When I told a stranger we were driving a 20 year old Jeep across the country, he responded, “Why the hell would you want to do that?” When we told family, they said, “My friend’s uncle’s cousin had a Jeep and has bad things to say about them…” Colin even turned to me at one point and said, “Just because you’ve told everyone you’re going to jump off a cliff doesn’t mean you have to.”
And here we are a month later, back in Brooklyn, with a brand spankin’ old Jeep, awesome pictures and some of the most amazing memories we’ve ever made.
It was the best trip of my life. Yes, Paris, I’m sorry. I’ll take a cabin in Montana and a hike in Yellowstone over shopping in the Marais any day. There is SO MUCH beauty in this country! If you haven’t seen it–go, go, go! Or just read this entire post! But be warned, it’s very long. Here we go…
We started our two week trip by flying into Seattle and testing out old Jeeps we found on Craigslist. The first one we drove had 14 previous owners and while test driving it, Colin couldn’t stop saying, “Oh no, no no. This is not happening.” The Jeep shook uncontrollably and made gurgling noises at 50 mph. We returned it to its rightful owner and went on our way (in our very modern Zipcar SUV).
Our second stop was in a sweet suburb outside of Olympia. The street was quaint and we pulled up to a shiny red 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport. After meeting the single owners in person, I knew she was the one. We got her inspected and with a little work, she was as good as new. A few days later, after lots of family time and Washington adventures (Bellingham, West Seattle, Anacortes, La Conner and Orcas Island), we were on our way across the country!
Seattle, Washington > Spokane, Washington
via North Cascade Highway aka State Route 20
There are lots of ways to get through the state of Washington. There are fast freeways, with lots of lanes and restaurant chains, but this was not how we wanted to go. We decided to take the scenic route, through some of the most beautiful snow capped mountains I’ve ever seen.
The first stop we made through the Cascades was at Cascadian Farm, where you can pick organic raspberries, strawberries or make a quick pit stop for insanely delicious ice cream at their road side stand. We picked up a few pints of raspberries for the road, which we ate with chocolate covered almonds along the way.
The turnouts on the Cascade Highway were gorgeous and the air smelled like pure heaven. There was this beautiful lake along the route, and in hind sight, I wish we had stopped for a quick dip (we didn’t have towels). When we got to Spokane a million hours later, we slept at a crappy motel and started all over again the next day.
Spokane, Washington > Bozeman, Montana
First stop on this leg was in St. Regis, Montana, where we stopped to buy cherries (there were signs all along the highway leading up to exit. I mean, how could we not?).
We met Victor and three generations of his family (his father, daughter and wife). His family has been selling cherries for over 20 years at this roadside stand. Twice a week they drive to a farm in Washington to pick and then drive back to St. Regis where they wash, sort and sell them.
Colin found out their daughter and her boyfriend both attend medical school at University of Washington and have both had his uncle as a professor. It was a “small world” moment and a pleasure to meet them. Oh, and the cherries were sweet, juicy and delicious, and we ate them along the road with chocolate covered almonds (notice a pattern here?).
In order to make it to Bozeman before nightfall, we knew we had to keep our stops to a minimum. So Colin put his foot on the gas and we made our way, getting to Bozeman right as the sun was setting across Montana’s BIG beautiful sky.
We decided to have a classic steak dinner at Stacy’s Old Faithful Bar & Steakhouse. We walked into the restaurant and the walls were covered in deer skulls and it very much felt like we were in a steakhouse in the middle of Montana. We had the sweetest server–people really are the nicest outside of NYC–and the meal was delicious. I had the ribeye with a baked potato and side salad. No frills, and I’ll never forget that steak. Just check out my smile…
For dessert we got the peanut butter pie with vanilla ice cream. I’ve been inspired to make a version of this dessert myself. The peanut butter and oreo combo is a no brainer. And it was Colin’s idea to add vanilla ice cream.
We left Stacy’s and the sun had set. Check out the entire building below. It was really quaint and special. A meal and night I’ll never forget.
We checked into our GORGEOUS Airbnb in the center of downtown Bozeman. The night had gotten chilly, and the temperature dropped to about 50 degrees. Luckily for us, the owners of our Airbnb also owned Lockhorn Cider House next door, which happened to have an outdoor fireplace! This was one of my favorite nights on the trip. It all just lined up perfectly…and I can’t wait to go back.
Bozeman, Montana > Yellowstone National Park
Day three wasn’t filled with very much driving as we kept this day open in order to explore Bozeman and Yellowstone. I’m so glad we did.
We started our morning with breakfast at The Nova Cafe (please get the blue corn pancakes) and then made our way to buy cowboy hats (and boots for me) at Carter’s Boots. This was really fun and touristy. You can judge me, but don’t pretend you wouldn’t do it too…
Then we got in the car and made our way to–drumroll please–YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK! I’ve always thought this national park would be like any other park I’ve stepped foot in, where I’d just say, “It’s pretty here.” But friends, it BLEW MY MIND. The rivers, the mountains, the rock walls of yes, yellow stone. The bison, the antelope, the wild flowers, the geysers, the snow capped mountains, I mean I could keep going but then I’d never finish writing this post.
We left Yellowstone as the sun was setting, and by the time we got out it was dark. By dark I mean it was pitch black with no street lights or any other cars around. We found the first motel where there was vacancy, The Grizzly Lodge. It was creepy–there was no cell service, wifi, and all of the town’s (two) restaurants were closed at 9pm. So I sliced up a loaf of sourdough bread we had in the car, slathered it with President butter, layered on salami, and made sandwiches for dinner (with a side of Rainier cherries), served on our just bought antique enamel plates. Definitely a night I’ll never forget.
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming > Grand Rapids, South Dakota
via Beartooth Highway and I90
Day four started out on a very high note. Beartooth Pass is one of the MOST INCREDIBLE highways I’ve ever driven on. I mean, I got to touch snow in July. And pretend like I was a cowgirl. What more could a New Yorker want (see below).
The rest of this day was a schlep. Actually, all of South Dakota was one big schlep. Don’t stop in Deadwood. It’s a tourist trap. Just keep going to your final destination (in our case, Grand Rapids) and you won’t regret the extra night’s sleep.
Grand Rapids, South Dakota > Badlands > Minneapolis, Minnesota
via I90 and 35W
We woke up in Grand Rapids, ate a crappy hotel breakfast, and made our way to the Badlands. By the time we got to the badlands it was high noon and 105 degrees. I do not recommend this. If you’d like to save your marriage, your sanity and car, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS.
The Badlands were beautiful but it felt like we were in the deepest pit of hell. We couldn’t run the AC because the car was overheating. Colin and I wanted to kill each other. If you do go, please do yourself the favor and go at sunrise or sunset. You’ll thank me.
And meanwhile, somewhere in South Dakota or Minnesota…
Minneapolis, Minnesota > Madison, Wisconsin > Chicago, Illinois
via I94 to I90
Day four ended with us arriving to Minneapolis at almost midnight. Luckily, I pre-booked our stay at Alma Hotel. Our room was stunning and we got the best complimentary bread basket and coffee in bed.
I highly recommend booking some great hotels if you plan to drive across the country. The sitting all day really takes a toll on your body–so I made sure we had beautiful places to land in Bozeman, Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit.
After showering, packing and getting ready to hit the road again, we stopped at Alma’s restaurant before we left. The vibe was very LA, lots of space, fresh juices, kale scrambles, etc. I’d stay here over and over again if I could. And I’d like to go back to Minneapolis to explore, because the only thing we really saw was breakfast in bed, and then at the hotel (ha).
Next stop was an early dinner in Madison, Wisconsin at Graze. The food was just ok. The stand out were the beer battered cheese curds with homemade ranch. When in Wisconsin!
We landed in Chicago at The Robey hotel. Nothing to write home about but it was clean and comfortable. We apparently missed the amazing rooftop because we were so tired. Next time!
Chicago, Illinois > Detroit, Michigan
Ok, so we didn’t see much of Chicago either. But that’s the hardest part about road trips, you just don’t have the time to see much unless you spend a few nights in each place. And our timeline did not allow for dilly-dallying.
First stop was lunch at Spinning J Bakery and Soda Fountain in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. It was a super nostalgic soda fountain with great food. The service, however, was a bit lackluster. I was so smitten with the decor and vibe, but I don’t think they liked Colin’s camera.
The highlight was the blueberry pie, served cold. Blasphemy, right? It wasn’t. The filling wasn’t too sweet or ooey gooey but the blueberries were still in tact. Served with homemade whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. Yum.
Leaving Chicago, there were two other things we needed to do. I insisted we check out Lake Michigan, and Colin insisted we eat at Harold’s fried chicken. I wasn’t even hungry, and neither was he–but he said it was a MUST. So we stopped. And I am so glad we did.
The late Harold Pierce opened the first Harold’s Chicken Shack in 1950, serving nothing but fried chicken at 47th Street and Greenwood Avenue in the South Side neighborhood of Kenwood. While that first location has closed, the restaurant blossomed into a local chain that’s now perhaps best known for wings, fried hard (with an extra-crispy crust, that is) and ordered by regulars tossed with salt, pepper and mild sauce, a house-made blend of seasoned ketchup, hot sauce and barbecue sauce. Dozens of independently owned and operated Harold’s Chicken restaurants thrive with individual touches to the original recipe, which demands fried chicken made-to-order only. Plus, Pierce’s legacy lives on as a pioneering African-American entrepreneur memorialized by the lyrics of artists from Common to Kendrick Lamar.” – Chicago Tribune
Have you ever seen a watermelon truck? I hadn’t either. We met Maurice, whose family had been selling Georgia watermelons from this spot for a few summers now. He knocked on two or three melons and when he found that hollow sound, picked “the one” up. I asked him if he could slice it for us and he said, “My uncle would charge you for that but I won’t.” We left with a half sliced 20 lb watermelon, two bags of roasted peanuts (he gave them to us) and lots of smiles all around. It was really awesome.
And finally, the lakes. The great in the “Great Lakes” does not do these bodies of water, specifically Lake Michigan, justice. Let me start by saying I’ve never seen a lake this big. It’s so big you can’t see where it ends. It’s so big it has lifeguards–and waves! We stopped at two beaches, one outside of Chicago and the other right outside of Gary, Indiana.
Detroit, Michigan > Port Stanley, Ontario, Canada
via 401 to I90
Oh, Detroit. What a beautiful, resilient city. The lake breeze, the summer grass, the old victorian houses.
Astro Coffee in Corktown is the place for coffee and breakfast/lunch. They roast their own beans and we had a delicious quinoa and beet salad, and a hummus and pickled veg sandwich. The space is also beautiful, with that old world Detroit detail.
Sister Pie is some of the best pie I’ve had. It’s homey pie. It’s not perfect. The people working there were lovely, and they had a wide open kitchen so you could see the bakers rolling out dough and slinging flour. I love collecting pie shop intel.
I had a slice of their bourbon cherry pie. It wasn’t a “perfect” slice, so I got whipped cream on top for free. It was delicious.
We got really lucky that we were in Detroit on a Saturday. Why, you might ask? Eastern Market. It’s the LARGEST farmer’s market in the entire country. Ok, I made that up. But I’ve experienced nothing else like it! The market is said to have up to 45,000 visitors in a day and is one of America’s most original destinations for fresh produce, meats, baked goods, flowers and local art.
The market also extends for what feels like miles and miles. The vendors yell at you to try their produce, for free. It’s nothing like a Brooklyn farmer’s market, where you have to beg someone to talk to you about where their zucchini comes from.
I bought basil, kale and sunflower plants that were $5 each. Everything in this market was gorgeous, abundant and cheap, cheap, cheap. I wanted it all!
We drove from Detroit into Canada, because a guy at a bike shop told us it was a much prettier drive than through Pennsylvania. The customs officer was very confused and asked us all about our Washington plates, the plants in our trunk and why we were going into Canada overnight. We hadn’t thought about how this might “look.” We got across the border and drove along Lake Erie, ending our Saturday night at a little town called Port Stanley.
We could not believe the sunset we were witnessing on the last night of our trip. And it just so happened to be a full moon. It was breathtaking.
Port Stanley, Ontario, Canada > Buffalo, New York > Brooklyn, New York
via I90, I81, I80
We woke up early-ish, but not early enough. Crossed the border back into the US and encountered another round of very suspicious questions. But they didn’t take my plants!
We stopped at our favorite little bakery called Five Points in Buffalo. We sat outside, drank coffee, ate toast and prepared ourself for the eight hour drive home. We finally made it home at around midnight, and I wouldn’t take back a single moment. I’m most grateful for Colin, who drove most of the way, and got us home in one piece.
I’m also grateful for you. If you made it all the way to the bottom of this post, congratulations. Your prize is a picture of me and Colin together, in matching jean jackets, just because.
Thanks for following along on this crazy adventure!
Dotty Romm says
Beautiful Michele and Colin. Loved reading about your adventures and really love the photos ! Talented couple.
Now you need to explore the lower part of the country and write about that trip..
Aww, thanks Dotty! Next trip we’re coming your way!!!