A Road Trip to Remember (Jen's P.O.V.)

A lot of you have been asking about my road trip so here's a recap of our journey. Be warned, it's LONG so buckle in and enjoy the ride.

Me at Badlands in South Dakota trying to look cool.

With a carpe diem attitude, Dexter and I decided we should do a road trip for our move. With a little bit of planning (mostly by Dexter since I have no sense of directions or geography), we crammed my Toyota Corolla with only the essentials to last us a year and set off from northern California to Connecticut on June 20, 2021.

Journey to the East

Day 1:

Dexter and me posing before we set off on the trip.

For our first day, we crossed over to Nevada and visited Reno for a quick bathroom break. We also wanted to see what Reno was all about. Spoiler alert: There's not much to Reno (though we did find a visitor center and a photo opportunity).

We kept going and finally settled for the night in the small town of Elko, Nevada, which wasn't all that exciting as well. We thought we would crash that night, but the thin walls and uncomfortable bedding in the hotel kept us up all night and so we woke up exhausted. Still, our excitement didn't leave us and we still wanted to take a piece of Elko with us by posing at the town's tower.

Day 2:

From Nevada, we drove to Utah and made a stop in Salt Lake City. We were impressed by how clean the city looked and how nice everyone was (especially the young Mormons who would say hi to us no matter what). We stopped by Temple Square for some spiritual inspiration, and then went for a quick lunch at Sweet Lake Biscuits & Limeade, which - surprise, surprise! - is known for their biscuits and limeade.

After Salt Lake City, we continued through Wyoming. During the car ride we entertained ourselves listening to a podcast called "Dr. Death" about a neurosurgeon in Texas who may have been a sociopath. (If you're into medical crime, definitely worth a listen to and there's even going to be a show about it.)

Southern Wyoming was just as desolate as Nevada -- maybe more. But as we headed northeast, we started seeing different landscapes, including some beautiful views. This was definitely my favorite drive by far. The roads were bare and most of the time, we were the only car in existence. As I drove for miles, Dexter and I took in the views and made a few stops to take pictures. We even had a deer casually crossed the road in front of us, oblivious of how close to death it came (I almost hit it and would have if I wasn't paying attention). We ended our driving in Casper, Wyoming and we both passed out that night.

One of our stops by the side of the road in Wyoming.

Day 3:

We woke up early and continued our drive out of Wyoming, crossing the Thunder Basin National Grassland en route to South Dakota. Somewhere in the middle of the endless rolling hills and green grasses, we encountered some coal mining operations, which marred the landscape significantly. Dexter liked it to a modern Mordor--enormous black scar on the land, all life replaced by ugly twisted machines, silent train cars filled to the brim with coal, and even a huge tower in the middle of it all, staring down at the landscape from hundreds of feet up like a modern Tower of Sauron.

Things looked better once we got to the Black Hills of South Dakota. From there we entered Custer State Park and did the park's Wild Life Loop.  We didn't see any wild life for a long time and were thinking we were out of luck. Suddenly we saw a bunch of cars parked at one site and people getting out to walk towards the hills. Turns out they were walking towards donkeys. These donkeys must have been used to humans since they tolerated people coming up to them, feeding them, and petting them. Some were also used to being in front of the camera and would pose with us.

As we continued on the loop, we got incredibly lucky when all of a sudden a herd of bison emerged and started crossing the street right in front of our car. We had the perfect view and the bisons got real close to us. I would have pet them if it weren't against the rules and as Dexter pointed out, they probably had fleas. Seeing the bison definitely made driving the loop worth it and was one of the main highlights of our trip.

We then drove along the Needles Highway, which was quite scenic. However, the highway annoying has a couple of one-car-only tunnels, so we found ourselves stuck in traffic a couple times, waiting for our chance to get through the tunnels. We then took a breather by the Sylvan Lake before making our way to Mount Rushmore.

I have to admit, I was really looking forward to Mount Rushmore, imagining huge president heads before me. Instead, while the carvings are impressive, you don't really get that close to them and so the heads look really small. We think Teddy Roosevelt probably got the shortest end of the stick as he looked very unimpressive to us (and almost hidden from view depending on where you are standing) while Washington got a prime position.

Look how tiny they look!

After Mount Rushmore, we spent the night in Rapid City where we toured the downtown area a bit before settling in our hotel. (Note to fellow travelers: Rapid City is incredibly expensive with hotel prices being quite exorbitant. We were paying $200 for a not so great motel. So if you ever go, try to book early for better accommodations!)

Day 4:

Prior to our trip, we met up with Dexter's family and one of his cousins mentioned that if we were in South Dakota, we must visit a place called Wall Drug. I forgot about this place until Day 4 of our trip when we were driving and I started seeing dozens of billboards for Wall Drug. (The owners definitely spared no expense when it comes to advertisement). Of course, we had to make a pit stop to see what the fuss was about and it turns out Wall Drug is this huge eclectic store of oddities with statues of bears and dinosaurs, small stores that sold western clothing/shoes, a cafe, etc. I opted to sit on a large reindeer statue during our visit:

After that quick stop, we headed off to Badlands, a national park with incredible views. People usually drive through the whole park for a couple hours, making stops along the way to take in the views, which is what we did. I couldn't help but ask Dexter to please take a Lion King style picture with our stuffed Corgi named Levi since the environment clearly called for a dramatic reenactment:

After the Badlands, we headed towards Minnesota. Per Dexter's observations: As you head east, you can see the land changing. Wyoming was rocky and very sparsely populated, mostly yellow/brown and nary a house in sight for miles. Western South Dakota is greenish, but mostly still rough. Eastern South Dakota gets greener, and the land seems to be consistently divided into plots. By the time you cross into Minnesota, the land is verdant. There are more trees, and the houses are full-on farms, with silos and obvious signs of continuous cultivation. Another sign of change: after miles and miles of Trump signs and gear, the first Biden/Harris sign appeared 8 miles outside of Jackson, MN.

One of the highlights of Day 5 is that we got to meet up with one of Dexter's best friends, Jeff. Coincidentally, Jeff had completed his residency in Boston and gotten a job in northern California. He too was also roadtripping it across the country, but from the other end. Luckily the fates worked in our favor and we were able to arrange meeting in the middle, grabbing lunch with Jeff, his wife, and parents in Humboldt, SD (population 587). We had lunch at a dive bar in Humboldt, where everybody pretty much knows your name. The locals were incredibly nice and welcoming, introducing us to some pickled eggs and wanting us to take shots with them (though Jeff was the only one with stamina to actually take the shot).

Overall, it was great to see some friendly and warm faces before we made our way to Rochester, MN.

Day 5:

This day was probably our scariest day of the trip. We woke up early again and was making our way through Wisconsin. Our plan was to stop for lunch in Madison and find a place to eat cheese curds (something they were known for). However, 20 minutes before we made it to Madison, it started raining like crazy. Within minutes, the downpour got to be too much and we were no longer able to see the cars right in front of us. Cars were slowing down on the highway, water was splashing everywhere, trucks were flashing their hazard lights. Quickly, we decided to pull off the road and took refuge at a gas station, where we waited for 45 minutes for the rain to finally let up.

Dexter getting comfy as we waited out the rain.

While driving in the rain was scary, I admit that sitting in the car for 45 minutes was another favorite moment of mine on the trip. Dexter got into a comfy position in the car and we spent the time talking about everything and nothing, answering silly questions and just listening to the downpour right outside our car. In a way, it felt like we were in our own little world and I was filled with a sense of warmth despite the fact that we almost could have died less than an hour ago.

Once the rain lessened and we were feeling braver, we went back onto the highway. Because of the traffic and rain, we thought it best to scratch our plans to go to Madison, and opted to continue driving to Chicago where we would meet up with Dexter's aunt and uncle. This was my first time meeting Aunt Karen and Uncle Eric and it was such a pleasure. They welcomed us with opened arms, treated us to good food, and we all got to know one another while Dexter was able to catch up with his family.

We were quite exhausted at the end of the night but we made plans to wake up early the next morning (around 6ish) so we could take the train into the city center and explore Chicago...

Day 6:

... and those plans quickly died. We should have known we were ambitious and too optimistic to think the rain would be gone by the morning. We woke up around 6ish and could hear rain coming down. We knew then that our plans to get into the city were dashed, though Dexter and I were ultimately glad. We were so tired from our trip so far that we immediately fell asleep again and slept in. It was glorious.

Once we got up from bed, we spent a little more time with Aunt Karen and Uncle Eric before finally packing up and driving to Columbus, Ohio to see my side of the family. I was quite excited about this portion of the trip since it was Dexter's first time meeting my cousins.

Unfortunately, traffic was horrible so we found ourselves stuck and barely moving on the roads. We were not happy.

We finally made it to Ohio by early evening and immediately went out to eat dinner with some of my cousins. My brother also flew in from SoCal to visit with everyone. Dexter definitely got a dose of the Ta family festivities and luckily he enjoyed meeting everyone.

Day 7:

Because we left some flexibility in our schedule, we opted to stay an extra day/night in Ohio to spend time with my family. My lovely cousin Sophia kindly became our tour guide, taking us to eat at yummy places and showing us around Ohio State University. We got to be touristy and admire the campus where most of my cousins attended.

Once we were done checking out Columbus, we went back to my cousin's house and relaxed. I got a chance to introduce them to a game I am obsessed with - Unstable Unicorns. My cousin Andy, who kind of has a competitive streak, took to the game and though he picked up the rules quickly, he did not win. (Sophia and I each kicked his butt respectively).

We stayed up late into the night playing video games, eating delicious BBQ, and chatting with family and friends.

Day 8:

After eating a delicious breakfast/brunch at Northstar Cafe (a favorite of Sophia's), Dexter and I said our goodbyes to my cousins and headed off to Lilitz, PA, which we chose because it was known to be an Amish town.

Arriving in Lilitz about 6-7 hours later, we were able to catch a quick glimpse of the Amish though I could not take a good picture from the car. They were riding a horse drawn carriage. Sadly, this was the only time we saw anyone from the Amish community.

The town of Lilitz is quite quaint and is really small and meant to be a nice weekend getaway for couples. Because we arrived semi-late, all the shops were closed so we only walked the town and checked out the outdoor scenery. Dexter particularly wanted to visit the pretzel shop in town and once we got there, he couldn't contain his excitement:

Sadly, the pretzel shop was closed the next morning so this big pretzel was all he had.

We ended the night early after dinner and relaxed in our hotel for the rest of the night. By this point, both of us were definitely looking forward to finally getting to Connecticut.

Day 9:

And so we reached the end of our trip on Monday, June 28, 2021. We spent another 4+ hours driving from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. Unfortunately, there's not much to tell you about this day. We were exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to get to our final destination. Once we got to our apartment in downtown New Haven, we spent the remaining hours of our day moving our items, unpacking, and trying to set up the Internet.

There's so much more to be said about our trip and to reflect on everything, which I plan to cover in future posts. For now, I'll end the post with this: Dexter and I are exhausted, but we are so glad we went on this trip. With everything that has happened in 2020, I realize now more than ever that life is short and the world is vast. As everything opens up again, we definitely want to take advantage and explore everything around us. I can't wait to share these adventures with all of you.

Jennifer Ta

Jennifer Ta