Travel Blog

Dead Last beats Did Not Finish, which is better than Did Not Start

April and May did not work out like I wanted them to.  I still haven’t fixed my writing space; I’m still not sure how I could.

Instead of dwelling on that and the missed posts (and getting even more behind), I’m going to take this one word at a time.  It’s not a permanent solution by any means, but it’s better than what I’ve been doing.  And what a great week to start, because I did something really exciting this weekend that I’d like to share with you.

Friday, Jennifer and I (and Layla) drove down to Charleston.  It was exciting from the very start.  South Carolina drivers seemed to be holding a contest of who could kill us first.  But we did make it in one piece.  After checking in at our campsite (yes, campsite: more on that later) at James Island, we went downtown.

The stretch of King Street we were on looked like someone had turned Southpark Mall inside out and dumped it on the street.  But on the next block, down Market Street, we found some of the true gems of Charleston: the open-air market, Market Street Sweets, Kaminsky’s and the attached steakhouse that was recently damaged by fie, and the Moon Pie General Store.  We walked another twenty minutes to go to Blue Bicycle Books.

I don’t know how Jennifer felt about this bookstore, especially after all the trouble it took us to find it, but I love this place.  It’s quiet and peaceful, and I always feel like I’m entering a different world when I open the door and the cool air rushes at me.  We only stayed a few minutes, and we didn’t buy anything but my Charleston trip wouldn’t have felt complete without it.

With First Looks over, it was time to get to the reason we were there: Questival.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been describing Questival as a scavenger hunt, but it’s not that simple.  It’s 24 hours of adventures big and small.  The things we were challenged to do ranged from “draw a team crest” to “eat a bug,” “sing karaoke” to “ride a unicycle.”  Each quest was worth a certain amount of points.  Jennifer and I focused on location quests because we wanted to see as much of Charleston as possible.  We visited Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park with its pineapple fountain, and White Gardens.  We even drove out to the Angel Oak Tree, a 400-year-old oak.

Most memorable was the Four Corners of Law, not because of the  buildings themselves but because of the woman we met standing there: a 75-year-old former Marine who noticed we looked lost and stopped to help.  She suggested we go in the church, as both Washington and Lee had worshipped there, and eat lunch at Brown Dog Deli.  Unfortunately the church had just closed, but the deli was the most amazing meal I’ve had in a while.  I had the Fig’N’Pig, the perfect blend of sweet and savory.  Also a chocolate chip cookie, which was so sweet and gooey I almost died.

We finished Questival in 71st place.  Seventy teams did better than we did…but thirty did not.  At least ten of those had zero points because they didn’t even try.

Maybe we didn’t win, but we had a lot of fun exploring Charleston and stepping out of our comfort zone.  And yes, camping.

This was the first time I’d ever been camping.  We put up the tent and got a thousand bug bites.  We even made new friends with some girls from Asheville who camped a lot.  It was a great first camping trip.  We’re already looking forward to the next one.

Sometimes you step out of your comfort zone and find yourself in a magical place.

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5 Places to Eat in Chapel Hill

Every time I go to Chapel Hill, I say I’m going to try something new.  Instead I always revisit the places I loved as a student.  Don’t get me wrong: I want to try new places…but these are just so damn good.  Here’s my top 5.(Note: Those who know me will be surprised that Alpine didn’t make the cut, but it’s actually a chain which doesn’t count for these purposes.)

5. Top of the Hill: I’ve only eaten there a few times because it’s incredibly expensive.  It is worth it though, as it’s gourmet-levels of delicious.  The best part though is the view from the balcony, especially at night.  Beautiful.

4. Linda’s: Linda’s is more like a bar that serves food than a restaurant, but the food is really good.  Their claim to fame is the Sweet Potato tots.  Also, it’s an incredibly chill atmosphere.

3. Sugarland: This is not a place for meal, but if you want ice cream, cupcakes, or a really good chocolate martini, this is the place for you.  SO GOOD.

2. Spanky’s: This is a Chapel Hill classic with pub-style food.  Great wings, burgers, and ribs, but they also have things like duck sliders and bourbon bread pudding for the adventurous.  And of course, you can always watch a Carolina game here.

1. Sutton’s: This is it folks.  If you are only going to be in Chapel Hill for one day, this is the place to go.  Whether you’re there for breakfast or lunch, it’s going to be delicious.  The best though? The burger!

Honorable mention to He’s Not Here, which doesn’t serve food (as far as I know) but is the best place on Franklin to drink.

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Kari’s 5 Road Trip Tips

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Road Trip Book Haul

This was meant to be a vlog post, but I don’t actually feel like videoing myself right now.

I probably visited a dozen or more book stores on this trip.  Some were awful, like the one in Cuba, Missouri.  There were a few, like the one in Nashville, Tennessee, that were nice but didn’t have what I wanted.  There were six I found and purchased books from.

The first bookstore of the trip was in Chicago.  Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music was a room and a half in a building so old the elevator was cranked by hand.  There I bought a Perry Mason mystery: The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Despite going into almost every bookstore I saw, the next place I found something was Palace Avenue Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There I bought Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. The owner saw that I was buying it and showed me an antique he’d recently acquired with some beautiful pictures of the pyramids.

I FINALLY found If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson at The Writer’s Block Book Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When I made it to The Last Book Store in Los Angeles, I almost didn’t find anything…but then I saw Brain Storm by Don Hahn and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech.

Originally, I expected this would actually be my last book store of the trip, but then I got to meet Anna Kendrick and get her book Scrappy Little Nobody at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a bookstore well known for its author events.

And of course, once in New York City, I couldn’t resist going to one of my favorite bookstores: The Strand.  That’s where I found In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  These were all books I’d wanted for a while, so that was extra wonderful.

I’ve stopped going into big chain bookstores because I’ve found half the fun of buying books is where you get them.  So where are your favorite independent bookstores?  And be sure to shop there Small Business Saturday!

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Halloween and Happiness

Layla and I crossed the California state line on Halloween.  Needles was the first town we came to, a tiny place with a literal Welcome Wagon and not much else.

I’d spent a hot minute on the phone with my mom and cousins a few miles earlier and seeing them in their costumes didn’t help how I was feeling.  I wasn’t homesick, exactly, though this was a holiday I hated to miss.  Restless, maybe.  They were about to do something fun, which has always been the point of Halloween in my book.  And what was I going to do?

I didn’t know.  I had packed my short dress and Gryffindor tie because I was hoping for a party, but Needles wasn’t that sort of town.  In fact, I wasn’t going to run into “that sort of town” until I hit LA.  And while I could drive there within the day, that would mean bypassing Calico, San Bernardino, and Pasadena.  I didn’t want to do that, but I also didn’t want to spend Halloween night alone in a hotel room.

Then I saw the sign: Las Vegas.  I could spend Halloween in Vegas.  I opened the app on my phone, found a cheap place to stay, and that was it.

“Man,” I thought, once I’d booked, “I’m really going to miss this ‘doing what I want when I want it’ thing.”

Since I had made it to California, I was starting to think of the end of the trip.  But just as soon as I thought that, something else occurred to me.

Why?  What’s stopping me from doing whatever I want when I want it once I get home?  It won’t be the same, sure, but…I can still do things on a whim for no reason except that it will make me happy.

Looking over my SnapChat story the next day made me smile.  I stayed at the Las Vegas Hostel, which only charged me $20 for the night and included free breakfast and a pool. It was also within walking distance of some of downtown Vegas and Fremont St. At The Writer’s Block, I bought a book I’d been looking for and talked to the bookseller about bars I should go to. He recommended Atomic Liquors, a bit of a dive, and Oddfellows, which had a lot of energy. I also tried Commonwealth, which probably had the best drinks and fell between the two atmospheres, so is a good place to go if you’re looking for balance.  I also did just a little bit of gambling and got my photo taken with the Chippendales.  All of these things showed up in my SnapChat story and were a reminder of the fun I’d had the night before.

That’s what I want from my life: I want to do things that make me happy and take lots of pictures so that I can look back and continue feeling that way.  And I want it to be an everyday occurrence.  I want to be able to look at my SnapChat story at any given moment and think, “Oh yeah, that was great.”

That will look a little different each day.  On Halloween, I would have been bored and even upset if I’d sat in my pajamas watching TV.  Today, that was exactly what I wanted to do.  And that, I’ve decided, is a perfectly acceptable reason to do something.

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Driving East

My epic road trip is drawing to a close.  If all goes as planned (and I do say if), I will be home by the end of this week.  Driving east has been completely different from driving west because it’s been about the destination, about get to Jersey on time, and not as much about the trip itself.  More than anything it confirms I  drove out there the right way.Parts of the drive to New York sucked because I was so focused on reaching my miles for the day.  The whole state of Virginia was a wash, for example.  But there were some things I did on my drive that brought me back to the initial spirit of the trip.

I stopped in Amarillo, Texas the day after the election to do some shopping and see Trolls again, but mostly because I loved Texas and didn’t want to pass it over completely without taking a moment to enjoy it.

I went out of my way to visit The Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma, an iconic Route 66 landmark I missed the first time.  I didn’t get to meet Dawn, who inspired Sally in Cars, but I knew I would always wonder if I didn’t go at all.

I listened to the blues at a cafe on Beale Street in Memphis and walked along the Mississippi River before driving to Nashville and spending the day surrounded by the music I grew up on.

The reason I did all these things was because I kept thinking about Neil Gaiman’s speech and the best advice he got but didn’t follow.  “You should enjoy this,” King had told him.  Despite marathon driving sessions, being exhausted, and getting sick of every audio file I had to listen to in the car, I was determined I would find a way to enjoy it.

Tomorrow I go back to marathon driving sessions.  There’s one thing I still need to do before I put my home address into the GPS.  The truth is that I’m actually ready to get home.  I’ve done everything I set out to do.  But, most importantly, I believe I can carry this combination of freedom, peace, and happiness I’ve found back to my hometown.  Because of that, going home doesn’t seem so scary any more.

That being said, I have four more days before I have to worry about that, and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

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The Road Less Traveled

Well…I made it.

I got to California on November 1st and LA on the 4th.  on Sunday, I drove out to the Santa Monica Pier.

The end of the Route.

It will be another week and a half before the trip is over, but my ride down the Mother Road is done.

Cars was not exaggerating.  I passed SO many towns that had died because I-40 overlooked them.  But there’s a certain camaraderie on 66 that you don’t find on the new interstates.  I don’t know how it was in the heyday but, ironically, this comraderie today is borne of the isolation.  There are so few people left on the old roads that you feel a connection to the few you do meet.

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it was the perfect blend of solitude and companionship for me.  It was just the right blend of speed and easy-riding.

There’s a certain nostalgia on Route 66 as well.  The most celebrated establishments are the ones that have been around since the 40s or earlier.

And yet…talking to Fran of the Sunflower Station, it’s not the same road it was 90 years ago.  “Oh yes,” she said, when I asked if she’d actually taken the Route.  “Several times and it’s different every time.”

She’s right.  Between the detours and the businesses opening and closing, it changes all the time.  My Route 66 does not match anyone else’s, which is part of the magic of it all.  All Route 66 travelers see most of the same sights, but they each have their own experience.

If you’re planning your Route 66 experience, here are my 6 (see what I did there?) top must-dos on Route 66.

  1. Lou Mitchell’s.  I almost didn’t stop here, but I am SO glad I did.  Best pancakes EVER.
  2. Luna Cafe.  The neon sign is one of the oldest on the Route and, if you show up at the right time, they’ll easily make you feel like a regular.  This is the most socializing I did on the whole Route and it was pretty fantastic.
  3. The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. You have to pay for it, but the view is SO worth it.  The view is beautiful and, halfway through, you get to the only place the old Route intersected a National Park.  Take this road.  It’ll be worth it.
  4. The Midpoint Cafe/Sunflower Station.  Classic Route 66.  First of all, if you make it during the On season, you will have the best pie and coffee of your life.  It’s delicious.  But the best part is the people.  Fran, who owns the Sunflower Station, is an incredibly sweet person who also knows a lot about the old road.  And the family at the Midpoint Cafe is hospitable and kind.  Make sure you stop in.
  5. Black Mountains.  The drive between Kingman, AZ and Oatman, AZ was the hardest I’ve ever done, but it was also the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, so make sure you don’t bypass this one with I-40.   Though also make sure you don’t take it at night.  It’s pretty dangerous.
  6. Santa Monica.  I love beaches, and there is something magical about seeing the sunset there, but the pier itself is also amazing.  Between the people and the neon, it’s everything the Mother Road itself promises.  It’s the last stop on the Route, so make sure you spend some time there.

Now, this isn’t my master list of things I’ve done on this road trip, or my list of “road trip tips,” because I’m not done yet.  But these were my favorite spots on Route 66, the places where I felt the spirit of the old road and its people.

Keep on cruising.  It may be old, but there’s life in these places still.

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(This was written and originally posted on Halloween, 2016 on my Patreon page.)

I’m sorry because, 1, this is pushing it by local times, meaning it’s downright late by EST, where my patrons are and 2, I’m mildly drunk because I spent Halloween in Vegas.  BUT…I’m going to do this anyway.  Here we go.

Vegas, you may or may not know, isn’t on Route 66.  It’s a hundred and more miles away from “the route.”  So why am I in Vegas, you may ask.

Because I can be.

I accidentally booked a  night in Dolan Springs instead of Needles (which you would know if you were following my Twitter).  That’s all it took for me to be reminded that I am always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.  The ranch I stayed on, in Dolan Springs, was peaceful, beautiful, and everything I could have wanted from an AirBNB.  Plus, my hostess was amazing, both welcoming and kind.  I’d love to stay there again.  Then I drove from Kingman to Oatman, the hardest drive I’ve ever made in my life.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it, because it was a beautiful, scenic route through the Black Mountains, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it at night, because it probably would have killed me.

Driving north, I booked an empty bed at Las Vegas Hostel.  Honestly, I was lucky one was open.

Once again, things worked out.  That seems to be the motto of the trip: Things. Worked. Out.

That being said: I’m going to keep putting my faith in destiny.  I’m going to keep believing that I will wind up exactly where I need to wind up.  So far it has proven true and has worked out to my advantage.  You learn a lot on your own, but the most important thing you learn on your own is that…you aren’t alone.  Not really.  There is always someone on your side, and everything is going to be all right.

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Meet Me In St. Louis (The 6 Best Things I Did There)

After spending a week and a half in Illinois, it was time to move on.  Just over the state line was St. Louis, Missouri, and I arranged to spend two nights there.  This list may tell you more about me than the city I visited, but I recommend these experiences.

6. Eating on the Hill – I wound up at Mama’s On the Hill and the toasted ravioli was delicious.  Anywhere you get Italian food here is going to be authentic and tasty, but I recommend Mama’s.

5. The St. Louis Zoo – This zoo is expansive, but easily walkable  The animals and exhibits are engaging.  And, best of all, the zoo is focused on conservation and education, so you know the animals are well cared for.  I’ve been to three “zoos” on this trip, and this is the only one I recommend.

4. Bellefontaine Cemetery – If you enjoy history, especially Civil War history, this place has plenty of things for you to see.  Personally, I enjoyed seeing the different monuments and which stories went with them.  For instance, I am never going to forget about the man who went to France, fell in love with a model, and commissioned a sculpture of her when he got home…which was moved to the cemetery because his wife got sick of living with the thing.

3. Shameless Grounds – This isn’t for everyone.  Literally…you have to be 18 to even walk through the door.  But if you like barbecue, you should have a chauvinist pig sandwich.  The chocolate chip scone and coffee were heavenly.  And the meal comes with a side of sex-positivity and a queer-friendly library.  Nice and cozy, if you’re into that sort of thing.

2. The Arch – St. Louis is famous for this, and you have to do it at least once.  The view at the top is spectacular, and even the experience getting up there is an exciting ride.

1. The City Museum – There are two ways to describe this place.  The short way is “Gryffindor Paradise.”  For those of you who need more, here it is: Imagine a McDonald’s play place.  Make it twenty-times bigger (yes, even the slide).  Put a ferris wheel and a second playplace on the roof.  And remember that nothing is off-limits.  I literally got lost in a cave at this place.  I loved every second of it.

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5 Things to Do on Route 66 in Illinois

The plan is for today to be my last in Illinois.  I’ll be the first to admit my recent plans haven’t gone entirely right, but I do feel it’s time to move into the next phase of this road trip.

Illinois has been full of kitschy Route 66 sightings.  If you ever want to take the Mother Road through the Prairie State, here are five things you shouldn’t miss.

1. Lou Mitchell’s.  This little diner in Chicago has been sending Route 66 travellers off since the Road began.  Stop in, have the coffee and the pancakes.  And the ice cream, no matter what time of day it is.  It’s the only way to get your trip off on the right foot.

2. Pontiac Route 66 sites.  This includes the Route 66 museum, with knickknacks from every stop in Illinois.  There’s a shovel that was used to create the road and a table from the original Steak N’ Shake in Normal, IL.  There’s also a mural tour to take around the city that captures the spirit of freedom and the nostalgia of the road.

3. Memory Lane.  The original stretch of Route 66 in Lexington is complete with old-timey signs that would have called to the original travellers.  With its amount of disrepair, it’s clear why the road was originally decommissioned.  Though you can only drive down it during special events, it’s a nice stroll any time.

4. The Atlanta Library and Clock Tower.  (Skip the Palms Cafe.)  This is a nice place to relax, for one thing, with the Route 66 Park in the town’s square.  The library and clock are an amazing example of architecture and the information about the Keepers of the Clock was interesting and inspiring.  This town is all about preserving history and the Keepers of the Clock are truly representative of that.

5. The World’s Largest Covered Wagon in Lincoln.  It’s dumb and kitschy, but it is the World’s Largest and it’s an interesting piece for making you think.

I have a few more sites to see today that I may add to this list, but this is a good way to start a traditional trip down Route 66.

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