Madison, Wisconsin is definitely the kind of place you could spend a bit of time exploring. It’s a college town, on a stretch of land between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. It’s also the state capital of Wisconsin, with a town ordinance that no building may be built that is higher than the capitol building – which strikes a chord of Wisconsin pride...the campus is beautiful, with the student union building beside the lake…and a short walk to downtown gives the students plenty of things to do. I would have had fun going to college there, no doubt. Frank Lloyd Wright studied at the university, and designed several of the city’s buildings. Sprinkled throughout the campus and downtown Madison are what seem like dozens of fiberglass cow statues, painted in themes and bright colors by local artists. Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland! And it’s true – every highway exit seemed to boast billboards advertising local cheeses for sale.
The Best Western we stayed at in Madison, I must say, had the best breakfast offering that I’ve seen. You were handed one meal ticket for every night you stayed there, and you could actually pick one of four hot breakfasts to be cooked for you! We’re talking bacon, eggs, hash browns, French toast. I appreciated this immensely because I’m used to bowls of Cheerios. (No biscuits and gravy, but I’ll let that go.) Compared to some places, which say they offer a continental breakfast and then you’re faced with watery orange juice and four-day-old mini muffins…liars…false advertisers…
On June 13, we arrived at the Days Inn in Plymouth, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, for our final trip destination. Bill has made financial contributions to the University of Minnesota’s Experimental Surgical Services lab, because that’s where the heart valve he received was designed. The University's lab is one of only a few in the country that work with the Food and Drug Administration to approve devices and procedures independently of the companies that develop them, and they depend greatly on private funding. This particular laboratory tests about 90 percent of all artificial heart valves developed worldwide, and Bill discovered this after his surgery and decided to contribute. It was an appropriate ending for our trip, since Bill’s heart surgery was the original catalyst for leaving in the first place. And so, after sandy deserts, down the rocky California coast, over bridges, past fields, past roadrunners, and through forests, we found ourselves in the Twin Cities. And Bill rode 3260 miles to get there.
We caught a Red Sox game downtown, where we saw them get swept by the Twins in the Metrodome – but it was still great to see the Sox. (Although it was strange to be in the minority of Boston fans, once again…but there were a few Boston natives a few rows back that echoed our attempts at drowning out the Twins fans) I did NOT enjoy watching a baseball game under a domed roof – and when baseballs hit the ceiling, plays are possible that wouldn’t be in open-air venues…and that’s cheap…but the Twin Cities are building an open-air stadium in a few years, so I’m glad for them.
I can’t believe I spent six months with no refrigerator. Well, most rooms had small refrigerators…but the only things we put in them were bottles of water and leftovers. I miss having a big jar of Claussen pickles in my fridge.
I also can’t believe I lived in hotels for six straight months. Now I know how musicians feel when they’re on tour. Kinda. Although nobody was trying to get our autographs, and the Suburban wasn’t exactly the glitziest tour bus, I did get a semblance of what a crazy lifestyle it would be. I suppose I can more compare our traveling style to less prolific bands who are just ‘trying to make it’ and actually lug their own stuff from place to place, over and over when they go on the road. So we were sort of like E-list celebrities.
I’m really going to miss untying the bikes and unhooking that bike rack from the back of the Suburban just so I can get to my stuff, which was jumbled in twists of laundry in the back…the rack clips over the two back doors and then you have to clip it under the bumper area and cinch it so it’s tight. I can recall several times when we glanced in the sideview mirrors of the SUV just in time to see the bikes swinging wildly from side to side and an emergency pullover was required. Actually, I can’t believe that the bikes never fell off and crashed onto the highway. Miracles do happen.
And that $3.00 combination lock that dangles from the back of the trailer…one of those cheesy ones where you don’t have to get the combination EXACTLY right…you can miss it by a few dash marks and it’ll still open…it got rusty after being parked next to the ocean in Daytona and getting salt water from the air on it.
I lost two cell phone chargers over the course of this trip, and the one I have now is one I bought in desperation from a drugstore in Florida. It’s enormous and has a retractable cord, and I hate it. I also left a bathing suit in a hotel…but besides that, I haven’t noticed anything else I’ve left anywhere. I think that’s pretty damn good. Sarah lost two USB cables for her videocamera. Bill had two hospital adventures, but the Lyme tick scare and the broken rib scare both turned out to be fine. The initial Suburban – trailer crash didn’t ruin the trip. Also, none of us got speeding tickets or got arrested – we had a running joke that it was bound to happen for some stupid thing or another. And that’s a good thing because if it had been Sarah or I to get thrown in jail, Bill would have left us in there for a while to teach us a lesson – maybe forever. And if Bill had gotten arrested, we definitely would have left him incarcerated until further notice. For the record.
I love to learn, and that was a big part of what this trip has done for me – not only learning historical facts about our country, but that there is life happening all over our amazing country – and how many different sorts of lives it is possible to lead while on United States soil. Of course I have to say that I learned personal things about myself as well – that I am capable of making bold, unexpected changes in life, that I can take off my shoes and put my feet in new oceans. I’ve eaten crawfish, seen wildlife I never thought I’d see, danced, swam, had my backpack stolen, stood beside coastal redwood trees, got a flat tire in the middle of the desert in New Mexico, went boating, hiking, scuba diving, horseback riding, took a bunch of crazy taxi rides, stood beside giant cacti, smelled the fetid hurricane destruction of Louisiana, explored caverns, saw countless pink-gold-purple-streaked sunsets, crossed border patrol, and accidentally stepped on a flounder.
I met so many amazing people across this country, hilarious and tragic and fascinating, some of whom I am going to keep in contact with. Others will fade into the great wide open of the United States, never to be seen or heard of again by me – but conversations I’ve had with them and stories they’ve shared with me will remain in my mental archives up there and in the scribbles of notes I’ve taken.
And I’m sad that this trip is over, even though I’ve missed home desperately. But can you ever really go home to your old life after something like this? I’m not going to deliver mail. I’m not living in the same apartment as I was before. I don’t know how things are going to go after this trip…I’m closing the door on the most dynamic chapter of my life. I’m the same person that I was before, but at the same time I’m not. My eyes are open much wider now and I’ve grown to care about some issues and places that I didn’t really give just thought to before. I think I’m going to be a better person. A better person with a fridge. Six months seemed like forever when I left home, but it went so incredibly fast – it was like a flash. It was one of the highlights of my life – and I’m only 24 years old, but I know that for as long as I live, it will be.
My favorite places: Big Sur, CA, for beauty of ocean and forest in the most striking combination I can imagine; Grand Canyon, AZ for the gorgeous purples and blues of the canyon sunset; Nashville, TN for the fiddles, steel guitars, and fun-loving attitude; New Orleans, LA for the culture, sordid history, debauchery, and eclectic locals; and Daytona Beach, FL for the lifestyle of living beside the warm Atlantic. But there are so many other places that will stick in my memory (fondly or not) for a variety of reasons: Marathon, TX for the White Buffalo…San Clemente, CA for good company…Carlsbad, NM for caverns and bat lore…Laredo, TX for terrifying predatory Hispanic men…Portal, AZ, which takes the award for ‘time spent in closest proximity to ‘the middle of absolutely nowhere’…Padre Island, TX for craziness…Savannah, GA for Spanish moss and River St…St. Augustine, FL for an incredible piece of American history…Big Bend, TX for remote beauty and horses…Madison, WI for the college campus I absolutely loved…Ajo, AZ for stories told of border jumpers…Salinas, CA for being stuck after the trailer-crashing incident…Elk Grove, IL for our suburban Chicago antics…Sanderson, TX for being the worst low-populated town we visited…San Francisco, CA for our stay at Bill’s friend Joe’s memorable apt…Phoenix, AZ for the Pointe Hilton…Puerto Penasco and Tijuana, Mexico for all the poverty and insanity that ensues and the Spanish that is spoken in daily life down there…and that’s just a brief summary.
I didn’t know if I had it in me to leave home for six months. I have always enjoyed having a nice cushy comfort zone of familiar people and places. To prove to myself that I could actually leave has meant a great deal to me and to be proud of myself is an exhilarating feeling. And so, after chasing warm weather around the United States since December, I’m home in my own summer back home, with an unknown future – but I have to say: New Hampshire has never looked so beautiful.