RealImaginaryWest 2019 Day 1 – Seven Hours Until Sleep!

So the Cuyahoga County Fair is this week…that’s only relevant because I got caught in far worse rush hour traffic on my way to pick Becky up from work this afternoon. That along with being about 30 minutes behind schedule getting out of the house got us on the road about an hour later than I’d hoped. Traffic on the Ohio Turnpike was slow too at first, thanks to construction.

In spite of all that, we should be able to get into our hotel room at the LaQuinta Inn next to the Moline Airport before midnight Central time. I suppose every hour we’re behind means less pain getting around Chicago…I hope!

Also, I don’t think we forgot anything. I always have that feeling whenever we head out on one of these trips…I probably have problems hahaha! Anyway, we seemed a little more put together this week despite the hectic last month that we had. There were a ton of problems with our car, so we spent a lot of time shopping to buy another one, as well as working on repairs to the old one. We got something I think we’re both happy with, but it really set us back on a lot of work we’d have put in preparing for this trip.

Last year we got a late start and I was way way more stressed out in the process than I was today. This morning we actually had most of the car packed before I drove Becky to work. We haven’t been able to do that in a while! This year it feels like we have a completely different car, even though we still rented a Nissan Altima. I think we’ve had a 2016 for our trips the last couple of years, so we got really used to them. This time we have a 2019 and besides a major redesign of the interior, they’ve loaded this car with a ton of safety features neither of us have ever dealt with before.

I had to dig through the owners manual to understand how the intelligent cruise control system works. It automatically slows you down when you come up behind someone going slower than your cruise setting. That may be a great feature in heavy traffic, but when you could easily change lanes to get around someone it’s kind of annoying. We figured out how to decrease the distance where it starts to slow down, and Becky figured out how to turn off and on some of the other sometimes annoying safety features. At least it has a sunroof…that should be fun.

We have to make a fuel stop before we arrive at our motel in the Quad Cities tonight Hopefully we can get a fair amount of sleep and find some food that gets us going early enough tomorrow. We’re trying a new route across Iowa and Nebraska this year—rather than taking Interstate 80 the entire way, we’re diverging north from Iowa City to take US-20 across. I’m not expecting anything vastly different from the Iowa section than we’d see on I-80, but our route across Nebraska should offer something new! US-20 and Nebraska Highway 12 form the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway and the Bridges-to-Buttes Scenic Byway, where we’ll follow the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers tomorrow, and pass through the buttes of Northern Nebraska on Sunday.

RealImaginaryWest 2017 Day 2 – Giants, Murals & Bridges on Route 66

For our first day on Old Historic Route 66 we began at the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois. We checked out the Standard Oil gas station in Odell and the Bunyan Giant in Atlanta before stopping on the Illinois side of the Chain of Rocks Bridge in the St. Louis area. Next we drove across the Mississippi River on the McKinley Bridge and followed I-44 out of the city. We then ate lunch at The FourWay in Cuba and stopped at the Red Rocker and the Devils Elbow Bridge before proceeding into Oklahoma. We finished the day in Stroud, Oklahoma with dinner at the Rock Cafe before checking into the Skyliner Motel. Purely for the sake of time we drove mostly on I-55 and I-44…but we’re already sold on coming back for the full Route 66 experience!

Waking in Wilmington

Last night we checked into Van Duyne’s Motel in Wilmington, Illinois to begin our Route 66 adventure to the Southwest United States. As I mentioned in the previous post, there were aspects of our room that made it a no-go for travelers with particular tastes. But the room was clean, the bed was comfortable enough and the shower was good and hot when we got up at 5:15am.

The Gemini Giant

At 6:30 I dropped our key in the lockbox and we headed to our first stop, the Gemini Giant right here in Wilmington. We saw him in the dark as we came into town last night, but the early morning light made him much easier to appreciate. He’s one of several statues manufactured by International Fiberglass in Venice, California to attract customers to all sorts of retail businesses across the country.

While the original made for The Paul Bunyan Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona was designed to hold an axe, so many held exhaust pipes and mufflers to advertise automotive dealers and shops that they became known as “Muffler Men”. The Gemini Giant has invited customers to stop at the Launching Pad diner since 1965. Sadly the restaurant closed in 2010 and still remains for sale today despite efforts to sell and reopen it.

The 30-foot tall Gemini Giant invites customers to the Launching Pad diner in Wilmington, Illinois.
The 30-foot tall Gemini Giant invited customers to the Launching Pad diner in Wilmington, Illinois. The restaurant closed in 2010 and is still in need of a buyer.

Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell

Opened in 1932, the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, Illinois used a “house and canopy” design that welcomed customers to feel at home when caring for their automotive needs. The station hasn’t sold gasoline since the 1960s and fell into disuse and disrepair by the the 1970s. Preservation began in the 1990s and included efforts and funding from the Illinois Route 66 Association and the National Park Service. The gas station was restored to its former glory by the early 2000s.

We arrived at 7:30am, way before attendants opened for visitors. There was however a button we pressed that played an interpretive audio recording. Through the window we could see that the interior is as authentically restored as the exterior.

The Standard Oil Gas Station, built in the “house and canopy” style on Route 66 in Odell, Illinois around 1932.
The Standard Oil Gas Station, built in the “house and canopy” style on Route 66 in Odell, Illinois around 1932.

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RealImaginaryWest 2017 Day 1 – Our Adventure Begins in Illinois

Our drive on the first night of this trip is a short one for once! We drove from Middleburg Heights, Ohio near Cleveland to Wilmington, Illinois just outside Chicagoland.

Packing Up for 3½ Weeks (😮!)

I know 24 days is only a week longer than our usual road trip. For some reason it feels like we’re leaving for good. It’s weirding me out…

Anyway, I think we managed to pack everything we need except for one thing. When I picked Becky up from work to hit the road, she immediately asked about the clip that holds her phone up on the vent. I totally forgot about it. She almost wanted to go home and get it. I suggested we live without it if we can find one along the way somewhere. This worked for Becky, so we officially got on the road at 3:45pm.

Feeling Less Organized Than I’d Like

I just remembered another thing I sort-of kind-of forgot. I’ve been working out the itinerary for this trip since all the way back in January. I had to make some last-minute tweaks over the last week or two, but I did finish it. It contains the best information we have to keep on time over the next week as we make stops on Route 66. Unfortunately I neglected to print it out… Thankfully I stored it on Dropbox, so I can still get to it. But I really like to have a hard copy handy just in case my electronics fail.

I always experience a great deal of anxiety in the final week or two leading up to a road trip. I felt super confident and calm after we left for our trip to the Black Hills in July. For some reason I feel so much less organized for this trip than I’d have expected. We’ve been planning for months, most every reservation was made back in spring, and I’ve taken good notes. And yet I feel so flat-footed. Maybe I should have made up some mileage charts like I did on the last trip? Maybe the cold and rainy weather has pushed me off of my game?

Our Weather Outlook

Speaking of weather, there’s a lot going on across the country right now! For starters, we’ve had one of the coldest Augusts I can remember in Ohio. The hot and humid “dog days” of summer never came this year. It dropped below 70°F frequently this past month, when temperatures often approach or surpass 90°F. I’m glad we’re heading to the Southwest where temperatures will feel more like summer again!

The good news is that this cold snap across the Eastern United States is also holding temperatures down to a more comfortable range in Oklahoma and Texas. The bad news is that everything west of the Rocky Mountains has been experiencing a heat wave.

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RealImaginaryWest 2017 Lite Day 1 – Making It to Madison

We followed I-90 west from Middleburg Heights, Ohio to a Motel 6 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Lee & Becky are on the road again for their summer RealImaginaryWest 2017 Lite road trip to the Black Hills!
Lee & Becky are on the road again for their summer RealImaginaryWest 2017 Lite road trip to the Black Hills!

For the third year in a row, we are on the road and headed West in July! It’s been a flurry of activity these last few days. We pulled everything together and got on the road at 4:40pm this afternoon. We passed uneventfully through Chicagoland right around sunset, with just the typical slow spot Downtown. We arrived safely at a Motel 6 in Madison, Wisconsin at 10:40pm CDT.

Equipment Upgrades

Packing the car was a little more interesting this time. We’ve upgraded and added some equipment. Becky now has a respectable daypack. It has a little more room, but more importantly it redistributes most of its weight from the shoulders to the hips. She also has a pair of trekking poles to lighten the load on her knees.

I too finally have a daypack, so I can now carry more than just my camera gear. This will be critical for us in September when we hike in the arid Southwest, where we’ll both need to carry quite a bit of water to stay hydrated.

Cars make their way across the High Bridge on the Chicago Skyway at sunset.
Cars make their way across the High Bridge on the Chicago Skyway at sunset.

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RealImaginaryWest 2016 Day 1 – Our Adventure Begins in Iowa

We took I-80 west from Middleburg Heights, Ohio to the Super 8 in Davenport, Iowa.

Here We Go Again

After weeks and months of planning, we’re on the road again! We traveled 11 states, visited 5 national parks, and visited 3 Laura Ingalls Wilder towns in 2015. It was our very first big Western road trip. We loved it so much that we’re doing it again this year!

My biggest hope is also my biggest fear. (That’s when I figure the payoffs are biggest in life!) I hope that this year’s ambitious trip to travel the Oregon Trail route all the way to the coast and to four (maybe five) national parks will be doable on a realistic timetable. I really hope that it will be fun and…dare I say…epic like last year’s trip!

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RealImaginaryWest Day 1 – Our Adventure Begins in Wisconsin

We drove from Middleburg Heights, Ohio, to REI & Whole Foods in Chicago, and then to Motel 6 in Janesville, Wisconsin for the night.

So it’s been a slog to get ready for this trip—fun much of the time—but anxiety-laden as well! I have struggled a great deal with anxiety all my life, often worrying about things I know will almost certainly never happen, especially when I’m getting out of my comfort zone and doing something I’ve never done before…or at least doing it in a way I’ve never done before.

Cars approach the Chicago Skyway toll plaza at dusk

Toll plaza on the Chicago Skyway just after crossing into Illinois on I-90 at dusk

But either way, the preparation is for the most part over, and now the adventure has commenced! I’ve wanted to do a road trip like this for a long time, and see the places we’re going to see on this one. I’m really glad I have my lovely “real imaginary” wife, Rebecca, with me on this whole expedition! Without her, I’m sure I’d have neglected to prepare for all sorts of things and I’d be spending more time at the ubiquitous Walmart than enjoying our unique surroundings.

So to finish off the preparation thread, I want to mention that researching so many places in just a few months was daunting! I wish I could have been a bit more thorough in parts…but oh well.

Here is our itinerary:

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