MA Road Trip: Wonderful (And Sometimes) Weird Surprises

It's Day 14, and I've got just six days (and about 1,300 miles) to go. Many folks have asked how I'm holding up at the wheel; I'm tired but far from tired of being on the road. Every day of this journey has been a completely unique experience unto its own, much like a short story that's part of a collection, with its own storyline, cast of characters and scenery.

We were feeling very Mae West with our pink cowgirl hats and candy cigarettes. (M. Detweiler)

As physically grueling as long-haul driving can be, the payoff is a new adventure every day filled with the unknown and the unexpected, a new chapter practically writing itself. The only certainty (other than knowing where I'll sleep at night) is the element of surprise, and so far, they've been mostly delightful.

Other than leaving behind a brand-new laptop power adapter in a hotel room and a bout of horrendous, snail-paced traffic out of Chicago, I've been blessed with good road trip karma, and I feel downright lucky.

But back to those surprises. Driving on the open road is the ultimate exercise in embracing the present moment; in a moving vehicle, there's no rewind button for a second chance and there's no control button for what lies ahead, but the rewards for being open to the here and now are, well, thrilling. Remember when you were a kid pouring cereal out of a box and the excitement you'd feel if the toy surprise would land in your cereal bowl? That's kinda how I've been feeling these past two weeks.

So far, here's what's rocked my road-tripping world:

The series of gargantuan windmills around Dodgeville, Wis., that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. How I could kick myself for not stopping and taking a photo.

Driving across the Glass City Skyway, the architecturally stunning bridge in Toledo, Ohio.

That first bite of smoked rainbow trout from Artesian Trout Farm of Westfield, Wis., and the discovery of raw milk cave-aged havarti from Bleu Mont Dairy, two producers selling their artisan edible goods at the Dane County Farmers' Market in Madison, Wis.

Iowa produces some pretty darn fine wine, particularly the Seyval Blanc from Jasper Winery. Seyval blanc is a hybrid grape that can tolerate the colder climes of the Midwest.

Four-lane highways (two in each direction) are far more civilized than the Beltway, with far less road rage, even at 75 miles an hour.

There's really good jazz radio both in eastern Iowa (KCCK, 89.3) and in Denver (89.3).

North Platte, Neb., is home to the coolest souvenir shop on the planet, the Fort Cody Trading Post. This place is like hitting the tchotke gold mine, an emporium of penny candy, cowboy memorabilia and clothing (including those fab pink cowgirl hats pictured above), a miniature display of "Buffalo Bill" Cody's circus show, the kitschiest postcards and road trip treats. You could spend hours in this joint.

The awe-inspiring second floor of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. (Kim O'Donnel)

There is world-class quilting art in Lincoln, Neb., home to the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, a brand new, certified LEED building with a sophistication that rivals anything you'd find in New York. Put this place on your to-do list if your travel plans take you to the Plains anytime soon.

If you're driving along I-80 you can actually go back in time
-- we crossed the Mountain Time Zone line at the exit for Paxton, Neb.

Ogallala is indeed a real name of a real town in western Nebraska with a rich cowboy-and-Indian history (check out Boot Hill, the cowboy cemetery) and some memorable strawberry rhubarb pie at Homemade Heaven Sandwich Shoppe.

Mother Nature has a mind of her own, no matter what the mortals tell you. Upon arriving in Denver on Friday afternoon, I was greeted with buckets of rain (for two days straight) and record low temperatures -- Denver had its coldest Aug. 16 on record, at 58 degrees.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 18, 2008; 10:49 AM ET MA on the Road , Travel
Previous: MA Road Trip: A Brain Break in Nebraska | Next: MA Road Trip: Denver's Mile-High Eats


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I hope you bought the pink cowboy hats to go with the pink cowboy boots from the Iowa State Fair!

Posted by: Bethesda Mom | August 18, 2008 2:11 PM

You say Mae West; I say Thelma and Louise. Just call the police. Don't shoot the guy and drive like maniacs out of there.

Posted by: Dave | August 18, 2008 3:48 PM

Hi Kim,
Glad you are having a great trip! I did it last year in September. It's funny that you talk about the name Ogallala cuz once you get WA you are going to hear some names that are real tongue twisters (til you get used to them)! Snohomish, Puyallup, Tulalip, Stillaguamish, Issaquah, Snoqualmie, Entiat... to name a few.
Welcome to Washington!

Posted by: DC to Seattle, too | August 19, 2008 10:48 AM

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