This weekend I returned from a 17-day vacation — my first lengthy break in over three years. What follows is a brief chronicle of my adventures.
I set two major goals for my vacation:
1) To spend as much time as possible in relative isolation — perhaps around people, but not as much interaction with them. DC can be a little snug sometimes, and I needed a break from people overload.
2) To force myself to not work for a while, both to teach myself to delegate and to encourage my colleagues to find other avenues to deal with some of their requests.
As some know, when I decided to attend college close to home I promised myself I would try to visit at least one new state per month so I could venture out — a promise I managed to keep for over two years. (Unsurprisingly, it gets much harder as the states get farther away.) My goal was to hit all 48 continental states, but I finished school five states short. For this trip I thought it might be relaxing to go finish what I started.
So, where did I go? Here’s a map to show you — air travel in blue, train travel in green, and driving in red.
A few disjointed thoughts about my travels:
-Prior to heading westward, I attended the Titans’ Monday Night Football victory over the Colts. Monday Night Football games are the best and you should all try one sometime. Related: rock on, still-undefeated Titans.
-Portland has an unusually large number of people who have obviously come there to find themselves. I will never get used to young people begging on the streets. I always thought unconventional dress, hair, piercings, etc. was an expression of individualism, until I found a whole town of them. Not so individual here. I saw a sign for a Portland singles website and joked that it must be for all the sorority girls who can’t find a date in this town. It reminds me of my visit to Toronto. I fully expect that Portlanders don’t understand why we can’t all just get along… in a town where everyone looks and behaves pretty much the same.
-While in Portland, I went to the Brass Horse, a pretty famous microbrew pub owned by this famous beer dude Don Younger. He’s so hardcore that Rogue named a beer after him! He was in the bar the night I was there, and he looked every bit as hardcore in person — he totally ripped a customer a new one for reading a newspaper at the bar instead of talking to people. Also, I think he looks like this dude from Braveheart.
-Horizon Air is the best airline ever.
-Spokane takes great pride in its “Heart of the Inland Northwest” brand. Fair enough — it’s too far east to have much in common with seafaring towns like Seattle and there’s definitely something special about the scenery. It might be a requirement to take up some sort of routine outdoor activity to live there.
-If you can find a way to take the train through northwest Montana, do it. The train goes right through Glacier National Park, which is simply beautiful. Downside: North Dakota is pretty boring, and it’s pretty hard to find somewhere logical to get off between Spokane and Minneapolis. Also, these long distance trains don’t have outlets like the northeastern commuter trains do. Bring lots of books.
-One of the riskier parts of my trip was transferring from train to car in an unfamiliar small town late at night. I wanted to get off in western North Dakota and drive to Mount Rushmore without too much backtracking, but I had to find a town large enough to have a rental car company. That town was Minot, North Dakota, population 36,000 and nicknamed “Magic City” for a reason too stupid to share. I ended up walking over a mile to the Minot “International” Airport to get the car I’d reserved. Don’t ask me why I feel this way, but there’s just something very strange about walking to an airport.
-I spent election eve in Rapid City, South Dakota. When I heard about the joyous mobs running through the streets in DC I looked out my window to see if I could locate a joyous mob of South Dakotans running toward Mount Rushmore, but alas, it was not to be.
-Mount Rushmore was very cool, but it definitely didn’t surpass my expectations. Definitely a one-and-done monument. The observation deck is so far away that you’ll get a much better experience watching it on HDTV. Now if I could have hiked up the mountain and walked on Jefferson’s head, that would have been cool. The Black Hills are totally awesome though. This would be a great place for a camping trip, and they even have lodges for aging campers like me.
-I needed to get to Chicago, and it was more cost effective to get back on a train than to keep driving my rental car all over creation. I also needed to see Nebraska, my final state. To kill two birds with one stone, I decided to drive to Omaha and catch the “California Zephyr” from San Francisco to Chicago. I drove through a Midwestern thunderstorm and arrived without incident.
-On my brief two days of car travel, I almost hit several deer and at least one bison! I did hit many tumbleweeds. Judging from one carcass, at least one person hit what was definitely either a badger or a wolverine — hard to tell with roadkill. I hit neither.
-Omaha is another city very proud of its reputation, this time as “Gateway to the Heartland.” It appears as though their entire urban planning strategy is to make the first 1000 yards of every entrance to town as beautiful as possible. Casinos are illegal in Nebraska but not in neighboring Iowa, so Iowa built a bunch of casinos right on the waterfront and Omahanians (over half the state’s population) just cross the river. Plus Omaha just built a $20 million pedestrian bridge across the Missouri River that dumps out right next to them! Morons.
-In honor of completing my tour of the continental U.S. I treated myself to an Omaha steak dinner — bleu-cheese topped filet minon with sauteed mushroom tops and a lettuce wedge with house bleu cheese dreesing.
-The train from Omaha to Chicago was nearly five hours late, which was frustrating. I also suffered a minor bout of food poisoning from the train food, which slowed me down a bit in Chicago. I still had a good time though — I hung out with old friends, watched the Vandy-Florida debacle with the local alumni chapter, and visited a couple of tea and coffee shops. I thought about going to the Titans-Bears game, but decided to watch it with friends from the warmth of a living room instead. New Soldier Field, by the way, looks either like an alien spaceship or a giant toilet landed in downtown Chicago.
-Two investments that served me very well on my trip: my Verizon subscription and my cell-to-laptop connector. I had cell access literally the entire trip, even in the most remote parts of Montana, and as a result I could also connect my computer to the internet whenever I wanted.
All right, that’s pretty much. Not too much to tell, as I intentionally kept the trip low-key. It was a very good break, and long enough that I’m actually looking forward to getting back. I’ll get caught up on current events soon, and a return to the blogging scene will follow.