The Midwest Roadtrip

cleaning my shoe after throwing myself into a big snowbank (I did it to make Clio feel better for throwing her into one). They're not as soft as they look.

My best friend Clio was applying for Phd’s starting last fall and when she got accepted in Seattle, I was super excited for her to accept. Then, at the last minute, she changed her mind and instead moved to Minneapolis (!?) Most people reacted as surprised as I did, but only out of ignorance since, as it turns out, Minneapolis is a great place, with lots going on! I just didn’t have any clue about it until I visited her there a couple weeks ago. First of all, Minneapolis has the largest snow banks Ive ever seen, thanks to the snowstorm that hit just before I arrived and luckily stopped in time for my plane to make it in. Minneapolis is really two cities, hence, the TwinCities nickname. Minneapolis has great cheese (from next door Wisconsin). And of course, Minneapolis has the University of Minnesota, which apparently has the one of the best clinical psychology graduate programs in the US. Good job, Clio 🙂

Me and Clio outside the U

We spent time around town, seeing the university campus, sampled the nightlife, but then took a roadtrip to Illinois. We craigslist rideshared our way all the way through Wisconsin, driving 7 hours from Minneapolis to Chicago with exactly the type of guy you don’t want to lay eyes on when first getting in his car. Craiglist is one of those things that you hope only trustworthy people use, since its kind of risky and a little less common in the midwest than the very liberal westcoast. We got an email, text and call from this guy named Glen who Clio thought was an average caucasian guy, and he seemed nice enough to spend 7 hours in his car with. When he picked us up in the morning, an hour and a half late, we discovered he was actually a 6 foot 3, 300lbs African-American. But, we realized you can never judge a book by its cover, and all the invalid stereotypes we pegged him with disappeared when the first thing he asked us was “Oh, you aren’t afraid of hamsters, are you?” There were two, tiny baby hamsters that looked like teddybears sleeping in a cage in his backseat, and as we learned more about his job working with troubled youth and the YWCA, we realized he was just a big harmless teddybear too.

girl and guy, reunited in Chicago

We spent the weekend in Chicago, met up with that guy named Guy, and braved the -26°C to oogle at the Chicago Bean. Its this amazing, massive, reflective sculpture that no matter what angle you look at it or approach it, you´re eyes are being tricked by all sorts of optical illusions. We also saw a friend of mine from Semester at Sea who I hadnt seen since our Fall 2006 voyage – I love reuinions like that.

the Chicago Bean

After a classy night at the Chicago Symphony Hall watching the Brass Orchestra and some touristy days, we craigslist rideshared out way back with a guy named Andrew from Tennessee. He turned out to be a little nerve wracking before we met him;  he wanted us to meet him at 11 am, but called at 9:30 to explain his car had been towed since he parked somewhere he wasnt allowed when 3 inches of snow had fallen. He claimed the sign was unclear, I dunno, but either way there was lots of snow around. Then he took until 2 pm to get it out of the towyard, and $160 later he picked us up at a café where we had been waiting for him. All the delays were history once we learned he was a spunky gay guy from the South, not so common if you know anything about the conservative south. We were greeted by him pumping his tires with a protable car air pump, in his tiny 2 door Honda. It wasn’t the best car for winter driving, but then when another massive snowstorm hit as we were leaving Chicago, the 7 hr drive quickly turned into 10 hours and I still can’t believe we made it home that day! Moral of these craigslist stories: it always works out, maybe not as you expected, but hey, travel is more fun that way.

Roadtrip Westcoast & Craigslist Rideshare

After I spent a day in Miami, I flew to SFO to start a week long road trip from the Bay to Vancouver, B.C. I wanted to visit friends and family from here and there, since that´s what people like to do during the holidays. Me and Steve used his Subaru as a Craigslist carpooling tool and rideshared parts of our drive there and back. We decided to skip the boring, direct I5 and take all of Northern California along the much longer but prettier highway 101, and also thought it would be a good opportunity to stop along the way in Mendocino county for some wine tasting. We had Phil and Kai, both good-hearted travelers not really from any one place in the states, who drove the whole day with us to Oregon, and thankfully knew how to drive a stickshift so that some of us could taste as much as we wanted without spitting.

maxell Digital Camera

all my favourite people from Portland

We visited two California Organic Certified wineries, Yorkville Cellars and Barra of Mendocino, and while I still can’t admit that I can taste the difference in organic versus non-organic, you still somehow feel better supporting a more sustainable, less environmentally-damaging winery just because some California certification schema says that they are. Weird, but true. We also stopped at a famous microbrewery in Boonville, California. Anderson Valley Brewing company makes almost 20 different varieties of beer at their tastehouse, and their Winter Solstice Seasonal ale, my personal favourite, is super scrumptious. Although, it hardly compared to the limited edition, seasonal, 11%alc. Abyss, by Deschutes brewery in Oregon; Ryan described it as God walking down your throat in velvet slippers.

Sienna Ridge Estate Winery

We dropped Kai off in Eureka, and then Phil drove the rest of the way through a grove of Giant Redwoods, weaving along Grants Pass after we entered Oregon. He needed to be dropped off in Ashland, and the person who he was staying with offered us to stay the night there too since it was getting late. Phil got the couch at his friends place, and we got Cadbury Cottage, a beautiful 2-storey, cozy house to spend the night. It’s rented out for hundreds of dollars per night during the very famous Shakespeare festival that happens in Ashland every summer, but I guess in December when noone uses it they can afford to let random craigslist rideshare friends stay a complimentary night 🙂

winter time in wine country

maxell Digital Camera

We made it to Vancouver to visit my mom and sisters, and gorged for the next few days on Mom´s home cooking and specialty Christmas treats. On the drive back down, we had two craigslist people again, this time from Seattle to Oregon, but they were much younger, a guy and a girl, and had no luggage at all. Sounds suspicious, but I almost felt like we were more dangerous than them. We spent that night in Eugene, Oregon, with a friend of mine, Jesse, who works at June. Its a restaurant/bar and we stopped to have some more delicious micro-brew, local beer and stouty christmas ales. We spent most of the night talking about couchsurfing since he and his girlfriend are going to Venezuela and Colombia soon and want to start using the site; of course I gave it the highest recommendation, helped him get his profile completed, and gave him 2 suggested hosts in Colombia to make sure he doesn’t change his mind.

Jackson Wellsprings near Ashland, Oregon

For the last leg of the drive, we didn’t find any craigslist rideshares, so we took our time stopping in Jackson Wellsprings, a hotspring spa that did good for our stiff backs and sore buts from all that driving. We also stopped at Sienna Ridge Estate, a winery right in the middle of Oregon visible from the I5, in an old, restored farmhouse. Our wine pourer was this lovely old man whose name I can´t remember, but it started with G and he’s only one of two people who work there since somedays, noone even comes to taste business is so slow. If you go there, ask him how his sister is, since he was on his way north to visit her at the Vancouver General Hospital the very next day.

I’ll call him Mr. Sienna Ridge

Even though we had no rideshares, we did pick up a crazy hitchiker, who had the most obnoxious, raspy New Yorker voice, and didn’t once stop talking (with excessive cursing) in the 20 miles we drove him. Anymore than that and I think I would have started to regret picking him up but instead it just makes yet another great story to tell from our roadtrip.