Thank you to all of the people who expressed support and enthusiasm for our trip. When our enthusiasm flagged, yours brought us through. Estimated mileage for the trip: 7400 miles. Wow.
Thank you to all the people who hosted us along the way. What an honor and privilege that you (a) wanted us to stop by and (b) let us know that you enjoyed the visit, too. We are very sensitive to the admonition of Julie's personal hero, Ben Franklin, that fish and visitors stink after 3 days. Hosting visitors can be stressful; you all didn't let us see that part and made us feel so welcome. Specifically:
To Lee and Mary: Thank you for the welcoming us (and Nick) with such open arms and amazing hospitality. We cannot thank you enough for the best Fourth of July and breakfast at Dornan's AND the backroads tour of Jackson Hole. It's been years and years since we've seen each other, but it felt as if no time had passed. Thank you.
To Marianne and family: Thank you for the most amazing weekend of the trip. Who knew what a 690-acre ranch in NW North Dakota would be like? And who knew Lisa would get baptized by a sorority sister? Now we know--it's amazing! Thank you John and the rest of the family for making us feel so welcome, and thank you to the parishioners for welcoming Lisa into the fold.
To Aelred: Thank you for sharing your new life with us and for the yummiest parting gift, the raisin bread you made for us. Lisa says that she will always treat the towel you wrapped it in to cool as a holy towel ;-) It won't mop up spills, that's for sure.
To Renee: Thank you for the best drop-in visit experience. We had originally thought we'd meet in the big city for lunch, but when the temp was so high, we asked you about shade. Turned out you had the best shade (and doggie TV experience) ever on the farm with the goats. And then--even better--you shared your life and your family with us. How very great. Thank you.
And then there's Virginia. We are so very pleased to have a new auntie friend. (You said that you became everyone's aunt, so we're taking you up on that.) Please rest assured that a handwritten note is on its way to you, properly, but everyone else should know what an amazing person you are. You have led the life that you've wanted to lead. Made changes when necessary and not looked back. Developed principles and values that you live by and share. You are an awesome person. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.
And finally, Jim and Gaela. You all are the newest friends we visited on this trip, but the oldest. Ah yes. A Zen koan. You'll figure it out. Thank you for the opportunity to deepen our friendship and for the oh-so-necessary respite and rejuvenation period. And of course Jim WOULD help us repair the broken van light.... The man spent over a year fixing our house....
And thank you to the strangers who left us comments. We particularly are grateful to Elizabeth of JCLC (Jefferson County Library Cooperative) who identified herself and let us know that she got some travel fun from our journal.
Oh, and one more acknowledgment. To all the pioneers: the mountain men, Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery, the Mormons, the OR and CA trail emigrants. How on God's green earth did they manage to do this? We have traced so much of their journeys (in a gas-powered vehicle no less) and still remain in awe of what they accomplished.
Best Roads: Oregon with sleep strips on each side and in the middle, plus shoulders (worst: North Dakota--no shoulders!)
Best National Park: Yellowstone. There's a reason it's the most popular national park. It's spectacular. So many things to see, so much diversity of geology and flora and fauna, and there's nothing like it anywhere. (worst: Mount Rushmore)
Best State Park for Camping: Steamboat Lakes, Colorado. GORGEOUS and lots of dog-friendly trails. Big sites with views. (No worst. We liked them all.)
Best State Park for a Day Visit: Donner Memorial State Park, CA. Swim beach, hiking, museum, interpretive trails.
Best Camping Experience: Custer, SD, for shade, grass, good bathrooms, wifi, and big ole thunderstorm. Runner up: Crater Lake because it was our first experience. (Worst: Yellowstone: Fishing Bridge. Yucky potties, lots of mosquitoes, big Class A buses breathing down our necks on all 3 sides, screaming children)
Best Hotel: Ramada Inn in Caspar (worst: Fargo)
Best Meal: Restaurant next to Days Inn in Bismarck, ND, because it was within walking distance and had killer rainbow trout after days of camping (worst: Fargo. See Day 21.)
Best Blog Comment: Fargo (If you haven't sung along to "When Taco Boats Are Sailin'" in Day 21, you have missed a great chuckle.)
Best Interpretive Centers: North Dakota
Best Rest Stops: Iowa with free wifi and usually inside an historic site (Worst: Nevada--shadeless, grassless, hell holes)
Best Doggie Hike: Scottsbluff, Nebraska (worst: Lake Tahoe on a summer Sunday. No parking, no dogs allowed)
Best Cities: St. Paul, MN. Made us want to go back and spend time and have another Jucy Lucy. (worst: Deadwood, SD--so touristy that it makes one's skin crawl)
Weirdest Visit: Julie's phone call with a "Susan Andrews" who wasn't THE Susan Andrews that Julie knew.
Best Treat: Bumbleberry Pie. Runner up: Huckleberry ice cream in Estes Park, CO. We had seen huckleberry ice cream signs all through Glacier, Yellowstone, and then the signs stopped. And we hadn't tried it. But then...miracle...it showed up again on the way home through Colorado. And boy is it good.
Camping has a hierarchy just like everything else in life. We enjoyed the egalitarian campgrounds (where there were tents on up) more than the RV-only "Coachland" kinds of places. Variety is truly the spice of life.
It's good to admit that one does not know what one is doing--that is, strangers are useful sources of information. (And they're happy to do it.)
Plan loose days. 200-300 miles driving, something fun in the morning and in the evening. Makes a long driving trip work. We made this happen for most of the trip (UT and NV deserts excepted, of course).
A little dirt doesn't hurt.