Monday, August 5, 2013

There and Back Again

So, I came up with the brilliant idea that the family vacation this year should be a massive week-long road trip.  The fact that a version of me from the future did not come back to beat some sense into me is proof that Time Travel will not exist in my lifetime.

   We had a very nice trip, but are all exhausted, in pain, and glad to be home.  Driving all day is not the same as sitting all day.  I am glad we took the trip, but I am very ready, not only to BE home (which we already are), but to recover completely from the trip (which we have not.)  The old joke of needing a vacation to get over a vacation is true in our case just now.

  The purpose of the trip was something of a grand tour of the Southern US.  With many subordinate goals, such as showing the girls new areas, sights, and features of the region, visiting family, having fun, and gaining dirt for my collection from states I did not already have.

   First, we drive to my in-laws' home in Kentucky.  Nothing new there, but we haven't seen them since Christmas and it was a good time to do so.
Much, though not all, of the trip looked like this in the back seat.  Electronic devices abounded to cut the boredom that trees going by at 70 mph could not.

For one night the kids stayed with their grandparents and DH and I went for some couple time.  "How far can we drive in a day" was an exercise I excelled at during the planning phase of this trip and the winning city for us this time was Kenosha, Wisconsin.  I wanted something nice, on Lake Michigan, and not Chicago or Milwaukee.  We were told (after booking the hotel) that Lake Geneva is nicer, but I have nothing but good things to say about our stay in Kenosha.

 Our hotel was right next to the harbor and there is a lovely harborside park where people spent the wonderful afternoon walking dogs and children, playing guitar, etc.  It was pleasant and romantic, just what I wanted.

   The next day we drove around the end of the lake, through bits of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, to get to Michigan.  Just because we could.

  My heart goes out to anyone who has to drive Chicago expressways to get to work everyday.  I would go mad.  I think some of them have, as well.

We spent the day driving again and returned to his parents' home to collect the girls.  We love them too much to do otherwise.  His parents, I mean, though the girls too, I guess.
What can I say about two days spent driving in the midwest?  (one mostly in Illinois and the other mostly in Indiana)  Umm, America grows a lot of corn.  A LOT of corn.  Corn fields for mile upon mile, acre upon acre.  Miles and miles of corn.  Hilly corn, flat corn, smallish fields, huge fields.  Amber waves of corn.

I would put a picture here of some of the corn, but even I am not that shutter-happy, or cruel to my two or three readers.

Naw, who am I kidding?!

Once the family was reunited we had another goal...the ocean.  That meant two days of driving eastward.  We crossed Kentucky lengthwise, dipped over the river into Ohio just because it was there,

 then down into West Virginia.  We drove past race horse farms, beautiful countryside and something else the girls have never seen...mountains.
In the pic below...not a mountain, but an indication of what was to come.  Eventually the highway department stops cutting them away to make things easier on drivers.
As I said, we drove down into West Virginia.  After that, we drove up in West Virginia, then down in West Virginia, ad nauseum.  I found the West Virginia Turnpike an unpleasant test of my nerves. The picture below does not adequately represent the diagonal nature of many local roads.  Also, the picture was taken at sunset and before we escaped West Virginia we were having to drive down seven+ mile long inclines in pitch blackness, with trucks that, though warned by signs to keep to first gear, were still barreling down pretty fast.
   How often do truck have to lose control or brakes for the highway department to actually BUILD permanent "Runaway Truck Ramps" ?  Of all the things I expected to miss about home, flat, straight roads was not on my list.  Now, I know better.  Potholes aside, I will not take Mississippi roads for granted.  There are potholes everywhere.  Not every state has diagonal, twisty, death-trap roads.

 After a night in a hotel in Wytheville, VA (chosen because it won the "How far can we drive in a day" tournament for that leg of the trip.) the next day seemed easier, but then, the land was gradually getting flatter on the highways we traveled.  And it wasn't dark.  It amazes me how different Virginia is from it's child-state.  West Virginia was lovely to look at, but not my driving comfort zone.  (How I would handle the Rockies is something I do not want to contemplate.)
   After Virginia came another state that is known for being part of the Appalachians.  That worried me, but I guess my choice of highways, leading toward the coast, was a good one.  Things leveled out.  It took an unbelievably long time to see any corn fields.  We didn't see any in either of the Virginias.  And the steepish (but manageably so) bits of North Carolina didn't have any either.  We were a few hours into the state before I saw any of that crop that had dominated our trip a few days before.
North Carolina passed uneventfully, which made it a trip favorite for me, after West Virginia.  (I don't want to sound like I did not like West Virginia.  It was lovely.  I was tired.  We had been driving all day.  It was dark and I did not like the downhill grades that seemed to come one after another.)  (Perhaps West Virginia is some sort of bottomless valley.  It seemed like we were constantly driving DOWN without much compensatory driving UP to go with it.)

After a few hours, eventually North Carolina gave way to South Carolina (It does that is you are on the correct roads.)  and...Myrtle Beach!  The hotel charges $5 extra to make sure your room overlooks the beach rather than the street.  Money well spent!
The girls loved the beach.  It was a completely new experience that no amount of time in a swimming pool can prepare someone for.  I am glad.  That was the reason we went after all.  I myself haven't been to the ocean since I was in high school, and never the Atlantic.  (When in Brazil it was winter and all we did was walk along the beach, never got wet.)

   I forgot how much I hate going to the beach.  I don't mind being near the ocean.  I love the sound of the waves and watching the waves from a distance.  I hate walking on sand.  I hate sand in general.  It is fun to play with, but refuses to let you leave in peace when beach day is over.  It gets everywhere!
I do love watching the waves, though.

After two days at the shore our trip took a turn westward.  We were finally aimed at home, even though we still had a stop along the way.
Last year DD12 and I went to the Georgia Aquarium and enjoyed it immensely.  We wanted to go again and share the experience with the others.

The petting tank...

Electric eel...

and big, huge, amazing ocean tank.
(shown here in too much of a close-up to convey it properly.  The tank window is the size of a movie screen.)
We saw examples of every ... class (I think)  (maybe Order, biology class was over 25 years ago) of (obviously), mammals (otters and dolphins and beluga), birds (penguins), reptiles (alligators), and amphibians (frogs.)  Also many types of invertebrates, including sea stars, urchins, jellies, mollusks, and crabs.
   The place was a lot more crowded then last time.  The only day we could go was a Saturday, plus there were events and conferences taking place nearby.  I overheard a couple of locals saying they had never seen it so crazy.  I am glad I didn't know it would be like that.  I might have chickened out.  But as it was, I handled it without too much mental meltdown.  Yay!

The next day we left for home.  It was wonderful to be on the last stretch.  It was even more wonderful to get back onto familiar highways and then home.  We got back yesterday and I am still exhausted.

Proof of how exhausted I was...
Any of you who actually know me will (after being SHOCKED at this photo) realize that I must have been falling-over-dead tired or in Emergency Room levels of pain to relinquish the command chair to DH.
Honestly, the first few days of the trip were like that.  I always drove.  But, as the week went on and my legs showed the strain of driving and I got more and more tired, even after sleeping (when possible) in the hotels, it became easier and easier to get past my need to be behind the wheel.  In this photo we are on the road to Atlanta, which I believe was more of him driving than me.  Exhaustion, boredom, pain, or character growth, who can say?

It did give me more chance to do this on the road.