Sailor Boy called one morning, casually asking what we were doing that weekend. He tried to be sly, but I knew where this was going: he was coming home.
We’d been planning for this for more than a year: he was moving to Italy with the Navy, and needed to come home to bring his car and other supplies, and for some R and R before he moved, and I was taking the road trip to Minnesota with him. Originally this was planned for last July, but he was unexpectedly deployed. Since last April 1, we and his USS Nimitz shipmates had been aboard. They were sailing on, but he got to be flown off early so as to finally change duty stations (as I write this, the Nimitz is days away from FINALLY returning home. Congrats to all!).
So I rearranged my schedule and waited for details. I looked into flights and hotels and driving routes. I researched funky sights and yummy restaurants. Once I got the speciic dates he would be home, I made reservations and waited.
Meanwhile, he was cooling his heels in Bahrain, waiting for transport back to the States. He slept a lot (in a real bed, not a tiny, no privacy rack with 5 other people within reach). He took long showers where he could have the water whatever temperature he chose. He went barefoot. He ate good food, and lots of it. His texts to us revealed the sheer joy he experienced in simple things:
“Oh my god…The (hotel) has a renowned Italian restaurant. I am laughing right now only because I’m on the verge of crying. The wine. The bread. The mozzarella. The everything. I’m back. I am in genuine pleasure over ARUGULA. This is the time where it hits and I know I’m safe.”
It made us happy to hear him happy, but I needed him back where I could see him. A few days later he was back in Washington, and I was days from joining him.
I flew out two days before our road trip. We spent the time before we left packing and purging, closing accounts and saying goodbye to my brother and sister in law who live out there. He also got a Covid test and one last haircut from his favorite stylist.
Then it was time to pile in his Nissan and make the drive!
Before we set off bright and early to catch the Seattle ferry, Sailor Boy wanted me to get a donut from one of his fave places in Bremerton, Dallas Donuts. This tiny unassuming place reminds me of a mom and pop Winchell’s of old. I’m not usually a donut person, but these were GOOD. So good, that I forgot to take a pic of them until the last bite, lol.
From Seattle, he wanted to stop in Leavenworth. I know — in my mind all I could think of was the prison, too. But Leavenworth, WA is super cute. It’s this replica Bavarian town in the Cascade Mountains. Seems the once thriving town fell on hard times when the railroad moved out. Some townspeople visited Germany, and were reminded of how much the mountains there reminded them of home — and realized: we could turn our struggling town into its own fairytale!
The town is full of charm in the form of architecture, shops, bars and restaurants.
I’d have loved to spend more time there, but we just wandered a bit then had a nice, hearty German lunch at Ludwig’s.
After we wiped to grease off our faces, we hit the road, with our evening destination of Missoula, Montana in our sights. Sailor Boy’s job for the trip was to download a book for us to listen to, and he enjoyed his task, spending his last week’s of deployment making his choice. He chose a Terry Pratchett book called Guards! Guards!. I was worried, as I am a visual learner, have never listened to an audiobook, and he likes complicated books with creatures and mystical names and places and stuff. But it was very funny, and we and a ball. It made me think of the nights spent reading books to him at bedtime, only now he was explaining the story to me. I could get used to that.
Along the way we enjoyed some snacks picked up in Leavenworth…
From Washington we hit Idaho, which was pretty unremarkable except for Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. So wish we had hit that area in broad daylight, as the scenery was stunning. Definitely on my list of places to visit in the future!
Shortly after we crossed the Montana border, things started to feel a little different. Like, we went into a gas station and we were the only ones in masks. Even the cops and store keepers didn’t wear them. Freaked me out, I’m not gonna lie. Ironic that as the day darkened to night, so did people’s attitudes towards safety.
The next day our goal was Deadwood, South Dakota. Had breakfast at the hotel, and hit the road.
One of the things I researched before our trip was a cool website called Roadside America. Among other things, it lists all sorts of really odd roadside attractions you can stop ad see on an adventure. We didn’t stop much, but we did read about things as we passed. Our mantra for this stretch of journey: “what the heck, Montana?”
For example, you have the Big Stack. The larest free-standing masonry sculpture in teh world (the Washington Mounument could fit inside it easily),it’s literally an old smokestack. They tore down the factory, but folks in teh area protested, so tehy kept it up. But you can’t get within a mile of it, becasue the ground is toxic thanks to the arsneic and lead from it’s working days. Which leads me to perhaps teh creepiest Montana “toursit attraction” we read about, “the Lake of Death.”
Used to be an open-pit copper mine. Now, according to the Roadside Attractions page, “it’s a massive lake of deadly drainage, as large as 484 football fields, 1,800 feet deep (deeper than any of the Great Lakes) and a mile across. The pit holds over 40 billion gallons of waste so deadly that in 1995 it killed over 300 snow geese that mistakenly landed on it. The snow geese slaughter happened again in late November 2016, when 10,000 of them landed on the liquid and thousands succumbed.” It is a tourist attraction, where you can pay to go see all the pretty colors of the lake, from a safe distance. If you forget to bring a lunch to enjoy at the picnic tables, they have a snack bar. Just don’t mind the horns they have to keep honking to save more wayward birds…
So yeah: what the heck, Montana?
We stopped in Billings for lunch, where we found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Don Luis. I was driving that afternoon, so I let Sailor Boy tell me all about their sangria (I did take a sip — it was great!).
Later that afternoon we were getting low on gas and started to look for places to fill up. I wanted to stop right away, but listened to my son. He was sure we were fine. It was his car, so he knew it better, but I didn’t like it. So on we drove, through a very quiet, very isolated Native American reservation. No gas stations. Not very many houses. The light on the dash was getting brighter. My anxiety was rising. We finally saw a sign for a town, and I relaxed a bit — until we got there.
We turned in the direction the signs indicated, and were stopped by a road block. Flashing signs warned of local traffic only due to a Covid outbreak.
I asked the man at the barrier if we could just go in and get some gas, but he said absolutely not. In fact, they weren’t even allowing supplies in, so the gas station was empty anyway. Besides, there was a gas station about 20 miles up the road.
Grrr. (at least we had churros leftover from lunch)
I glared at my son, and drive on, carefully. Holding my breath. I breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the station in the distance, and told my son we wouldn’t be taking that risk again. Of course, he felt we were more at risk at this stop, as no one was masked here either. Just miles from an outbreak, that wasn’t comforting.
Back in the car, with old timey Deadwood — and a cocktail — on our minds.
The good news: we got there safely. The bad news: even fewer masks!
This was the only hotel we went to where the staff didn’t wear masks (except for the front desk woman who put hers on when we walked in). I purposely chose Marriott properties for all of our stays, assuming they would be safe. Not so much this one. Ugh. The hotel was nice, but we didn’t linger in the hallways, wouldn’t visit the bar (I really wanted that cocktail), and in the morning refused to enjoy the free breakfast. Dinner that night was nice, but even there: no masks. I hadn’t seen a server’s whole face in almost a year. It was so uncomfortable! I hated it. Even small children started at us for being masked. Clearly South Dakota didn’t believe in science. The town lost out on dollars from us, but it didn’t look like they were hurting. That’s cool. You stay in your state, I’ll stay in mine.
So leaving Deadwood behind was easy! I’m not sure I want to visit when things get better, which made me sad.
The next morning we could’ve driven straight to Minnesota, but we wanted to make a couple of stops. Just a short 40 minutes from Deadwood we reached the Crazy Horse Memorial, then after that visited Mount Rushmore. Both were more impressive than I thought they would be, and I am so glad we stopped. The museum at the Crazy Horse memorial is really amazing. Definitely check it out if you can!
And even though we didn’t find any treasure, or see Nicolas cage, we marveled at the beauty of Mount Rushmore.
And we saw a mountain goat on the side of the road!
We had originally discussed stopping in Darwin, MN, to see the world’s largest ball of twine, but Sailor Boy was way too excited to get home. Grabbed a couple power ball tickets, some road snacks (gotta have Corn Nuts), and some weird wine called Red Ass Rhubarb for later and powered through — with one more detour.
We almost stopped at Wall Drug, but after a dozen miles and what felt like hundreds of signs, we were exhausted by the very idea. Like seeing an overlong preview at the movies (remember those?), I felt like we’d seen it all and didn’t need to spring for the feature.
Instead, we pulled off in Mitchell, South Dakota, and enjoyed the glory that is the Corn Palace.
I love kitsch.
As the hours passed, Sailor Boy became more and more excited. Home was on the distant horizon. He didn’t really recognize anything until we were about 30 minutes from home, but that was okay. Soon he’d be in his bed, with his dog and his dad, and would start the longest stretch of time spent there since joining the Navy five years prior. Pulling into that driveway after three long days of road tripping was wonderful!
We truly were lucky on the drive. No major issues (and since neither of us later broke with Covid, our masks and hand sanitizer seemed to do the trick, thank goodness), no weather, no car trouble.
Flash forward a week and a half, when we drove to Michigan to take the now road-weary car to Singer Girl, who would be using it while it’s rightful owner was overseas. A storm hit the day we had to drive, and our 10 hour drive lasted 14 hours. We barely made it to town in time before restaurants closed, but grabbed dinner and had Singer Girl’s apartment in our sights — when we were rear-ended by some poor college kid who slid on the unplowed roads. After exchanging info, we continued on — only to get stuck in the snow outside her building. With his bum shoulder and my bad elbow, we were a sight trying to push that car free. Later, after dinner in her apartment, we travelled to the hotel — which didn’t have an attached parking garage, so we drug my suitcase through the snow. But only mine, mind you: we left his in Minnesota.
I guess one out of 2 easy road trips ain’t bad.