Trip back East


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North America » United States » Virginia » Falls Church
September 1st 2011
Published: September 1st 2011
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We moved to Colorado six years ago and this would be our first trip back to our former hometown of Falls Church, VA. Last year we drove back to Blacksburg, VA for our daughter Rosanna's graduation from Virginia Tech, but not to the DC area.

We were not looking forward to another long drive back east. This would be my 12th and 13th times for crossing the Great Plains by car...I hadn't been counting as I am not trying to establish any sort of record here, but my daughter Tamara asked so I had to try to recollect. But this time we are going to meet Rosanna's future in-laws and to make final decisions regarding her wedding venue and the caterer, etc. so that as Father of the Bride I know how much this wonderful occasion was going to cost me. We are also visiting family and friends along the way.

This time Linda wanted to take the scenic route across the U.S. I pointed out to her that there was no scenic route across the Great Plains. However, see wanted to avoid the Interstates and take local roads stopping at flea markets and antique stores along the way. I immediately added a day or two extra to our drive.

This trip I planned to use all the latest internet and GPS tools. I went to GasBuddy.com and entered my route and got a printout of where to fill up my gas tank at the lowest cost gas stations along the way. My eldest daughter Tamara updates our Tom Tom, including additonal voices. My wife, Linda, preferred Gupta, the Indian accent, but Tamara had selected Cartman from South Park. We soon learned that this choice involved hearing alot of vulgar directions, so we asked Tamara to switch, which she didn't want to do. Fortunately, driving on one highway for 400 miles didn't require a lot of directions. That lasted as far as the toll booths on the Kansas Turnpike where Cartman started swearing when we got in the left lane to pay cash instead of the right lane for the expresspass. Linda yanked the GPS off the windshield and sat on it so that the toll booth lady wouldn't hear the swearing. We demanded that Tamara switch it to Gupta. That only lasted the rest of the day as we had some difficulty understanding his instructions. So we switched to a bloke speaking Australian. However, he was too condescending so we ended up with a lady who spoke the King's English.

It was on our second day of driving that we learned the difference between selecting the shortest route instead of the fastest route on the GPS. We didn't like the fastest route as it took us from Memphis to Chattanooga by way of Nashville, instead of the more direct route on US64 across the southern tier of Tennessee. So we selected the shortest route. This also didn't take us on US64, but on US 72 across the northern tier of Mississippi and Alabama. It was so insistant on taking the more southerly route that when I chose to find US64 on my own, it took us back through prison complexes, and agriculture experimental stations, and seafood festivals, etc. We did manage to see the nicer suburbs of Memphis in the process. So with these preliminaries taken care of, now for our trip.

13 August 2011 Saturday. Linda, Tamara, Liam, my 11 month old grandson, and I departed our home at 8:30 am. We left my son Will to take care of the house and pets in our absence. He was to start his Fall semester, and final semester of his college career, while we were away. We drove south for 30 miles on I-25 to get to US50 at Pueblo where we would take it east through eastern Colorado and Kansas. We noticed a pickup truck parked along the highway with a father and son kneeling next to two crosses planted on the side of the road. They were placing flowers...perhaps for a lost wife/mother and daughter/sister. It was a poignant start for our trip.

Our first stop was at Old Bent's Fort about 125 miles from home. This fort was constructed as a fur trading post on the Santa Fe Trail by the Bent brothers. It was the only outpost of civilization between St. Louis and Santa Fe. It was located on the north bank of the Arkansas River, which at the time was the border between Mexico and the United States. We arrived just in time to take a very informative tour of the fort. We learned about trading practices and what goods were exchanged, and about the people who came through the fort on their way west. This trail was mostly used by traders, whereas the Oregon Trail to the north was used mostly by settlers.

From Bent's Fort we continued east along the Santa Fe Trail, which we could see sections of at the side of US50 on the way to Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was the railhead where the cattle trails from Texas ended. Today, it has been replaced by many railheads along the traintracks that parallel US50. I had never seen so many feedlots before. We soon learned that not all cows were shipped east by rail. There were also abatoirs on our route. We wondered what the stench was until we saw what the garbage truck in front of us was carrying...the heads and legs of cattle. Tamara took a picture with her cell phone and sent it to our vegetarian daughter Rosanna to let her know that we were about to become vegetarians also.

We drove east to Wichita where we cought the Kansas Turnpike south to Oklahoma. We swung east through Tulsa and arrived in Muskokee about 10 pm. I had selected Muskokee as our first stop as it was midpoint between or home and Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we wanted to spend the second night before finishing at my sister Sue's home near Clemson, South Carolina. We only found out when we got there some of the history of the place...the end of the Trail of Tears where the Five Civilized Indian Nations were force marched from the southeastern states back in the early 1800's. The next day we would follow the Trail of Tears back east. We also learned that the song "Okie from Muskokee" referred to this town.

14 August 2011 Sunday. We didn't dwell on this new information for very long, preferring instead to continue east. We had lunch on the outskirts of Little Rock, Arkansas, and decided against visiting the Bill Clinton Library, in favor of spending our touring time in Memphis...Graceland the home of Elvis Presley. We arrived there mid afternoon and were not impressed. It is located in the ghetto part of town and has become a kitchy tourist attraction. It was also mobbed as this weekend was the anniversary of his death in 1977. I remembered sitting in the departure lounge at McGuire Air Force base waiting to catch a flight to Germany when the TV announced the news of his death. We decided to continue without stopping. This is where our GPS dictated our route to Chattanooga, and where we belatedly learned not to select the shortest route. I had wanted to stop at the Civil War battlefield in Shiloh, but given our time, we continued, recognizing that I would have my battlefiled the next morning at Chickamauga, on the sothern outskirts of Chattanooga. We arrived at our hotel about 9 pm, which instantly became 10 pm as we entered the Eastern Time Zone.

15 August 2011 Monday. After a hotel breakfast, we drove into nearby Georgia and spent the morning at the Chickamauga Civil War battlefield. We stopped at the visitor center for an overview and then drove around to see where the action took place. The Confederates won the battle fought here in September 1863, but lost subsequent battles fought in November and the following spring, which opened up the south for Sherman's March on Atlanta and the coast. Amazingly, both Linda and Tamara enjoyed the tour. They must have gotten over battlefield fatigue acquired when we lived in Northern Virginia. So by late morning we continued over the Appalachain Mountains to my sister Sue's home near Clemson, South Carolina; arriving about 3:30 pm. We spent the rest of the day talking to Sue and Rob and having dinner.

16 August 2011 Tuesday. Sue took Linda and Tamara to some flea markets and antique shops, allowing me to stay home to enjoy peace and quiet. Thye returned in time for lunch to show me their treasures. We met Rob at his parents' home on Lake Keeowee at 2 pm and took their boat for a fast paced tour of the lake and homes that dotted the shore. We returned about 3 pm and talked for an hour or so before returning home for dinner and an evening of conversation.

17 August 2011 Wednesday. We had a light lunch with my neice, Alyssa, and her husband, Dereck, at their home in Greenville. They have done a beautiful job decorating their home. After we drove into Greenville to walk around their wonderfully restored main street. We shopped at our favorite store, the Mast General Store. I asked the manager whether they had considered franchising an outlet in Colorado. We returned to Sue's for dinner, and rented a movie for the evening.

18 August 2011 Thursday. This was another travel day; from Clemson, South Carolina to Virginia Beach, Viriginia. As we drove on I-85 across North Carolina, I noted that we would pass near my cousin Bonnie Gay's home, so I called her to see if she could meet us at an exit. SHe told us to meet her at the Sheetz gas station at Exit 152, which we did. We talked for about 45 minutes before we had to go. It was great to see her again. We arrived in Virginia Beach in time for dinner at IHOP with Linda's brother Marlan and our nephew Rhett. Arlene was sick so wasn't able to join us. Also Marlan couldn't spend any time with us as he had to take care of Arlene; taking her to the doctor etc. the next day. So after dinner and checking into our hotel, we drove to the beach to scout it out for our visit there the next day.

19 August 2011 Friday. The day started with a visit to the beach where Liam could experience the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. He wasn't impressed; not too excited about getting sand in his daiper. So after a half hour or so, we decided to cross the Hamton Roads and take the Colonial Parkway from Yorktown to Jamestown. On the way Linda spotted a Goodwill store, which she can never pass without stopping. In this case we were fortunate in that there was a Thai restaurant next door. We had lunch there; authentic cooking that we missed in Colorado. I ordered in Thai and soon became caught up in a conversation in Thai about our time there. After a great lunch topped of with mangoes and sticky rice, we proceeded to Yorktown and Jamestown, where Linda, Tamara and Liam toured until threatened by a thunderstorm. I decided it wasn't worth the $10 entry fee as I had been there many times before, and read my USAToday instead. We then drove around Williamsburg. I wanted to walk around the historic district, but the girls had enough walking for the day so we drove to our hotel. Tamara had arranged to meet with Simona, her college roommate who was not stationed with the Air Force at Langley Air Force Base, for the evening, so Linda and I babysat.

20 - 26 August 2011 Saturday through Friday. We drove from Yorktown to Falls Church, driving by our old house before going to Rosanna and Evan's apartment. We had lunch at Tara Thai, our favorite Thai restaurant in the DC area, and the restaurant selected as the caterer for the wedding reception. We arranged to meet at 5 pm on the following Thursday to discuss the catering arrangements, once we knew more about the venue. After lunch we went to the Korean grocery store and then to a gianat flea market. We then discussed our plans for the week and called various friends to nail down times for getting together. The major events were:

- Sunday, we drove out to Middleburg and horse country, one of our favorite spots to tour when we lived in Virginia. We had an ice cream cone in Middleburg. We returned home in time for Rosanna and Evan to cook us a Cambodian dinner. They had learned to cook Cambodian food while living in Boston. It was very good. I especially liked the mango salad.

- Monday, when we met Evan's dad, Chris, for the first time at the selected wedding venue of Strong Mansion on Sugarloaf Mountain about 10 miles east of Frederick, Maryland. We got a tour of the place and discussed the details of holding a wedding there. I signed a contract and paid the security deposit. Finally, we had a wedding date, June 17, 2012...which also happens to be Fathers Day. That evening we had dinner at Evan's parents home where we met his mom, Karen, who we had met a year earlier at the Virginia Tech graduation.

- Tuesday morning we visited the National Zoo. We arrived early while it was relatively uncrowded and cool. Our first stop was the petting zoo where Liam petted a cow. He really enjoyed seeing all the animals, especially the gorillas and orangutans. By late morning we were hot and tired so returned home, stopping on the way at Delhi Dhaba, our favorite Indian take away in Arlington. We brought the food to Rosanna and Evan's apartment for lunch and at the end of the meal experienced a 5.8 scale earthquake. Rosanna didn't know what was happening. I told her it was just an earthquake. We moved to stand under the doorways, but it stopped in about 45 seconds. That afternoon we went shopping at Tyson's Corner Mall. We had scheduled dinner with our friends Steve and Kay, but Steve had to go to Florida to help Kay's parents move from their apartment to assisted living/nursing home. We hope to see them next year at the wedding. So instead that evening we drove into DC to see the lights and monuments after the traffic was gone. We would do this quite often when we lived here.

- Wednesday we met with our friends Darryl and Marilyn for breakfast at a New Zealand cafe. We talked and talked, finishing breakfast about 10:30 am before returning to their home to talk about their tour of New Zealand and to get advice on our trip there in November 2012. In the afternoon we toured the Smithsonian American History Museum. One of the more interesting parts was movie history where we saw the Ruby slippers from the "Wizard of Oz" and Farrah Fawcett's swim suit. I recalled it was red, but it turns out to be orange. I must have it mixed it up with Baywatch. After the museum we walked out onto the Mall. That evening we had dinner at Evan's parents home again.

- Thursday morning Linda and I went shopping out at the Fair Oaks area. She was looking for fabric to replace the cushion covers on the Thai furniture in our entertainment room. We stopped at Joanne Fabrics, and deferred any purchase as they were going to have a 50% off sale starting in a few days. Then we drove to Wegmans, a super grocery store that Linda had never been to. She was very impressed. Unfortunately we don't have a Wegmans in Colorado. We had arranged to meet the kids at Mount Vernon where we had lunch at the Tavern. Linda and I celebrated our annivarsary every year there when we lived in Virginia. At 5 pm Rosanna, Evan and I met at Tara Thai to discuss the catering arrangements.

- Friday we drove to Mike and Betty's home. We had planned to visit the Capitol, but decided to just visit instead until it was time for the girls to return to the apartment to get ready for a wedding of a friend that evening. Mike and Betty took Linda and I to their favorite Belgian restaurant for lunch. We had moules and frites, and creme caramel for dessert; and spent hours talking about our great times together in Belgium and the rest of Europe. We got home about 3:30 pm, just in time to babysit while the rest went to the wedding. Linda and I watched the TV coverage of the approaching Hurricane Irene.

27 August 2011 Saturday. We said our tearful farewell's to Rosanna and Evan, and drove to our nephew Ryan, and his wife Stepanie's home for breakfast. We met their three small children and Stephanie's parents who were just moving to Virginia from Texas. Her dad was the chef; his specialty was crepes, with every topping imaginable. We ate and visited until about 10:30 am, and as the outer bands of wind and rain reached Northern Virginia, we decided we had better get on our way to stay in front of Hurricane Irene. So in our one week in Viriginia we experienced the worst earthquake thay had in over one hundred years (still nothing compared to California earthquakes) and a hurricane (also overblown...pun intended). We had planned to stop at Amish country in Lancaster County, but changed our plans due to the hurricane. We drove directly to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to have lunch with my Aunts Minnie and Jean. We learned that Aunt Buelah had just passed away in Toronto, Canada. We wanted to change our plans to drive to Toronto, but our passports were in Colorado. After lunch we drove to New Castle to visit with Linda's family. Firsst, we checked into our motel, which turned out to be less that adequate, so while Linda visited her family, I was at McDonalds using their wifi to make other hotel reservations. Everything was booked in the immediate area, so we ended up in Youngstown, Ohio for the night.

28 August 2012 Sunday. We spent from 9 am to 1 pm with our friends Buz and Kathy, first visiting a nearby flea market and then recalling our various trips around Europe together. I reveiwed their albums which will help me recall these trips for future blogs. My main concern had been that I couldn't find pictures for the many trips we took while living in Brussels from 1984 to 1995. Linda casually mentioned that she had many more boxes of pictures that she had failed to mention previously. Thanks alot! From 1 - 3 pm we returned to visit Linda's family as this was the only time that her sister Melody would be available. So at 3 pm we hit the road, taking I-80 across Ohio to Indiana. We drove that last few miles into northeast Indiana on back roads. We stayed the night in Howe, Indiana just at the beginning of Amish country...my alternative to Lancaster County. Finding the cheapest gas was always a challenge, and as I didn't have any GasBuddy data as our itinerary had changed, I asked a customer at a gas station whether gas was cheaper in Indianan or Michigan, as we were near the Michigan border. He said that prices were the same until Iowa. So we filled up at $3.77/gal, the most expensive of our entire trip (average price was $3.44/gal). Later, after checking into our hotel we drove a mile north to Sturgis, Michigan for dinner where gas was $3.50/gal. When will I ever learn not to trust the word of locals? After I got back to the hotel I checked the price of gas at the maximum range for my gas tank and got the address of the gas station we would enter into our Tom Tom the next day.

29 August 2011 Monday. We spent the morning touring Amoish country and stopping to buy produce along the way. I was able to buy a black Amish hat for Liam; the main reason for visiting. We had arranged to meet with my sister Carol for lunch at the Olive Garden near Wheaton, Illinois so we were on our way by 10 am, which with an hour gained by going to Cntral time, we arrived by 11:30 am. We had a great time talking with Carol, who had just arrived from Bangkok, via London and British Airways. She would be visiting with her son Josh who was entering his Freshman year at Indiana Wesleyan University, taking care of financial aid and other business. By 1 pm we were on our way again. I had originally planned to drive across Iowa and Nebraska, but the girls wanted to visit Hannibal, Missouri. To get there before dark I had to take interstates rather than the desired backroads, much to Linda's dismay. We made it to Hannibal before sunset, and from there to Columbia drove the back roads, whihc seemed to satisfy Linda; espicially since she was able to visit Ozarkland store, although she only had 15 minutes as the store was about to close (she was sure I planned it that way). We finally made it to our hotel in Columbia.

30 August 2011 Tuesday. My GPS showed that by interstate we were 742 miles from home, and 745 miles from home if we took US24. So we took I-70 to where we turned off to Manhattan, Kansas, where we caught US 24 for the rest of the way home, quenching and further thirst or curiosity that Linda may have concerning what the rest of Kansas looks like. I didn't mid too much as I have a fascination for highways that span the continent...such as US 20 from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon. US 24 goes from Detroit to Vail, Colorado, passing through our town on the way; not quite the continent spanner as US20, but similar to US66m, without the fame. We had lunch at a food court in a mall in Manhattan and then drove through northern Kansas and eastern Colorado arriving home about 9 pm.

States visited: 17. Total Miles: 5240. Gas used: 214.2 gal Average MPG: 24.5 (going at 75 mph on average) Average price: $3.45/gal. Next year we drive directly to the wedding venue and back.


Additional photos below
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12th September 2011

Great Post
Enjoyed your post Bob. We might check out gasbuddy a bit more often. Sounds like you had a great trip.
30th January 2012

Not sure why I didn't read this when you published it.
I really enjoyed it. We love road trips. This work stuff interferes....
2nd June 2012

Great post, some of the photos were amazing!
2nd June 2012
Old Bent's Fort Colorado

This photo would have been amazing without the oversized golf buggy in the background!

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