Our Big Adventure, Day One

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So, the end of day one on the road finds us in the Econo Lodge in Streetsboro, Ohio! We left the house in Mineola at 8:20 this morning, made a stop in Astoria to drop off our daughter Krissi (she came on Friday night to spend the last weekend with us), and then it was over the Triboro Bridge (or the RFK if you choose to use it’s new name), up the Major Deegan Expressway to the George Washington Bridge, and onto Interstate 80, where we spent the entire day. We drove up to the hotel at about 5:10, so not a bad day of driving at all. We went from New York, to New Jersey, to Pennsylvania, and now Ohio. Four states in day one and we drove a total of 451 miles and are are still on our first tank of gas!

The weather was sunny when we left Long Island this morning, and there were occasional sprinkles all through New Jersey, but when we got to Pennsylvania, boy did it start raining! We stopped at a rest area to use the bathroom, and took a shower at the same time. I felt bad because Susie was driving through a lot of it, and on a couple of occasions, it was almost like a switch was flipped as we went from showers to torrential rain in the blink of an eye! Not fun to drive through! Then we came upon an accident in one of the more mountainous regions of Pennsylvania. Some yahoo in a pickup truck was sideways off the road (I say yahoo, because rain or shine, we see folks driving like they are late for their wedding and not giving a damn about safety). There were Police and a wrecker already there, but as we were 3 cars from the accident, they stopped all traffic so that the wrecker could pull the truck back on the road. We sat there for better than 15 minutes…in the rain…such fun!

imageSome highlights of today…First breakfast. We chose to stop at a place we have eaten at more times than we can count, the Landmark Diner just off exit 309 of I-80 in Pennsylvania. This place has a lot of history in our family, and in Susie’s family before there was an us. For years and years, Sue’s Mom and Dad would spend a week at a golf resort in Marshall’s Creek, PA called Mountain Manor. Over the years, they made good friends who also vacationed there during the same week and who lived near them on Long Island. The Landmark Diner was about 2 hours from Long Island, and they would all rendezvous there on the morning they checked in, and have breakfast. Year after year, more folks would join in the group, and eventually we were part of the group who would have breakfast at the Landmark. The summer of 1983, we took a very young Billy there and Frank’s folks even joined the group! When Kenny and Krissi joined our family, we would still head up to that area and always stop there, Turn the clock ahead a few years to when Billy was going to Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. We discovered the best way to get there was to head out Route 80 to Pennsylvania and then go north back into New York State, and yes, then too we would pull off 80 as soon as we crossed the Delaware Water Gap Bridge and have breakfast. Susie thinks that the last time we were there was about 4 or 5 years ago, and we were thrilled to find this morning that it was just as good as we remember! Susie had Creamed Chipped Beef over toast (probably the last time we see that on a menu) and I had a Pulled Pork Omelette! Oh, and don’t forget the home fries….they are still wonderful! The restaurant is a little bigger, the counter is gone (where you could watch them cook the food) and the bathrooms are no longer behind the building, but enough is the same to still make it a special stop off!

Then we were back onto Interstate 80 West heading towards our adventure! At mile marker 111(FYI..at the NJ/Penn border on 80 you are at mile marker 310 and at the Penn/Ohio border you are at mile marker 0) we came across an interesting sign. It said, “You are now at the highest point on Route 80 east of the Mississippi – Elevation 2,250 Feet”. Impressive for Pennsylvania, but not where we are going. Forget the Rocky Mountains or even Pikes Peak, when we are at Mount Rushmore this Friday we will be at 4000 + feet already! Start storing oxygen now!!

So dinner tonight was at Ruby Tuesdays, a place we haven’t been to for years. Even though there is one less than 2 miles from our house in Mineola, we traveled 450+ imagemiles for their salad bar tonight! Then we filled the car up with gas (Sheetz Gas…I kid you not) at $1.95 a gallon, headed back to the hotel and are relaxing with some vodka on the rocks (in our travel plastic cups!)! Tomorrow we hope to cover just under 500 miles and stop near Janesville, Wisconsin…a place we’ve visited before when Kenny was performing at the Armory Theater there.

imageOh, The Big Adventure tip of the day has to do with an App that my cousins, Jeanne and Walt Pratt shared with us called iExit. It cost me 99 cents at the iTunes store, and Jeanne and Walt said it was useful finding what kinds of food, gas, hotels, etc. are at every exit on the interstates. In addition, it gives you the latest prices for gas at the various stations so you always know what you are getting into. When we started trying it out today, Susie started talking about a little hand held digital gadget we had way back in the 90s. After you told it what road you were on, what mile marker you were near, and what direction you were heading, it would tell you how close the next rest stop was and what services they had there. She said it’s too bad they don’t make an App for that. Well, I hit a couple of buttons on iExit and discovered it will also search for rest areas! It was perfect, and we made use of it several times today looking for places to switch drivers. Thanks Jeanne and Walt…welcome along!

On the Road Again…….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvwojnLeMH4

 

Our Big Trip Update

imageSo, the last time we talked about our “Big Trip”, we told you that because of a need to make certain reservations now or not be able to stay where we want to, our trip had taken on some real details. We will be leaving Long Island on August 21st…two months from tomorrow… and heading west, so this is becoming more and more real! Since our last update, some of our reservations have changed and more of the early part of our trek has been further fleshed out.

imageOriginally, the only place we could originally get in the Grand Canyon was a room at the Yavapai Lodge, this was definitely not our first choice. While it is indeed located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it is not ON the South Rim, but is back about a 1/2 mile. As everything else at the Grand Canyon was already booked for our dates, we felt fortunate that we were at least in the Grand Canyon and not miles outside of the Park. Frank had read online advice from many folks that said to grab something, and just keep on checking back and see if something better opens up, and that’s exactly what we did. After checking back on almost a daily basis, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted. We now have reserved a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, which is literally feet away from the rim of the canyon! Sunrises and Sunsets will be much easier to enjoy from that location!

We’ve also fleshed out our stay at Yellowstone a bit and have booked one dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge, a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake, and a Lake Butte Sunset Tour, the vehicles for which are classic Yellowstone “Yellow Buses” from the 20s and 30s. This along with exploring things like Old Faithful on our own, and seeing the varied wildlife in the park, should make for two unforgettable days in America’s First National Park!

We have also looked closer at the days leading up to our two night stay in Yellowstone. The amount of reading you have to do, the number of maps you need to consult, the websites you have to check, and the mileage and time calculations you have to do to have a successful trip can be mind boggling! But, when it’s a trip you have been dreaming and talking about for years, it all becomes worth it! One of the things that will be included on those days leading up to our Yellowstone visit will be one of Frank’s main Bucket List items on this trip, Mount Rushmore!

imageHis desire to see Mt. Rushmore in the flesh, probably stems from seeing Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climb across the faces of the presidents in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. Frank found an interesting article recently dealing with what was actually filmed on site, and what was shot back at the studio. Of course, it would seem fairly obvious that someone like Cary Grant was not actually dangling from Lincoln’s nose on the real Mt. Rushmore, but apparently the head of the National Park Services was fearful that back in 1959, some folks might think he was! It seems that the permit that Hitchcock and the crew were given for the scenes they filmed at Mt. Rushmore contained specific language detailing what the film makers could do in scenes shot on site, or in the studio using mock-ups. The reason for this language lay in one simple fact: master film director Alfred Hitchcock had long wanted to film a movie involving the “Shrine of Democracy,” but the Park Service had concerns about the memorials potential “desecration.” After seeing a preview of the movie before it’s public release, the head of the service wrote, “The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself.” Kind of hard to understand that logic when 60 years later we have seen everything from the Empire State Building to the White House destroyed in movies, but the Park Service actually tried to have the release of the movie stopped…obviously that didn’t happen. You have to wonder how many of the tourists who have journeyed to Mt. Rushmore over the almost 60 years since the release of the movie, have done so for the same reason we are… because they saw North by Northwest. In hindsight, perhaps the movie they feared so much, was the best publicity a monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota could have gotten! As Cary Grant playing Roger Thornhill, the advertising executive protagonist in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest says, “Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration!”.

So, anyway, Mt. Rushmore is the first major stop of our adventure, and as we said, we have fleshed out some of the days leading up to our visit. Leaving NY on August 21st, we will journey out Interstate 80 to Chicago, then head slightly north until we join up with Interstate 90. Depending on weather, the road conditions, how we feel, and what we may want to stop and see along the way, we figure it will take us the better part of 4 days to reach South Dakota. We are planning our first stop in South Dakota to be in Murdo, and then the next morning, we expect to hit our first National Park of the trip, Badlands National Park, on our way to Mt. Rushmore. Next we reserved two nights in Keystone, South Dakota which is right in the heart of the area with easy access to Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. After our two nights in the area, we will head out, hopefully hitting Devils Tower National Monument and detouring north to pay a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. We hope our stop that night will be in Sheridan, Wyoming and then the next day we will head into Yellowstone for our two days there.

imageTo be honest, this kind of planning is definitely not our style. We are more the type of folks that get into the car, have a rough idea of where we’re going, a general idea of our time frame, and then take off, stopping each night in hotels we find along the way in the AAA Tour Books. What we have discovered though, is that when your trips include National Parks and Monuments, unless you want to drive around half the night looking for a place to stay, you really have to plan ahead. So at least on this first leg, we have been forced to make hotel reservations, figure out how much mileage we’ll cover each day, and what we’re going to see. Hopefully the next leg of the trip, will leave us a little more leeway to wander, but we will see when we soon take a closer look at the two weeks between Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We’ve already looked at the maps and are thinking about the next leg taking us to the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Denver (perhaps a baseball game there), Pikes Peak, and maybe even Vegas. We don’t want to give away too much of the “adventure” of this trip, but just thought you might be interested in a bit of the planning we’ve put in. Only time will tell if our trek between leaving Yellowstone on August 30th, and checking into the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon on September 14th will be as planned, or more free form. Only time will also tell if our plans will all work out, or if we will be doing some “flying by the seat of our pants”. Stay tuned!