer is definitely on my travel to-do list.

Rj and SarahAnd for my birthday? At the stroke of midnight on August 24, 2014, I was half passed out in the backseat of the Mustang rolling through uber-depressing Gary, Indiana. But at that point, I had already celebrated to my heart’s content and had no idea that another adventure was planned for me back in Chicago when I returned home.

howoldareyouWhile passing through a middle-of-nowhere town in Ohio on the return journey, I popped into an antique shop in search of you guessed it…gnomes. Although I didn’t find any, I was entirely amused by this antique cloth print that read, “How Old Are You?”

Although 31 sounds like a totally insignificant number, I’m determined to make it an incredibly significant year. So pour me a glass of brandy and keep the adventures coming!

Road Tripping with the ‘Check Engine’ Light On

Today marks Day #4 of our second workcation. We started calling this trip “The Vermainshire Workcation,” but then we ended up in Canada and name combinations just became too confusing.

I write today from a dorm-like motel in Scarborough, on the outskirts of Toronto, as I knock out some projects to pay for the days ahead. Things are going smoothly so far, but they didn’t start out that way.

On Saturday morning at 7am, we stuffed the Jeep full of seemingly useful crap, attached a couple bikes, and secured the hitch rack cargo bag. About an hour into our drive, my Jeep (who goes by “Chief Surfs with Manatees, if you were unaware) dinged a foreboding ding.

The dreaded “check engine” light was shining brightly back at me from the dash, mocking me.

A debate of the options ensued, and we considered driving back to Chicago to get it taken care of. We settled on pulling over in Michigan City, Indiana to take Chief to the automobile emergency room.

photo (1)

We first attempted to buy a scanner to diagnose the problem at an Advanced Auto Parts. The dude there was kind enough to scan Chief with the company scanner for free, which saved us at least fifty bucks. Woot! The diagnosis indicated an EGR (exhaust gas re-circulation) issue, and while a treatment plan couldn’t be determined from that, it was clear we needed some professional help.

A crap-hole shop called Apex Auto Care advised they couldn’t even diagnose Chief, let alone fix him because he was “too new”. Apparently, all the cars they service are from 2009 or older, which is weird and lame.

Fortunately, another shop, Chris’ Car Care, ran a $45 test and told us that the EGR valve sensor had been set off, but that no immediate fix was needed. Even after explaining that I needed this Jeep to get me to Maine, the dude reassured me that it would drive just fine. I can’t say I understand his explanation very well, but I guess I am apprehensively relieved. Fingers crossed!


We’ve made it to Toronto so far and have been hanging out in and around the city, which reminds me of Chicago but nicer, greener, friendlier, and equally expensive. Stay tuned for future blog posts about our adventures, which will hopefully be about fun things rather than Jeep drama.

Posts about biking Toronto Island and the Bellwoods Brewery are coming up next! I’m also creating a road trip poetry book that will feature haikus, limericks, and other forms of random poetry that I decide to Google and learn how to write.


Happy trails!

Working in Weird Places

I shutter to think about the number of days, hours, and years I’ve spent sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. While my current work situation enables me to work from pretty much wherever I please (Internet-depending, of course), my bank account still depends on my eyes to be fixed on the screen and my fingers to type. The difference, however, is that I’ve ditched the desk.

I hate desks. Sure, there’s plenty of ergonomic fancy designs that would probably remedy my persistently stiff neck, the idea of a desk reminds me of the conformity, rigidity, and structure I’m running away from.

Happy Holiday Campground Arcade Room, Rapid City, SD

Happy Holiday Campground Arcade Room, Rapid City, SD

While traveling through the Black Hills of South Dakota, we stayed at an awesome campground with a lame name: Happy Holiday RV Resort in Rapid City, South Dakota. During this phase of our westward journey, the weather was inconsistent, yet tolerable.

Some days reached 60-degrees and campground-wide Wi-Fi made outdoor picnic table working possible. On rainy and cooler days, the campground’s arcade park was our refuge. Although most of the power outlets were broken and the couches reeked of stale smoke, the arcade room was warm, quiet, and just random enough to be creative in.

Happy Holiday campsite with monkey assistant

Happy Holiday campsite with monkey assistant

Working in the outdoors has always been a dream of mine, even if it still is on a stupid computer. Even when temperatures dipped into the 20’s and the wind gusts got crazy, I found myself incredibly willing to make it work. Pull on some more layers, plop on a hat, and duck under a pavilion to keep your laptop from getting destroyed by the downpour.

Once our westward journey reached Montana, the weather took a drastic turn for the worse. When initially planning this trip, I wondered why everything around Yellowstone National Park was closed in April. After seventeen days of dealing with this weather, I guess I finally understand why.

Happy Holiday pavilion in the rain

Happy Holiday pavilion in the rain

On one particularly unbearable day, we ventured into Bozeman, Montana to check out the city. After spending only a short amount in Bozeman, I quickly added it to my “I could maybe possibly see myself living here for awhile someday” list.

The Bozeman Public Library proved to be a great place to get some work done on a snowy Montana day. The Wi-Fi worked great, there was plenty of room to spread out, and the facility was nice and new.

Bozeman Public Library with a pink monkey

Bozeman Public Library with a pink monkey

Libraries are always preferable to coffee shops and restaurants with Wi-Fi for working because they eliminate that nagging obligation/temptation to buy something. When you’re traveling on a budget for a month, every unnecessary latte adds up. However, the libraries in some tiny towns have totally inconvenient hours.

For example, the library in Gardiner, Montana is only open on Tuesdays from 10am-5pm and 6-8pm and then Thursdays from 6-8pm. How do you promote literacy with only two weekdays of book access?

Tumbleweed Cafe, The Only Place with Internet in Gardiner, MT

Tumbleweed Cafe, The Only Place with Internet in Gardiner, MT

Regardless, sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay for a couple of food items to get work done. The Tumbleweed Bookstore and Cafe was essentially the only place in all of Gardiner that had free Wi-Fi. Fortunately, coffee and tea only cost $1 there and Montana has no sales tax. That’s a small price to pay to get some freelance paychecks to roll in.


I hate myself as I’m writing this, but McDonald’s also has really reliable free Wi-Fi. I couldn’t resist buying a grilled chicken wrap and M&M McFlurry while working in the Livingston, Montana McDonald’s for over six hours on yet another snowy day. The staff never hassled us to leave either because they had fallen in love with my stuffed pink monkey. Thanks, Ginger.

Before setting out on this road trip, we tried to do our research about places to find Wi-Fi on the road. However, the results are sketchy and daily itineraries change. For backup, we invested in a Verizon 4G Jetpack, although the fees get ridiculous if we exceed the data usage plan.

I feel the need to create an “Encyclopedia of Road Trip Wi-Fi” with a list of places recommended for working on the road. Laundromats often have Wi-Fi also, such as Gardiner Laundry next to Yellowstone Gifts & Sweets. If you’re on the road for awhile, you probably have laundry to do anyway. If you don’t, fake it and fuss with a machine every once in awhile.

Gardiner Laundry, Closest Washing Station to Yellowstone

Gardiner Laundry, Closest Washing Station to Yellowstone

If you’re simply on vacation, avoid the unplug your devices, enjoy nature, and avoid these Wi-Fi spots at all costs. However, if your ability to eat and find shelter depends upon the Internet, keep knocking things off your to-do list so you can extend the road trip as long as possible. That’s what I’m doing!