Day 5 – Aliens and Other Things that go Bump in the Night

Day 5 was spent traveling from Minnesota, through Idaho, and into Washington state. What should have only taken 4 hours of driving, turned into an 11-hour adventure!

To start everything off, as soon as I was ready to leave, a storm broke out. Internet was already spotty in Ronan, but now I was also faced with not having my GPS. Fortunately it is my default to always have a plan B, C and D! So I pulled out my road atlas and tried to identify the route that I would need for the day. Of course, this should be the one day I had planned to really go off the beaten path.

Not too long into the journey, the weather broke and clear skies were on the agenda for the rest of the day. Also on the agenda, were several meetings. Since internet continued to be a challenge, many of my meetings took place parked along the side of the highway when it was getting close to time to log in again, and I was able to find service.

I am thankful that I had scheduled comparatively few miles for the day, because I ended up driving around a city in Idaho that took my breath away. I was so taken by the views from the highway that I turned around to try to get some pictures. In doing so, I found a scenic byway around the lake!

The city was Coeur d’Alene. Coeur d’Alene means “heart of the awl”, so named because they were known to be sharp traders.

After spending more than 2 hours exploring this beautiful place, and noting several institutions of higher education and that my Indiana nursing license was recognized in Idaho meaning should have no trouble getting a job there, I set back on track toward my evening accommodations in Elk, Washington.

My host’s instructions were to text as I was getting close. I then met them at the entrance to their driveway, and from there I followed them up to where I would spend the night between the lavender and honey bees.

Rick and Paua left me to get settled in while they ate dinner, and said that they would be back up at 7:00 p.m. to distill some lavender oil if I was interested in watching. Was I interested? Of COURSE I was interested!

The rest of the evening I did a little shopping, learned how to distill lavender oil and clean the buds, and exchanged stories with my hosts. Eventually it was time to turn in and I set about my new found evening routine.

Not long after shutting everything down, the interior lights of the van suddenly turned on. They stayed on about 15 seconds, and then they shut off. I was in the field by myself, the doors of the van were locked, and the keys were across the way from me hanging on the wall. Just prior to the lights coming on, I had heard some rustling outside of the van. I just assumed that it was a deer or some other creature wondering who was in their space. Given this bizarre twist of the lights coming on, I decided I should take a quick walk around the outside of the vehicle. Doing so confirmed that I was by myself, so I decided I would just go back to bed and try not to think about it. Once I fell asleep, I ended up staying asleep until morning. That night was the first night in not days, weeks, or even months, but YEARS, that I have slept without waking at some point in the middle of the night.


Day 4 – Altitude, Attitude, and Remote Office Meetings

Day 4 was a full day traversing the great (BIG) state of Montana. This was also to be my first day working remote on the road. I didn’t get my cell plan changed in time to be able to tether to my laptop so the first few days would have to be fully accomplished on the phone through voice, or hopefully via the Zoom app, but that too was somewhat off a bust because there are loooong stretches of interstate without cellular service.

I took my first meeting of the day by phone which worked very well, but I knew I would need to take the second in a more reliable manner where I could also take notes so I found this lovely shelter house to enjoy a ham and cheese wrap while having my biweekly 1:1 with my supervisor.

Toward the end of the meeting I took a walk along a footpath that provided various views of the mountains and a pleasantly babbling stream.

Once my scheduled meetings were finished I was back on the road with some altitude to gain. The highest point I caught was…

We won’t discuss the mileage (single digits!) I got during that climb!

Since cell service was so spotty, I wasn’t able to chat with folks by phone like I had in previous days so I listened to a few podcast episodes by Mark Groves. One such episode turned me on to the book Essentialism….good choice! The book and the podcast episodes were just the content I needed to help me with a bit with my attitude and outlook in general. Sometimes we need those moments of perspective, whether to change our own mind, or to help understand the mind of another.

My overnight plans took me nearly an hour off course…as if I was ever really on course to begin with. My destination was a beautiful location in Ronan, Montana. This place had been a wedding venue until COVID hit, and now they are functioning mostly as a Harvest Host site. I definitely didn’t fit in with my neighbors, but size doesn’t count, right?!?

I spent a bit of time exploring the grounds before calling it a night!


Day 3 – Fifty Shades of Green

Internet is quite spotty where I am tonight, so you may have to come back to view all of the pictures.

Day 3 was the drive from Parker’s Prarie, Minnesota to another vineyard, this time in Miles City, Montana. What I quickly came to notice was how much the landscape changed as I exited Minnesota, drove through North Dakota, and into Montana. The crops and trees in Minnesota were such a deep, lush green, but with each mile I drove west, I noticed everything becoming lighter, and lighter in color (yes I realize the very light green is something meant to be that color), eventually giving way to mostly brown.

Here is where I pulled over to enjoy a spot of lunch in North Dakota. There was a little spot along the road designated as a place you could pull over to enjoy the view so I decided to open the side door of the van, fix some lunch, and watch an eagle soaring effortlessly over the lake below.

This view is from the vineyard where I stayed the night. While there I learned that they typically only see about 10″ of rain a year which would certainly explain the change in the landscape. That said, they certainly make up for it with their irrigation plan as they are able to grow the most amazing fruit to craft into wine.

After trying several options I “settled” on the Le Crescent, a refreshing white with apricot and red grapefruit (seriously, it is amazing), and Sweetie Pie, a cherry wine infused with almonds and cherry brandy! There are no words to adequately describe the decadent delight that is this wine. I cannot wait to pair it with some dark chocolate when I get home. Who wants to apply to be my partner in indulgence?

They grow their sour cherries on bushes! When I think of all the hours I spent on a ladder harvesting cherries as a kid, and all the times I fell, I could have been spared a sprain or two had they been on bushes. The nets are in place to protect the bushes from the birds, and they also have to have a high fence around the grapes to keep out a brazen young buck (is there any other kind?) who doesn’t seem to understand the grapes aren’t just being grown for him.

On my way to the winery, it struck me how much portions of North Dakota reminded me of my 1999 trip to England where we drove through the southern Pennines. All that was missing was a herd of sheep crossing the road.

I cannot forget to mention my brief stop to take in the views of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There was a long section nicely fenced off at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center where folks could stop and safely gaze into the canyon. There was also a section beyond the fencing that people were exploring, so I figured, why not?!?

Uhm, yeah, this might not have been the smartest thing I have done. That pipe down below? It wasn’t the only one down there that had previously been attached at the left!

Perhaps I should have taken note of this sign before walking out there. Sometimes I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed!

All in all, it was an excellent day on the road filled with lots of amazing views and great phone conversations with friends and family.


Day 2 – Corn, Wheat, Soybeans, and Cider

I left the brewery bright and early on Day 2 to continue west toward what might be the most picturesque of my planned stays. When I was checking out places to camp along the way, I was particularly struck by the views of the lake at L’Etoile du Nord Vineyard in Parker’s Prarie Minnesota.

Upon my arrival I was greeted by David who was taking care of tasks related to shutting down the tasting room. My instructions were to arrive after 5:00 p.m. local time because they were expecting a busy day. David directed me to a couple of options for parking, and then let me know that his wife Polly was waiting in the tasting room; I was being treated to a private tasting.

I was given lots of options on what to choose, and I settled on a flight of ciders. Polly suggested that I take a seat out on the patio overlooking the lake, and it could not have been a more perfect suggestion.

Of the four ciders I tried, two were clearly my favorites – Lake Irene Lemon, and Raspberry Apple Cider. While the lemons were not sourced locally, the apples were, and everything was made on site. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have placed in order to send six bottles of each home…

I asked Polly what areas of the grounds I would be able to explore, and what ones I needed to make sure remained private, and she graciously provided me access nearly everywhere. I also asked about going down to the lake, and she directed me along the side of their home to a beautiful stone entry which led to a small dock. I specifically packed my paddle board in hopes that I would have the opportunity to put it out on the lake.

First thing after putting the paddle board in the water, the lake and I had a bonding moment. I got myself back up on the board, pulled algae out of just about everywhere, gathered up my pride since I had done this in front of several folks on boats, and set about exploring this little piece of heaven. At least the water was warm, and I could barely hear the laughter from the witnesses. I had a pleasant hour on the water watching dragonflies, fish, and people enjoying their holiday weekend before deciding to call it a night and head back to the van.

I’m a morning person so when I woke up and saw the light filtering in through the van windshield, I grabbed my camera and set off to enjoy the sunrise over the lake.

Unlike the night before, the lake was quiet and there was not a boat in sight; the morning belonged to nature. As I sat there listening to the water lap against the rocks, I saw a spider seemingly walk through the air. It was moving along a web string that I never could see, and after a while I came to realize there were actually two of them.

While this post has mostly focused on my time at the vineyard, the drive between St. Charles Illinois and Parker’s Prarie Minnesota was beautiful. The land was mostly flat and I could see such an incredible distance. Everywhere I looked, to the left, to the right, in front, and behind, I could see acres and acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Everything looked so lush and healthy, and I was reminded of a saying I grew up with that corn should be “knee high by the 4th of July”. Huge farms dotted the landscape with clusters of silos and barns, not like what I am accustomed to seeing on Indiana however, these were HUGE working farms, and they were everywhere!

So far the weather has been quite accommodating providing blue skies and tolerable temperatures. The only challenge I’ve had has been when the wind picked up and driving the van became quite difficult. I am thankful, however that I was not towing a trailer as I saw several folks struggling to keep those on the road.

As I write this post it is now Day 3. Today I am leaving Minnesota, driving through North Dakota, and spending the night at another vineyard, this time in in Montana.


Day 1 – What Was I Thinking

I knew when I set out on this journey that I would make mistakes (already adjusting). I knew that there would be a lot to learn regarding the logistics of pulling off 23 days living in a van with a lifetime of very little camping experience, let alone doing it on a defined timeline to meet my son on the other side of the country. What I really hope is, like with my previous solo travels, I’ll meet some cool people and learn something about myself and the world around me along the way.

I said I was leaving at 0800…

The first thing I learned, well maybe more like was forced to admit, is that despite all appearances of me having plans and being organized, I’m really just a partially-organized, mostly fly by the seat of my pants, mess. Despite having somewhat organized, planned, and packed for several weeks, I still found myself throwing last minute laundry from the dryer into a crate and shoving it on the van as I was saying goodbye to the Kraken Brothers and making my last trip out of the house. In spite of all of my lists, and reminders here and there, I managed to leave without my toll transponder, and a sweatshirt. Don’t let me forget to go to the website for Illinois tolls to set up an account so I don’t get a crazy bill from the rental company! And as for the sweatshirt, it is really hard to consider a such an item in the middle of the summer. I realize I’m heading into an area that just finished with temperatures in the upper 110’s, but it is cooling down, and actually could be chilly at night.

My first day was full of lessons such as a cargo van does not handle like a Mustang. I don’t mean just a little bit unlike, I mean like this sucker can sway with the least amount of provocation! I know that should not have come as any surprise to me, but since I bought my last car, I’ve come to enjoy it’s peppy engine, and incredible handling capabilities. Dialing down my driving has proven to be challenging, but near the end of the day I actually found myself enjoying the journey in lieu of attaining the destination.

I have also learned that I was totally justified in tossing in a set of hemostats. I keep a set with my makeup so I can keep the ole unibrow under control, but they came in handy when I had to use the skills I learned playing Operation. You see, I had planned to use the DC outlet on the van A LOT for this trip. When I went to use it, the plug wouldn’t fit (cue mild panic and disappointment that my plans were derailed so quickly). Realizing that my tool kit did not include a set of needle nose pliers (truly I do know better), I decided to try my hand with the hemostats. I only created sparks three times, and I managed to not short out the electrical system on the van (bonus). After extricating part of a broken adapter, I was in business!

Even though my first evening was scheduled in St. Charles, Illinois, just six hours from home, I managed to stretch the day into a delightful 11 hour drive. I stopped in Indy for breakfast, and then again at the Albanese candy outlet to grab some gummies for the boy. What I didn’t expect was to find SO many treats from my childhood, including this Gold Mine bubble gum!

I remember sharing this with my best friends in Indy, Chris and Kimmy. Chris had the distinction of being the first boy I kissed; I was in kindergarten.

My next stop was to spend a little time on the shores of Lake Michigan. There is just something so peaceful about sitting by the shore, listening to the water ebb and flow.

Eleven hours after heading out I finally reached my destination, Riverlands Brewing Company in St. Charles, IL. This is where I would enjoy a bite to eat, a tasty brew, and spend the night.

I asked for the darkest brew on tap, and was given the choice of two, both of which sounded amazing. I finally settled on Cooler Gargoyle, a milk stout with coffee and cocoa nibs. I am not much of a drinker, but this was so good, I grabbed a four pack to share. Anyone care to call dibs?


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