The long road home

In a departure from our recent laziness, we woke up early this morning to pack up for one last day of driving. After stuffing as many of the hotel’s toiletries as I could into the side pocket on one of my bags, we headed downstairs to enjoy our free breakfast. Kurt had Eggs Benedict and I had my usual — bacon, egg & cheese on a croissant. Although I prefer a MYO waffle bar, the food was decent. After putting in a good word for our housekeeper with the front desk staff, we were off for the last time.

Our drive out of Chicago took us past Soldier Field and the White Sox ballpark. Kurt caught only brief glimpses of both, due to the fact that he was mostly concentrating on navigating through the obstacle course of potholes that graces the freeways around Chicago. The combination of those potholes, plus watching the map to chart our course out of Chicago, plus our failure to appreciate just how close Chicago is to the Indiana border, caused me to completely miss Indiana’s welcome sign. Not only did I not photograph it, I barely even saw it. Kurt alerted me to it when he saw it, causing me to fumble for the camera bag in a futile attempt to get the camera out before we passed the sign. It was disappointing, to say the least. But not quite as disappointing as the realization that the entire drive back — route 80 through Indiana and Ohio, and then route 76 in Pennsylvania— was on toll roads. Given the length of the trip, we weren’t really at liberty to find scenic, free alternatives. At least we were back in EZ-Pass territory.

Anyway, I immediately began hatching a plot to redeem myself as far as state welcome sign are concerned. The plot involved us taking an exit off route 80 that was about half a mile south of the Michigan/Indiana border. The purpose for taking that exit was twofold. First, I couldn’t see any reason why we should get so close to Michigan without entering it at least for a minute or two. Adding Michigan means that, when all is said and done today, our trip will have spanned 35 states. Second, the minor detour would provide me with another shot at the Indiana sign when we turn around and head back towards route 80 to resume our trip east. I sold Kurt on the idea, and off we went to Michigan, taking exit 107 and heading north to the border. The highlight of this trip, besides getting good shots of both welcome signs, was another close encounter with some giant cows.

With that out of the way, we got back on the highway and kept driving east. We were tracking a string of thunderstorms brewing in Indiana and Ohio, and we finally caught up with them not long before we hit the Ohio border. When we first saw the storm on the radar maps, it looked like a skinny string of storms, maybe 2 miles across at most. Piece of cake. But as we got closer, we could see lightning in the distance for a while, and the storm seemed to expand in anticipation of our arrival. A couple of miles turned into more like 20 miles, and orange spots turned into red on the radar. Kurt was driving, and in the end we spent at least half an hour caught up in some intense rain and darkness, with thunder and lightning happening all around us. At the start, Kurt commented that he’d driven in worse storms heading home to Marblehead. Less than 5 minute later, he retracted that comment and put the hazard lights on. It was slow going, and we passed dozens of cars pulled off on the shoulder of the road. We weren’t sure what those drivers were thinking — you couldn’t really wait out the storm, since it was headed east like we were. It was a long enough streak of red on weather.com to encompass areas far north and far south of the highway, so it wasn’t going away anytime soon. We focused on trying to get in front of it, even though we could only see about 20 feet in front of us.

We eventually saw light skies ahead of us and left the heavy storms behind us. We also managed to outrun a larger group of storms to our south — we had some concern that we would encounter those storms later in our journey, when the highways cut southeast to get below Pittsburgh, but luckily we avoided any further rain. Despite the weather, I managed to snap a shot of Ohio’s welcome sign (being careful to time the picture to avoid getting the rapidly-moving windshield wipers across the sign). Once we were in eastern Ohio, we checked on the storm’s progress, and the highway behind us looked like it was directly underneath a growing streak of reds and oranges for many more miles than when we passed through. We were glad to miss out on that. We were also glad that the rain had cleaned off the windshield pretty good, although the Mini was still surprisingly dirty despite the force of the downpour.

There’s not much else to report from the drive back. We ate various snack foods and protein bars from gas stations along the way for lunch, and we both took a moment to be thankful for surviving so many less-than-pristine restrooms when we made our last gas station/rest area stop of the trip. We were a little discouraged after entering Pennsylvania— seeing the sign was a relief, but then realizing we still had almost 6 hours to go to make it across the state was rough. Aside from its tunnels, the Pennsylvania turnpike is one of the more boring roads we’ve travelled on this trip — the treelined shoulders, narrow lanes, extensive road work zones, and cement barriers in the median don’t make for the loveliest of drives.

We finally pulled up in front of our apartment a little before 10 pm, and we were immediately greeted by mosquitos that were eager to bite us. They got Kurt on his heel and me on my ankle. Kurt’s doing a better job than I am of not scratching, so mine is somewhat more gigantic than his. We got most of our stuff upstairs to our apartment, looked at and then ignored our enormous mountains of mail (separated and organized in size order, thanks to Lisa!), parked the Mini around the corner, and enjoyed some Hot Pockets on the couch for our triumphant welcome-home dinner.

We have plenty to do over the next few days — laundry, cleaning, and unpacking, plus getting through the shows saved on our DVR (which is 99% full). We’ll spare you the details of all of that by not blogging it. But we do plan on getting our pictures reviewed and organized and posted somewhere that will be accessible to the public. We also hope to turn some of our really good pictures into magnets, coffee mugs, and other similar items using Cafe Press. We’ll post updates about that stuff on here, so check back every now and then to find out how we’re progressing.

The trip has been a truly incredible experience, and we’ve been extremely grateful for the chance to do something like this. We’ve also very much enjoyed writing about it, and we’re touched that so many people have followed our travels. We look forward to our next adventure (we’re hoping to visit Seattle and Vancouver, whenever we next have the time and resources to vacation). Stay tuned — we’ll continue sharing our journeys on here. They might not all involve a Mini and a map the way that this one did, but I’m pretty sure that this will not be our last road trip together.

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