Day 107: Lincoln, NE > Des Moines, Iowa
Slept in & had a leisurely morning in the Walmart parking lot (something I never thought I would say). We had a Runza for lunch by recommendation from my parents who used to live here many moons ago while my Dad finished his PhD. Really, a Runza is a glorified hot pocket with ground beef, onions and cabbage. I liked it. Then, we were back on the road. We finished the Andromeda Stain just before we arrived in Des Moines. 4 hours on the corn highway was about all we could handle. I took a run around the Historic River Walk and saw the beautiful dam in the middle of town Then, I met John at Mickey’s Irish pub and we polished off a few brews. We ate dinner at Fuzzy Tacos and then drove our van to the Flying J truck stop to sleep. This was not one of my most glamorous days on Earth, but we’re crossing through the heartland of the country and this is the real #vanlife.Click here to Read More of our vanlife diary
Day 108: Des Moines, Iowa > Rockford, IL
Woke up at the Flying J truck stop. John scored a free shower from a trucker named Ron, and we drove away with iced coffees in hand. On toward Rockford to see Aunt Karen, Uncle Dave & their son Dylan. We arrived mid-afternoon to big hugs & met their international students Yael and James. Aunt Karen’s dog Leo greeted us at the door too…a full house! Dylan was excited to give us a tour of the “Honeymoon Suite” complete with Do Not Disturb sign & chocolates on our pillows. Our new basement home was spacious and cozy. We settled in & then went with everyone for pizza dinner in town. Aunt Karen & Uncle Dave kept us entertained with conversation all night. It was good to be back in the loving arms of family after our long drive across the plains.
Day 109: Rockford, IL
Wednesdays are work days and this one was no different. I alternated between chatting with Aunt Karen and taking meetings in the basement for most of the day. Rain poured in buckets outside, so John and I were happy to be inside a gracious home. We spent the night enjoying beers and eating a stir fry made by Aunt Karen and her Chinese exchange student, Yael. We watched a little TV & slept soundly in the dark of the basement.
Day 110: Rockford, IL
We woke up early & Aunt Karen drove us to St. Charles to see my Nana @ the Brighton nursing home. After 40 years of living with MS, she’s wheelchair bound with a touch of dimension. It was important we go, so John could finally meet her, and so I could give her hugs and smiles. We showed her photos of our wedding and talked all about the beautiful sights we’ve seen on the road. Nana was in good spirits & sat with us for a few precious hours. We were glad to see her on a good day, and to brighten her day with our joy. We drove back to Rockford and enjoyed the night with my Aunt and Uncle. They told me stories about the past, we played Crazy 8’s, and we laughed the night away.
Day 111: Rockford, IL > Mokena, IL
Woke up in Rockford to the smell of brown sugar glazed bacon. Aunt Karen had really been fattening us up during our during our stay. We worked for an hour or so in the basement and then got on the road to Aunt Wanda’s house. We could not believe the tolls. We must have stopped 7 times & paid $15 over the two-hour trip. Wanda and Paul welcomed us in from the rain with hugs and curiosity about our trip. Jillian was there with her son, Jamie came soon after with her 3 kids, Nola arrived with Art & their son Julian, Marie and her little Lorelai showed up, and even Uncle Tommy graced us with his presence. What a night! We were exhausted by the time everyone departed, but it was so cool to reconnect with my wonderful mid-west cousins.
Day 112: Mokena, IL > Chicago, IL (and back!)
It’s John’s Birthday today!! We had a leisurely morning with Aunt Wanda and Uncle Paul, before hopping the train into the Windy City. Only a half hour ride before we were downtown. We rented bikes and took off towards lake Michigan. We biked through the park and after a half hour arrived at Navy Pier. We were starving, and found lunch by the river at a place called Pinstripes. We shared a flatbread & some wine and sat happily in the sunshine. Next, we hunted pokemon at the pier for a few hours – complete with a stop at Margaritaville (a pokestop) to charge our phones and have a few drinks. The pokemon here were HUGE, and we played like kids. We stayed on the lake and watched the sunset dip below the Chicago skyline before taking off on city bikes towards our dinner reservation. River Roast was right on the water and we watched boats and kayaks go by as we enjoyed delicious steaks carved tableside. We were joined by a few of John’s friends and we continued the celebration at Headquarters – an arcade bar with a phenomenal beer selection. We had so much fun that we missed the first train home. John does not remember our ride back to Mokena, but Uncle Paul was so sweet to pick us up from the station in Mokena at 1:20pm. I call it a birthday success!
Day 113: Mokena, IL > Madison, WI
Woke up slowly at Aunt Wanda’s house. I worked for a few hours while John slept. Then, we all piled in the car and drove an hour out to Starved Rock State Park. Uncle Doug, Uncle Dave & Dad al have fond memories of afternoons spent here as they were growing up, so I was glad that Aunt Wanda and Uncle Paul offered to be our tour guides for the day. First, we stopped at the lodge for a delicious Sunday brunch buffet and filled up on Belgian waffles & omelets. Then, we took a 3 mile hike out to St. Louis Canyon where a 50-foot waterfall cut straight down into a cool canyon. The deciduous forests stood in contrast to the conifers we had grown used to in the Sierra and Cascade ranges. We played curiously along the trail & laughed as we went. We stopped for ice cream on the way home – the Midwest (and my gracious Aunts) have really been fattening us up. Back at Wanda’s we worked for a few hours & then decided it was time to move on. We left Wanda & Paul with big hugs and got on the road to Madison around 9:00pm. We arrived at the Born’s house around 12:30am, and slept in our van outside their house.
Day 114: Madison, WI
We woke up & the Born family had already gone to work and school. They left the back door open for us, told us where the coffee was and gave us the wifi password…score! We made ourselves comfortable for a long day of work. We left only go get a fewdelisious sandwiches from Crostini Café. Jess, Leanne, James and Jon all got home between 4-5:30. They fed us cheese and crackers and Jess’ homemade exotic jellies. It was lovely to see their growing family in their element. We picked up Auntie Bets & Uncle Steve from the airport around 6:30. They were returning from San Diego where Carolyn Grace had just come into the world. I cant wait to meet her and to watch her grow from our new San Diego home. The 8 of us went to sushi dinner in town and talked of our travels. When we got home, Jess shared a few of his graft beers & we got to try out his new Virtual Reality console for the first time. What a trip! John and I slept in the basement & watched the Matrix before bed. We haven’t been sleeping in the van much lately, and we’re starting to get used to having our creature comforts again…
Day 115: Madison, WI
We started the morning with a delightful breakfast with Auntie Best and Uncle Steve at Madison Sourdough. The coffee was strong, the raspberry danishes were flaky, and the eggs & ham was salty. We said goodbye to my Aunt & Uncle and went back to Leanne’s house for more work. I had a boat load to do, and was so glad to have a comfy house to do it in. Leanne and Jess came home and decided to take us to The Old Fashioned for dinner. There was an hour wait, so we walked around the capitol and let the kids play in the park. Dinner was delish and came complete with cheese curds…we’ve hit max fat. Back at home, we visited with Leanne and Jess. We tucked James into bed who was reeling from a fieldtrip that day where the kids all got to stick their hands inside a live cow’s stomach. It wasn’t long until we tucked ourselves in too.
Day 116: Madison, WI
Another work day. 30 hours this week was a little too much, and I feel like we haven’t really gotten to explore Madison they way we wanted to. We only left the Born’s house once that day to go to the grocery store. We picked up “Nana” style cocktails & some beers to thank Leanne & Jess for their hospitality. I had the whole spread out when Leanne got home & she was super grateful. Jess was under the weather, but it was lovely to spend more time with the little boys. James is so clever. When I asked him what kind of nut he would be, he promptly answered “the nut I am!” Love that kid. We hugged everyone goodnight and goodbye – we would be leaving for the North Woods in the morning.
Day 117: Madison, WI > Ironwood, MI
I took a morning run to the lake before we packed up our things and got on the road again. We made a stop at the Cheese Chalet for curds before driving North through Wisconsin. We made few other stops, eager to get to Auntie Bets and Uncle Steve’s cabin on Pine Lake. When we arrived we were amazed by their property. A sweet little cottage with a boat dock and welcoming yard – it’s one of those magical places that makes you feel inspired and at home all at the same time. We ate cocktails by the water and then took the power boat out for some sunset fishing. Auntie Bets picked up gnocchi for dinner and we enjoyed a quiet evening together. We drove the 20 minutes back to Ironwood and hit the hay.
Day 118: Ironwood, MI
Woke up to morning coffee with Auntie Best and Uncle Steve. I love that they love coffee just as much as we do. We had great conversations as our brains clicked into gear. Next, we all hopped in the car for a little field trip. First stop was the Black Cat Café for a little lunch in Ashland. John and I got Veggie Rabbit wraps and were thrilled to have some greens in our system. Next, we took a short hike past Houghton Falls to the bank of Lake Superior. We frolicked through the trees with wonderment at the beginning of fall foliage starting to show. Next stop was a few snacks at Maggie’s in Bayfield – a darling spot all decked out in flamingos. We ordered the local delicacy, white fish livers, but only Uncle Steve really liked them. We went back to Ashland to see the new Tom Hanks movie “Sully” and couldn’t stop talking about it when it was over. Back at home, Auntie Bets and Uncle Steve introduced us to a new game called Rumikub, and we played a few rousing rounds before bed.
Day 119: Ironwood, MI
After morning coffee, Auntie Bets and I played a game of scrabble. She scored 441, a personal best score, and quite impressive. John & I took a little walk up Mt. Zion to stretch our legs & to admire the changing leaves. We got caught in a rain storm and had Auntie Bets come save us. She gladly obliged and even gave us a tour of Ironwood while we were out. She took us pas Hiawatha, the “World’s Largest Indian,” and the Historic Ironwood Theater where she serves as the President of the Board. The theater was built back during the mining era, and It was really cool to have it all to ourselves. Back at home, we played another game of Scrabble. I won handily this time and redeemed myself. We ate a lovely dinner at the table before a few more games of Rumikub. I was the big winner tonight! We ate ice cream before bed and slept well. It has been so nice to be take care of by my wonderful Aunts and Uncles. We finally feel rested and rejuvenated.
Day 120: Ironwood, MI > Pine Lake, WI
After a leisurely morning, the four of us packed up and drove 20 minutes down the road to the cottage. It was a spectacular day on the lake. John & I bee-lined for the hammock & spent a half hour lounging in the sun. Then, we took a short bike ride by the lake to enjoy our surroundings. I played a game of scrabble with Auntie Bets (she won this time), and then I had Uncle Steve take me out waterskiing. The water was a chilly 66 degrees, but I didn’t spend more than 45 seconds before I popped up on the skis and took a nice long ride around the lake. We all ate an early dinner of shrimp salad together before Auntie Bets and Uncle Steve drove back to Ironwood leaving John and I alone at the lake. We had our own little party, and drake beers through the sunset before taking the paddle boat out for some fishing at dusk. The fish weren’t biting at our casts, but I did catch a small mouth bass while trolling on our way back in. We started a bonfire and held each other close in the moonlight. As the fire died down, we decided to take the kayaks out for a midnight paddle. We barely made it 100 yards before John fell right in the lake. He swore as he swam his way back to shore, but I just laughed at him. We went to bed late as a lightning storm lit up the horizon.
Day 121: Pine Lake, WI
Woke up to a quiet, rainy morning at the lake. Took the opportunity to journal while I sipped coffee slowly. John made a delicious breakfast of eggs, sausage & toast w/ Jess’ homemade jelly. We spent the early afternoon working before Auntie Bets & Uncle Steve arrived around 2pm. Auntie Bets and I took a stroll through the woods before settling into our 4th Scrabble game of the week. We ate a delicious spaghetti dinner while Auntie Bets and Uncle Steve helped us plot our course for the next few days. We saw four otters swim past the dock, and we waved as they stuck their curious faces above the water. After dinner, we fished in the fading light. The wind & rain from earlier in the day gave way to a peach sunset & glassy water. As the last rays disappeared, Uncle Steve lit the campfire & Auntie Bets brought out Brownie Brittle s’mores. Just as we were about to go in, Uncle Steve spotted the Norther Lights in the sky. We all ran out to the dock to see a bow of light right over the lake with striations shooting straight up towards the milky way. John took some long exposure pictures that brought out the green of the aurora. The stars reflected on the still lake & the bright moon rose slowly in the East. It was truly a magical evening. We sat there for over an hour watching the majesty of the night sky. We were sad to say goodbye to Auntie Bets & Uncle Steve, but so grateful for this week in the North Woods. We almost didn’t make it to this part of the country, but the spontaneity of vanlife led us here. I’m so glad we were open to the adventure.
Day 122: Pine Lake, WI > Stillwater, MN
I woke up to the morning light & slipped out of bed – eager to get out in a kayak for a paddle on the glassy water. I took off towards the rising sun, thankful for a few moments of reflection and peace. Back at the house, I woke up John, so we could pack our things and reluctantly start heading Southwest. We drove through the afternoon towards Minneapolis & decided after only 4 hours of driving to call it a night. We cashed in a gift certificate from my parents to Buffalo Wild Wings and felt very Midwestern. While we were there, John found out that his good friend Ryan was in town from North Carolina – what a coincidence! We at a second dinner with Ryan and his family at Dick’s Bar & Grill where they had burgers on special for $2.50. They invited us to park in their driveway, and we happily obliged. Ryan’s sweet mom had 3 adorable wiener dogs & a sweet Burmese cat. She fed us apple pie before bed, and they let us plug in our van to their garage hook-up. I’m so grateful for our road friends and family along the way and their amazing hospitality.
Day 123: Stillwater, MN > Chaska, MN
Woke up and went into Ryan’s house to get a cup of coffee & send a few emails. Opened up my computer to find it was completely dead. No signs of life. I guess it was a fitting place for it’s demise since Ryan’s dad had dozens of taxidermy specimens adorning his walls. Bears, deer and more – all that he shot himself. RIP computer. We drove an hour through the rain to Bill Sears’ house where I planned to work for the day. He had an extra computer, so we settled in. The team back at Rocket Fuel was all surprised and jealous when we showed up on video conference together. We stayed for dinner and got to know his wife, mother-in-law, and 2 adorable labs. We slept in their guest bedroom, very thankful to have a shelter from the thunder storm happening outside.
Day 124: Chaska, MN > Badlands, SD
Had morning coffee with Bill before he offered to help us wash our bug splattered van. Bill was so sweet to offer his car washing kit and extra hands to get our home on wheels clean. WE scrubbed, vaccumed and mopped until the whole thing felt like a new-ish van. Then, we said our goodbyes and were on the road again. Our first fateful stop was at the largest candy store in the state where we stocked up on all sorts of goodies for the long drive ahead. Little did I know that candy and McDonald’s would be all we at that day as we made our way through South Dakota. We listened to Dan Brown’s “inferno” book on tape & put many miles behind us. When we pulled into a rainy & dark Circle 10 campground, we felt gross.