Monday, July 30, 2012

Between Minnesota and The Black Hills

And then the sun began to rise.  My mind was a zoo and the dog was spinning circles inside the tent.  Who needs an alarm clock?  Time to pack up camp and move on down the road.  At this point it was so exciting to wake up and wonder what the day was going to bring.  The air was cool and clean.  The trees were leaving tiny drops of rain on our noses from the night before.  With the van packed and my arms stretched I let out a deep yawn and hopped in the van.  The scenery had not changed much from Wisconsin into eastern Minnesota.  Birch trees and ferns lined the road ahead and behind us.  For a short stretch we ended up on Highway 61 and took a second to snap a picture.  At one point we were stopped at a road work zone and chatted with the man holding the sign.  He was the type of guy you might meet in a rural roadside dive bar.  An honest and good person making a pretty good living just standing in one place holding a sign.   We never got his name.  We called him Carl.
This is the picture we snapped of Old Highway 61.

Somewhere towards the middle of Minnesota the scenery was taking a big turn.  The tall trees disappeared and the farms took over the landscape.  There were small signs flanking each farm showing which company's owned the crops.  If there wasn't a farm much of the time there were large buildings with no windows and fans on the walls which housed probably hundreds if not thousands of Chickens.  These buildings came with a pungent aroma which might have even disturbed Roadie.  We followed the road over hills and across valley's all the while small towns and farms were the images we saw through the windows.  The last leg of road we were on in Minnesota was real bizarre.  The sun was so bright everything had a shine to it.  There were hills and farms.  And also a massive wind farm.  These wind farms always make me feel like I'm living in a sci-fi movie.

South Dakota brought a change in the landscape.  The hills remained but they were a bit dryer.  And it seemed like the second we crossed the state line there were more motorcycles then cars on the highway. Time was ticking and we still had a couple more hours till we reached our destination of Highmore, South Dakota.  Every now and then I would wonder how bad it would be to breakdown in the middle of nowhere South Dakota.  It was probably 8 pm and the sun was where it would be at 5 pm in Texas.  This was very surreal.  We turned on the radio to see what South Dakota had to offer. There were probably 5 stations but one was playing some very distinct sounding guitar music that could only be Bill Frisell.  It ended up being the local public radio station broadcasting American Routes out of New Orleans.

We reached Highmore at around 9 pm and were welcomed and invited in by Mike and Christie Riley.  They were very hospitable and gave us a comfortable place to sleep.  We stayed up a while and reminisced over some glasses of ice tea.  The Riley's are old friends of Christina's parents and were very kind to take us in and provide us with a much appreciated place to sleep.

The excitement building inside me at this point was reaching a peak because the rest of the trip promised some amazing sites to see. It did not take long for us to load the van and be on our way heading towards Badlands National Park.  Highmore felt very secluded and possibly the most secluded we felt on our trip.  The farms seemed significantly larger then any farm I've ever witnessed.  The machinery was too.  We passed a large vehicle on the highway that appeared to be the size of a tank or maybe two and looked like something out of Star Wars.  The land was very flat and you could see for probably 100 miles in any direction and it was all farms.  We ate breakfast at a little diner where we were easily the youngest people there except a couple who I guessed were the owners of the touring bicycles parked outside.  We filled our belly's full of eggs, potato's, and delicious fluffy pancakes.  We found a road on the map that looked like it would be a fun scenic road to take and headed that direction.  It turned out to be a dirt road so we had to make a decision.  We chose to take the road less traveled and it was definitely the right decision.

 The road took us first through the most populated section.  Moderately sized houses with stables and horses carved the pathway.  We followed the road and curved toward straw colored hills in the distance. Passed over a bridge along side an old railroad leaving behind the stream and small town.  Rolled through the hills until the expanse of land opened up ahead.  There was a sign that claimed this road was the oldest Indian trail in central South Dakota.  It was weathered sign which made it somewhat believable.  At least at the time.  The road plowed through yellow plains and there will hills in all directions.  We eventually came upon a herd of bison grazing at the foot of one of the hills.  This was our first bison sighting on the trip and possibly the most impressive because we were the only people around for miles.  We pulled over to enjoy the view when suddenly a car drove passed us.  "Guess we weren't the only people out here after all", I thought to myself.  So we followed there dust for a while when they suddenly turned around and charged off in the opposite direction.  This was a little nerve racking.  What was up ahead that made them turn around?  It turned out to be that the road was about to climb up a steep hill.  There was no turning back for us at this point.  We pushed on.  The road got steeper and steeper and the gravel was loose.  Our old van does not have 4-wheel drive.  We made it up the hill with a steady pace and the view made all our doubts disappear.  We stopped and let Roadie out.  The wind was so strong it might have been what pushed us up the hill.  After a while we pressed on.  We noticed that some of the fences along the road were no longer around and there were signs stating no vehicles were allowed in the fields.  I figured these must have been designated hunting grounds.  Finally we met up with the highway again.  And before we could turn south on our next road we stopped and read another sign that said we were on the Old Deadwood Trail.  These signs were along the highway until we met up with the I 90.

Indian Trail sign we saw on the old dirt road.
We pull into the town of Wall to see the famous Wall Drug store.  We drove around looking for a place to park finally parked.  We got out to realize it was maybe to hot to leave Roadie in the van.  I was already having a nervous breakdown because the town felt like something in Disney land.  Finally we gave up and went to get gas.  At this point everything got real intense.  The pump wouldn't take my card only to find out it had been canceled.  We started the car and it was shaking which it hadn't done before.  I got on the phone with the bank to figure out what was going on with the card.  After I settled the confusion with the bank the car started fine and we found out that it was probably the octane gas we were putting in the car.  Turns out South Dakota's minimum octane for regular unleaded is lower then the owners manual suggests to use. So we had to put plus in the whole time we were in S.D. and parts of Wyoming.  This was really annoying and expensive.  But our gas mileage went up.

We cruised down I 90 for a while until in the distance we saw what looked like gnarled canyons.  Finally we were nearing Badlands National Park.  70 million years ago the uplift of the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains turned this area into a flood plain which laid down the foundation of what we see today.  For 500,000 years erosion carved out the deep canyons and spires of Badlands National Park.  Many fossils of extinct species found in the rock formations give us an idea of what the history of this landscape was like millions of years ago.  We stopped at various lookouts and walked down some of the boardwalks and stood mesmerized and inspired by the place.  It is truly too hard to accurately describe it but something you really have to see for yourself.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Leaving the Upper Peninsula

It was sad leaving Marquette and the Swaty family.  Pulling out of the driveway and leaving their beautiful home and watching their dog Hazel disappear into the house one last time almost brought a couple of tears to my eyes.  There was also the excitement.  Every morning during the trip so far we had said to each other "Okay. This is where the adventure is beginning."  Looking back we have realized that the real adventure started the very moment that we walked out of our front door and stepped foot into our van.

Before I went any further, I had to have a Pasty.  Pasties are a big thing in the Upper Peninsula.  There are little shops everywhere.  I wanted one in Marinette but Lisa, Trevor's mom, said that we should wait to have them when we are in Marquette.  Pasties are little pies that are usually filled with meat and potatoes and are wrapped in pastry and baked.  Kinda like a calzone...but better.  I wish that I had eaten one the very first day I was there so I would have known how amazing this little pocket of goodness was.  I would have eaten them everyday, for every meal.  I have found myself several times on this trip dreaming of having a pasty.  If you ever see a pasty shop, stop and eat one and thank me later.

Wakefield, WI
This was our first day to head West. Ottawa National Forest in the Upper Peninsula and Chequamegon National Forest (except for the speeding ticket I got) in Wisconsin were both amazing.  The thick trees on the drive were only broken up by still, boatless lakes.   There was a lake that we came to on the drive that was so incredible. The trees wrapped around the lake and there was a stump that was sticking up out of water and supporting a kingfisher.  We wanted to step out of the car, have a breather and maybe walk the dog around the lake but as soon as we stopped we heard a thump.  And then another one.  And then another one.  And then they started to become more frequent.  We then realized that there were big bugs that were ramming into the car.  This was enough to make us sit, look at each other and say, "so, do you want to just go?"  I took a picture from the inside of the car and we moved on.

We drove all day. It was a long drive but we wanted to be in a good position to make it to Highmore, South Dakota the day after that. Our goal was to make it to St. Croix State Park right across from the state line into Minnesota.  We made it in the early evening with enough time to relax before we went to bed.  The mosquitos were awful.  This was the only night that we had to cover ourselves in repellent.  I cut up some veggies and made us veggie chili that turned out awesome in camping standards.  We had also started a campfire (which I burned myself making) and sat around it, made s'mores and drank some beers.  Sounds pretty perfect, right?  Well, all except for the mosquitos. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Upper Penisula

First off, my apologies for not keeping everyone updated.  We have been out and about in places where there is no internet.  A little inconvenient but exactly what we needed in a lot of ways. We left off in Wisconsin.  We have been through 4 states since (moving on to our 5th) so we have a lot of catching up to do.  For now I will just write about our time in Marquette, MI.

We left Green Bay and headed North.  Way North.  I had never seen Lake Superior before so I was really excited! Some of you may remember the story of when Trevs and I took the Amtrak to and from Chicago a couple of years ago.  We had met a father and a son who were from the Upper Peninsula and they were headed to Corpus Christi where he was doing work with the Nature Conservancy.  The kid, Finn, wowed us with his talks of loving carrots more than candy and then starting to knit himself a hat.  Remember that story?  Well, we have kept in touch with the Swaty family ever since and now they have become great friends of ours.

The Swaty Homestead
We called the Swaty's on our way up and they immediately opened up their home to us.  We had every intention of staying one night and then making our way West.  We ended up staying 3 days.  The Upper Peninsula proved to be even more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.   The tiny little towns were sweet and simple.  We pulled down the street where their house was and were told to look for the basketball goal on the street side.  When we pulled in I immediately felt like we were pulling into a little piece of heaven.  There was a pretty little white farm house, a garden, a beautiful old barn and a donkey named Rosie.  Randy, Finn and Ry and their sweet little dog Hazel came to greet us outside.  We were so happy to see them.  Randy made dinner for all of us - brown rice and veggies with a black bean sauce.  It was the perfect meal after being in the land of meat and cheese for so long.  Our three days were magical there.  Ry takes cello lessons and Finn does violin lessons.  They both played for us their pieces that they have been learning.  Trevor shared with them some of what he has written lately plus a few other songs.  They also all played together!  I wish that I had some video of that.  It was an incredibly special moment seeing him playing with those two little boys.

Finn and Ry showing off the Red Bellies.
Finn and Ry were both so excited to show us around.  Finn was real quick to show us where all the red belly snakes live.  He grabbed them to show us.  I have to admit that before this moment snakes petrified me.  I have had this fear my entire life.  Actually Finn and I talked a lot about it and how in several stories when you are growing up that the snake is representative of evil and that that must be where the fear started.  He helped me get over that fear and for that I am forever thankful...and impressed.  All I needed was a nine year old to teach me that there was nothing to worry about.  Thanks Finn.

The day after we arrived, Trevor and I followed the Swaty's into Marquette.  I loved this town.  Breweries, little coffee roasters that felt like someone's living room, bakeries, food co-ops.  We were so happy to be there.  I found myself saying several times to Trevor that I could live there.  It was pretty perfect.  I have to keep reminding myself that yes, it is perfect now but what about in the Winter time when everything in covered in ice and frigid?  It seemed that everyone we talked to about that said that their Winter is their favorite time of year.  I would kinda like to try it out.  We started out our day at Dead River Coffee Roasters.  Imagine one room, one roaster inside, coffee in glass jars on a counter, an old snarky man running the place and everyone walking in knowing each other.  That is Dead River Coffee.  It was incredibly charming.  People were walking behind the counter to grab a pastry for themselves.  Kinda bizarre but I loved it.  We ended up walking around town all day and then in the end grabbing a couple of brews and some Lake Superior whitefish.  So good!

Mulching the Garden
Randy knows how it is when you are traveling and you could use some extra cash so he offered us a job working in the garden at their house.  One of their gardens had pretty much grown over.  It was full of weeds and needed to be mulched.   We ended up extending our stay there so we could work for them.  It was one of the best experiences of this trip.  Trevor and I got up at sunrise, stretched our legs for a bit, drank some coffee and headed out to do some work.  Nothing is more rewarding than working in a garden.  Especially for people you like.  It took us all day but in the end it was beautiful again.  The potatoes where visible again without all of the weeds.  The garlic too.  Our reward was our pay that we had agreed on and a bonus of a carton of farm fresh eggs and a half gallon of apple cider that they had harvested and made themselves.   Might I add that this was the best apple cider I have ever had in my life.

After working all day the boys were ready to show us the Laughing Whitefish State Park.  They lived right down the road from it so it is basically in their backyard.  You could tell by the way the boys were running around the park, heading off the trails to show us little hidden gems.  Ry was so excited to show us the bog.  I guess I had never seen a naturally occurring bog.  It was so awesome.  The boys showed us how you can walk of them if you are careful.  Finally they showed us the falls.  It was breathtaking.  I can't believe they live so close to it!  What a great place to grow up.  

 The last night that we were with the Swaty fam, they had their neighbors over to grill and then the kids, Randy and Trevor provided some after dinner musical entertainment.  Staying with Swaty family was one of the best experiences I have ever had.  We learned so much from each of them and I will forever be thankful for that experience. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Marinette with Hilma and Ralph

Due to the lack of internet and phone reception we have neglected this blog for the last few days.  I wanted to write about Marinette, Wisconsin.  Where my grandparents live.

I was a lucky kid growing up.  My grandparents lived just a few hours away from me in Safford, Arizona.  I spent many weekends in the tiny, slow moving desert town.  I have memories of a park filled with mesquite trees, a small lake, and hot springs my brother and I always looked forward to swimming in.  I remember lying on the floor of their little mobile home listening to the sounds of their voices in conversation, not really paying attention what they were saying.  My nose following the smells of Grandma (Hilma) cooking/baking in the kitchen.  Usually apple pie and these buttery noodles with bread crumbs mixed in.  My favorite to this day.

I was so excited as we drove into Marinette passing by the cheese stores and Rail House Brewery.  We sat and talked with my Grandparents and I completely lost track of time.  This was the trend for the next couple of days.  They are the kindest and most generous people I know.  Like superman or Ghandi to me.  My heroes. 

We stayed about 40 or so miles north of them at J. W. Wells state park outside of Menominee, Michigan.  After the first night there they moved us to a campsite right on the coast of Green Bay.  The constant breeze blowing off the bay was better than air conditioning.  Our second day there was the first day of the trip that felt like vacation.  We slept in, cooked some breakfast at camp and sprawled out on a blanket in the sun and napped with Roadie.  Summer on Green Bay makes it seem so worth it to endure through the cold months up here.  After our nap we met up with my cousin Jackie from Detroit and uncle Tom from right there on the same stretch of beach we were camping on.  It was good to get to visit with them as I rarely ever have the chance to do so.  My aunt Mary even made time in her busy schedule to take us out to lunch. 

It was hard to leave such a beautiful place and the comfort of being around my family.  But we have a long road ahead of us.  So we took a picture and said our goodbyes.  I'm full of love for my family.
Us with Hilma and Ralph, my grandparents.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Fourth of July and Chicago

Me and Trevor with my cousin Kristin and her husband Adel.
We thought that we were escaping the heat by coming up North.  We were wrong.  The 4th of July was hot. Hotter than any 4th of July I have ever spent in Indiana.  The scene was pretty much the same though.  There were hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.  The exception was that there were veggie burgers on the grill this time.  There were potato chips, a taffy apple salad, marinated vegetables and a cheesecake.  When my family gets together it always happens that a few of the men end up in the living room watching Civil War documentaries and the result is usually my cousin Kristin breaking it to them that their shows are always going to have the same outcome.  They still watch intently. It never fails.  No matter how many times they watch and probably hear the same information it somehow remains interesting to them.  I find it kinda charming.  This time there was also entertainment.  At the request of my family, Trevor played a couple of tunes on the banjo.  The day was pleasant and was exactly what we needed after the long and hurried trip to get there.  We also got to go on a little joy ride in a super snazzy BMW convertible courtesy of my cousin Kristin and her husband Adel.  I am pretty sure that I have never been in a car that went so fast so quickly.  It felt especially fast since we have been traveling around in our little minivan.

After all of the festivities it was time to hop in the van again and make our way up to Crown Point, Indiana where we were staying for a few days with my Dad and his girlfriend Cindy.  The drive was so bizarre and incredibly entertaining.  The scene was surreal. The fireflies in this area and this time of year are thick in the corn and soybean.  It almost seems like Christmas lights in all the farm fields.  One of my favorite memories is coming up to Indiana for Summer camp and seeing more fireflies in the fields than I had ever seen anywhere else.  In addition to the glimmering lights in the farm fields were the fireworks stretching across the horizon.  We picked up a radio station coming out of Chicago that was playing a bunch of low-budget rap songs that were hilarious.  I am pretty sure we will be singing some of the lines out of the songs during the rest of the trip.  Our favorite line probably has to be "money money money money money money BAAAAAAAGGGGS!" Our throats were killing us after singing along to the song.

Roadie hates fireworks. I think more than she hates a big storm.  Unfortunately for her, it sounded like a war was going on in Crown Point.  As soon as we pulled into the driveway Trevor had to immediately grab her from the car, take her into the house and put her in the basement where she could hide.  I have never seen or heard so many fireworks in the middle of a neighborhood before. They were EVERYWHERE! And they were all huge!  You couldn't tell the professional firework shows from the home ones.  It was crazy! Right after the grand finale at the local fair grounds was the grand finale from the house about 4 houses down.  I have never seen anything like it and it didn't stop for hours.  Roadie hated every minute of it.

A trip up to see the family is not complete without a visit to see John Balch, my dad's longtime friend.  Going to see John is like going to a museum.  John has collected a lot of music throughout the years.  And a lot of guitars.  You can mention a band to John and he will go to one of his many shelves of cd's, records, or cassettes and pull the side projects of the members of the bands you have mentioned, which side projects the people from the side projects are in, etc.  You also are gifted with a few compilation albums that he creates especially for you.  Going to see John is often my favorite part of coming up to this area.  John, my Dad and Trevor played together for a little while.  Seeing my Dad play guitar these days is a rare treat and I am glad that I was able to see it on this trip.  Especially seeing him play with his future Son-in-law.  :)
Trevor in front of the famous Chicago Theatre

Waiting for the South Shore in East Chicago
Espresso at Intelligentsia
Waiting for the train back to Millennium Station

Yesterday was our big adventure into Chicago!  Unfortunately the day started off a little later than expected because our phones hadn't corrected themselves.  What was even more strange was that Trevor's phone put us in a time zone that we hadn't even been in.  We rushed to get ready and make it out of the door to catch the South Shore Commuter Rail out of East Chicago.  After not trusting our ol' trusty GPS and trying to go with our instincts we took a wrong turn, missed the train we were trying to catch, gave up and decided to eat some Lactaid and have donuts for breakfast.  Finally we made it to the next train and were on our way. We arrived at Millennium Station in downtown Chicago a little before noon and headed straight to Intelligentsia to grab some coffee.  I was so excited immediately when we walked in and saw about 5 different baristas behind the counter and one barista in charge of a pour over station.  It was a glorious sight after having had so many bad cups of coffee for the past few days.  We ordered a couple of espressos and then continued ordering from the menu of about 5 different brew methods.   After getting properly caffeinated, we headed out to walk around downtown.  Chicago is massive.  I had only spent times around the museum area.  I honestly had no idea how massive the city was.  We grabbed a public transit day pass, hit the train, caught the bus and ended up in Wicker Park.  At this point we were starving and grabbed a bite to eat at Handlebar.  We ordered a couple of PBRs and an appetizer.  After browsing the menu and being indecisive we finally decided on ordering the seitan biscuits and gravy and the buffalo 'chicken' wrap. Seitan biscuits and gravy!  Holy Crap!  The food was fantastic!  If you are ever in the area, definitely hit up that spot.  Thanks Drew for recommending it to us.  From there we made our way down N. Milwaukee Ave to The Wormhole.   I have to say that I wasn't as impressed as I was hoping to be but I was impressed with the Delorean and the old Nintendo games they have in the shop.  The atmosphere of the shop was great.  The area was great.  I loved Wicker Park.  Again, it was hot.  Super hot.  Apparently the 5th hottest day in Chicago history.  Why today!?!?!! We walked over to North Hoyne to The Map Room to have a couple beers and escape the heat.  I felt like I wasn't going to make it.  The heat was awful.  I thought that I was tough because I live with the heat in Texas but then again I am not usually surrounded by that much concrete. Not to mention I was really dumb and decided to wear a new pair of shoes to walk around Chicago all day.  Needless to say my feet were blistered almost immediately.  Luckily I was carrying Flipnotics stickers around with me and was able cut one in half and strap them around the back of my ankles.  We met up with our friend Marshall at The Map Room.  He has been up here pedicabbing the Cubs games in Wrigleyville.  It was awesome to see a familiar face.  Trevor and I were incredibly exhausted from the heat and walking around all day and decided that it was probably time to start making our way back to East Chicago.  We took the L Train back downtown and walked back over to Millennium Station where we sat for a good 15-20 minutes in an incredibly hot and packed platform with everyone who was waiting to go back home after a long day of working/shopping/touristing. It was miserable.  There was a little girl in front of me who looked like she was going to pass out from heat exhaustion.  We were soaked with our own sweat and ready to be back for a shower and air conditioning.  Finally we were on the South Shore and on our way back to East Chicago.  The South Shore takes you through South Chicago on the way to Indiana.  South Chicago is and incredibly impoverished neighborhood.  There are shootings on the news everyday in that neighborhood and the feeling you get when you ride through is a feeling of hopelessness.  What a contrast to be downtown having fancy cups of coffee, craft brews and watching everyone on the train with their bags from Nordstrom and having to leave Chicago with that being your last views of the city.  It almost makes you sick to your stomach.  These commuters do it everyday and seem to be numb to it.  The general feelings when you talk to people is "well, what do you do? It has always been this way." I never had a good answer.  I don't know if there is one.

We have so far spent most of today making our plans for where we are going next.  We were able to reach our old friends from our train trip from Chicago to Austin that live in the Upper Peninsula.  It is looking like we are going to Marinette, Wisconsin for a couple of days to meet up with Trevor's grandparents and then further north to meet up with the Swaty Family.  I am so excited!  They are always a lot of fun to see and I have never seen Lake Superior! It also looks like the temperature is going to cool down which is equally as exciting.  Well, that's the update so far.  We will probably post again while in Marquette, Michigan. 

xoxo - c

Friday, July 6, 2012

I used to be a night person.  But when you make a living as a musician you usually see the sun rise after a late show and an even later party.
     We left town on Monday the 2nd of July.  We were cruising down I35 trying to figure out how to bypass rush hour traffic in Dallas but our trusty GPS told us to get off at 290 and cut through east Texas towards Texarkana.  If you aren't from Texas or the Austin area you probably don't know the loath that we have for the wonderful design of I35.  Other then the brilliant leaps in civil engineering it illustrates, if you are driving on I35 there is a chance you are going to Dallas or San Antonio.  I need not say more about that. 
        Our hearts where already drumming with excitement at the adventure that lies ahead of us. But the opportunity to be leaving I35 in the furthest corner at the back of our subconscious was too much.  The small east Texas highways presented some of the most pleasant scenery we've seen thus far, yet we could not wait to be out of the obtuse and excessive state that Texas is.
       I was sitting shotgun while Christina kept us at a steady cruising speed.  We talked most of the time on this first leg of the trip.  With so much work to be done before we left home it felt like the first time in a while that we could just talk as two people.  As two best friends.  The art of being free.  The open road.
   We stopped around sunset to fuel up and feed Roadie and ourselves.  The sky shown a hue of red with deep purple in it.  The same as the red clay that covers the landscape around Tyler, Texas.  It was as calm as I have ever felt in the parking lot a Shell station.  A stray dog even paid us a visit.
     When we hit the road again it was Christina's favorite time of night.  The time of night when the sun leaves the horizon but leaves behind a little light.  The last streaks of blue left in the sky.  The dark and tired blue.  When we crossed the Arkansas line there was a collective sigh of relief from all of us.  Me, her, and Roadie.  But we still had some miles to cover before we made it to Lake Catherine State Park outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas.  We wound our way through the woods with the windows rolled down until we made it to the very dark campground.  We decided to pitch a tent and keep the food locked up safe from bears we said, but really from racoons.  The heat was extreme.  Somewhere in the 80's with more hydrogen than oxygen in the air it felt.  I'm a very light sleeper so between the heat and Roadie's panting I got very little sleep.
      Day two started very early for me.  I woke up startled by the fact that I had fallen asleep at all.  The tree frogs had quit their arguing and Roadie was fast asleep.  The sun had not risen yet but my mind had.  I kept hearing noises outside the tent I thought but they could have been in my head as well.  By the time the sun did start peaking in the distance we were all rustling around and anticipating today's drive.  We ate some frosted shredded wheat cereal, packed up the van and headed in west towards Hot Springs to pick up a national parks pass.
      Hot Springs needless to say was a strange experience.  Almost every shop on the main road, including the visitors center where we were supposed to get our parks pass was closed.  But there were still plenty of people walking around the street.  Most of which seemed to be wearing clothes they maybe had never washed since the day they picked them up from the Walmart.  God bless America.  The town reminded me of Corpus Christi.  There was once a day where towns like that were thriving with tourists living out the fantasy of the American road trip.  Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Beaches. Bath houses?  Don't get me wrong I love a good bath house, but when I think of a national park I don't think of a place where the buildings resemble headstones of the resort town that once was there.
    So one failed mission lead to the next.  It was simple.  I wanted some coffee not from a gas station.  I searched on my phone for a Starbucks because that sounded like the safest option.  We drove to the spot where there was supposed to be one but instead it was a Java Primo.  I was actually excited because I didn't have to step foot into a Starbucks.  But believe it or not, I would much prefer the atmosphere of Starbucks over this place.  Strange names for drinks that already existed.  Automatic espresso machines.  The employees where all wearing headsets.  It was pseudo Starbucks.  Why would you do that?  And the product was awful.  My iced coffee tasted like bitter cough syrup that lingered far too long.
    So we loaded up again and on we went.  The western part of Arkansas was very pretty.  Old trees overlooked creeks and swamps.  We passed by exits for roads with names like, Shady Grove, Dangerfield, Big Sandy, Monroe, and other fiddle tunes.  Each time we would pass them I would grab my mandolin and play the tune. If I didn't know it I would try and figure it out.  I called Pickles in California and woke him up to hum the second part of Monroe's Hornpipe for me.  This continued for some time but wore off as we neared Missouri.  The landscape was becoming less entertaining by the mile.  But the billboards made up for it.  My favorite one displayed the words, "Jesus, is he in you"? 
    We made up for the dull scenery by playing a little drinking game.  Don't worry, we weren't drinking during the drive but instead played for the rights to the first taste of the delicious small batch bottle of bourbon our friend Elliott gifted us with.  The game was who could score the most points from an outdated box of trivial pursuit cards.  Unfortunately for me Christina's refined nose and pallet for whiskey brought her to victory.  This game went on for a very long time.
     By the time we crossed the mighty Mississippi into Illinois we were trying to find anyway to keep our minds occupied.  I read to her for a little while but the combination of my reading and the rain was not motivating enough.  We would turn on the radio for a while, turn it off and talk, and go back to the game of trivial pursuit until finally we reached the Indiana border.
     There wasn't more than an hour of sunlight left at this point but thank god for the last hour we had.  The scenery was night and day crossing into Indiana.  Vibrant with numerous shades of green.  Old and quaint farm towns.  Rolling hills.  It was wonderful.  The sun sank and the small towns lacked street lights leaving us feeling like kids sneaking through the house in the middle of the night.  Until finally we were there.  Into the comfort and welcoming arms of family.  The warm glow of that beautiful house on the corner in Logansport, Indiana.  We hugged and shared stories until the all too inviting beds called our names.