1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 3: Rapid City, SD

Honey…I’m home!

Funny concept, home. Most people have a hometown, or at the very least a place they associate with growing up. Being an Air Force brat, I never had that. Home truly was wherever I hung my hat. Honolulu was home three different times. Dayton was home. Vancouver, WA was home for what I assumed would be forever, until it lost its luster. Rapid City was home once, and now it’s home again. It’s very interesting, this nomadic type of existence. But I’ll tell you what: it makes a big, bold move at a time in your life when most people have long since settled down a whole lot easier to pull off. I’ve had a lot of people comment on how brave I am to do this, and tell me how envious they are. My go-to reply is hey, nothing’s stopping you from doing it, too!, but I guess if you haven’t grown up like I have (and Tara, too) that’s a lot easier said than done.

So, after three days, countless hours behind the wheel, and 1,250 miles – the majority of that devoted to the freakin’ big-ass state of Montana – we finally arrived in Rapid City at 4:00 this afternoon. Today’s leg was not without adventure. We were in no hurry to leave Billings, choosing instead to take advantage of the free continental breakfast at the Super 8 and catch the local news. They were talking about the U.S. Farm Report. The PNW already feels like a distant memory!

I took a stroll around the building before we hit the road, and noticed a bunch of squirrels scurrying through the grass beside the motel. Only upon closer inspection, it turns out they weren’t squirrels – they were prairie dogs!

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Not a squirrel.

We weren’t anticipating a very long drive today and figured it would go smoothly, but that’s the problem with road trips: they never quite go as planned. Our first mishap? Two minutes outside of Billings, Tara misread the signs and somehow turned onto I-94 instead of I-90. Suddenly, she was headed for Bismarck, ND while I was going in the opposite direction. I grabbed my walkie talkie to warn her – “wrong Dakota, babe!” – but by then it was too late. She ended up going five miles down the wrong interstate before she could find an exit and turn around, while I pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, Montana. That little mistake cost us a solid twenty minutes.

Mishap #2: remember how wonderful Sydney has been this whole trip? Well. Not so much today. For some reason she was not happy being in her carrier, and immediately let me know that. Here’s the deal: I was feeling so confident in her behavior, I didn’t bother applying the Feliway cat pheromone stuff. I guess that really was doing the trick, because without it she was pretty stressed. I finally pulled over at a rest stop and applied some, but it took a little while to kick in and she still wasn’t happy. About 45 minutes into our drive down Highway 212, a two-lane road through the middle of Native American reservation lands, she started clawing at the zipper on her carrier. At one point I glanced in the rearview mirror and was shocked to see her perched on the back seat behind – not INSIDE – her carrier, looking like she owned the place. Then she jumped into the front seat and was trying to get to the floor near the gas pedal, and I knew I had to pull over. So I flashed my lights at Tara, but she didn’t see me and kept on chugging along while I found a place to pull off the freeway. I grabbed Sydney, admonished her for being a brat, and secured her in her carrier. Meanwhile, Tara realized I was no longer behind her and tried calling me, but that went to voicemail because we were in a dead zone. It was a pretty stressful ten minutes, but we eventually found each other again. Sydney settled down shortly after and was fine the rest of the way. Poor thing; she was definitely “over” being cooped up in a vehicle by that point. We all were!

As we drew closer to the South Dakota border, the skies darkened and began looking pretty ominous. This is what I love about the Great Plains!

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Look at that ominous sky!

We crossed the state line around 3:00, and pulled over next to the sign to take pics. A few miles later, the skies opened up and it began pouring rain. That continued on and off for the rest of the way through the Black Hills. Man alive, they were gorgeous, though! Just like in Montana, everything here is really green and lush.

An hour later we reached Rapid City. As we crested that final hill on I-90 and the view opened up to the small city and the vast prairie beyond, I had goosebumps on my arms. It really did feel like a homecoming.

We got checked into our room and immediately headed over to Chili’s. When we visited in October, Tara let out a little shriek of delight when she saw the Chili’s sign. I know they’re a chain restaurant and we generally abhor those, but there are no Chili’s in the Portland area and we’ve both always liked their food, so we were eager to grab dinner there. And a couple of Presidente margaritas. After such a long trip, we’d earned the splurge.

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After dinner we drove over to our new apartment complex to check it out in person. It’s in a very nice neighborhood and, while the apartment itself looks small from the outside, the wilderness park across the street is awesome. It’s quiet and peaceful, with lots of lush vegetation and a gentle babbling brook. There are hiking trails crisscrossing the hill that towers over the park, and it looks like a fairly easy scramble to the top. I bet the views up there are killer. Tomorrow I shall find out.

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Wilderness Park across the street from our new apartment.

Or maybe Tuesday, because tomorrow’s going to be super busy. We have to sign the lease, pick up the keys to our storage unit, and unload the U-Haul. We’re going to spend the night in the motel because the apartment is sure to be a wreck tomorrow. We’ll deal with putting everything away and unpacking the following day.

Thanks for following along on this journey! I’ll be back in a couple of days to keep you updated on our progress.

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1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 2: Billings, MT

I am writing from the air-conditioned comfort of a Super 8 in Billings, Montana. It’s roughly 1,000,000x better than the crappy Rodeway Inn we stayed at in Spokane last night. Funny story about this place: when I arrived in town exactly seven years ago, I walked into the Day’s Inn to make a reservation and when they quoted me a price, I told them there was no way in hell I wanted to pay that, so I walked across the street to this very Super 8. And they quoted me an even higher price, as did two other places I tried. So I ended up crawling back to the Day’s Inn with my tail tucked between my legs, humbled by the whole experience.

At least it makes for a humorous story.

Today was very long. We covered 540 miles over the course of 11 hours, including gas and rest stops. The first 75% of the drive was cold and rainy; it wasn’t until we hit Livingston that the clouds broke up a little and the sun shone through. This whole area has had an extremely wet spring – Rapid City included – and so everything is lush and green. It’s quite beautiful.

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We are both operating on very little sleep the past couple of nights and sore muscles from packing and loading the truck, so the drive these past two days has been rough. But we only have 316 miles to cover tomorrow, which should translate to about 6-7 hours max, so we don’t have to rush out the door in the morning. Hopefully we can sleep in a little.

One disappointment: the Pickle Barrel, the local sandwich shop we discovered on our road trip last October and had had our hearts set on for dinner, closed five minutes before we arrived. Total bummer. We ordered Chinese food instead; at least they’ll deliver that directly to our room. I can’t imagine sliding behind the wheel again after such a long day, at least not without a gun pointed at my head. Even then I might just tell ’em to go ahead and shoot me.

The walkie-talkies, by the way, have come in handy. We’ve used them frequently and they are working out great! No issues whatsoever. I’d share our “handles” but they’re too risque, knowing my mom is reading this.

Once again, Sydney handled the trip without any problems. The vet gave us a small supply of pheromone-scented wipes and instructed us to rub down the inside of her carrier; they’re supposed to calm cats down during long trips. I’m not sure if that’s what is doing the trick, but she is certainly behaving far better than any previous car trips we’ve taken her on.

Oh, one observation about all this driving in the slow lane: I actually like it. Call me crazy, but it’s a lot less stressful sticking to a steady 60 mph in the slow lane. You don’t have to worry about passing slow cars, moving over for fast ones, and there’s no dealing with annoying semi trucks. Also, no chance whatsoever of getting a speeding ticket. True, it takes you a little longer to reach your destination, but I almost think the lack of stress makes up for that.

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One other thing to point out, since I’ve had more than one comment about this on Facebook: yes, Tara is driving the U-Haul. I’m surprised that surprises anybody! She is, after all, a mini stock car track champion (2007) and has long driven big trucks, while I’ve got a Mazda 3. She wanted to drive the truck, and trust me, we are all better off for that. She knows how to handle it much better than I ever could.

So, here we are: heading for the home stretch tomorrow. We should reach Rapid City by mid-afternoon. I am so excited!

1,250 Miles in the Slow Lane – Pt. 1: Spokane, WA

Greetings from Spokane, WA! It’s official: the Biggest Adventure of My Life® has commenced.

We were up bright and early this morning, out the door of my parents’ house at 6 a.m. We would have loved to linger, but there was still lots of work to be done – loading the vehicles, cleaning the apartment, and getting rid of more junk in the garage. We took a break at 9:00 and met Audrey for breakfast at Linda’s Homeplate, then I had to run to Comcast (always a joy) to return our cable equipment and deactivate our account. Once that business was taken care of, it was back to the apartment, where the three of us – Audrey included – were scrambling like crazy to get everything done before our final walk-through. That was originally scheduled for 11:00, but I managed to push it back to noon. We were still hauling things out of there four minutes before 12:00. It’s certainly been a stressful few days!

After that we had to pick up the U-Haul from my parents’ house, say goodbye to them and Audrey (ouch…yeah, there were a few tears shed), and then drive to the U-Haul rental center to hook up the trailer and load my car.

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There was a brief stop at McDonald’s for a bite to eat, and then we finally, finally hit the road. And promptly ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic once we crossed the bridge into Portland. And again a little while later in the Columbia Gorge; we actually came to a dead stop and sat there, not moving, for ten minutes. I have no idea why; there weren’t any accidents or road construction taking place. Suffice it to say, those delays cost us quite a bit of time, so we got into Spokane a couple of hours later than anticipated and had to scrap our plans to visit the cider tasting room Tara wanted to check out. Which explains why I am blogging at 11:40 after a very long day as we await a pizza delivery.

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But our trip is underway now, and the excitement is building. Tomorrow’s going to be a solid 10 hours, at least, as we drive through Idaho and Montana. Destination: Billings.

By the way, Sydney did remarkably well in the car. She didn’t let out a single peep the whole time, which makes me wonder if somebody swapped her for a lookalike when my back was turned.

Anyway. It’s late, and I should wrap this up. Long day ahead tomorrow. Mountain time zone, baby!

Desperation Purge

It’s been a crazy, emotional, and tiring past couple of days. And we haven’t even left yet. They do say moving is one of the most stressful events in life, and they were not kidding. It’s brutal, guys.

Yesterday was my last day at work. I’ve been with the company for five and a half years and love my job, so leaving it willingly is bittersweet. I’ll still be working for them, but on a contract basis, so I’m no longer an official employee. This has led to a few panicky moments over the past few weeks, but Tara has been supportive, reminding me that we are doing this in order to have a better, happier life. I have no doubt things will work out for us in the long run. At least I have the comfort of a guaranteed income that will help ease our transition to a brand new life in the Midwest.

They threw me a farewell party yesterday, and because my boss knows me well, he planned a Bloody Mary bar. One of the owners of the company gave a very heartfelt speech about how much my contributions have been appreciated, and really, it was perfect. I had an opportunity to say goodbye to the coworkers I have known for so many years, many of whom I consider friends now. I swear, I miss them already.

Leaving would be so much easier if you never had to say goodbye.

We picked up the U-Haul after work, and started loading it early this morning. Tara hired two helpers for two hours, and that proved to be a godsend; they hauled most of our stuff down three flights of stairs and loaded it into the truck for us. Smartest $140 we’ve ever spent! Unfortunately, we had a garage full of stuff to load ourselves, and we quickly discovered we didn’t have enough room in the U-Haul. I knew we should have gone for the 26′ truck! This led to a desperation purge in which we were forced to part ways with a lot of things we’d been holding onto forever. Thankfully the dumpster next to our garage was empty, because I ended up filling that sucker to overflowing. And we’ll still have to make a run to the dump tomorrow before we leave, most likely.

By mid-afternoon things were feeling hopeless; the garage was still pretty full and we were rapidly running out of room in the U-Haul. “This is impossible,” I said to Tara, and it certainly felt that way at the time. I reached a low point then, feeling more dejected than ever, and wished that we’d been able to afford the $7,000 the professional movers had quoted us. Things would have been so much easier that way. Tara felt it too, and actually suggested we delay our move by a day, rent a trailer and hitch for her pickup, and load the extra items in there. I was not down for that at all – we have a schedule to keep, after all; there are motel reservations and appointments next week – so I dug deeply, searching for whatever inner reserves of strength I could find, and somehow we powered through. Determined to make everything fit come hell or high water, I channeled my inner Taurus and, through a combination of sweat, perseverance, and stubbornness, we did it! Finally finished loading the truck shortly after 5:00. Whew! It felt like we were playing a real-life game of Tetris for eight hours.

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Like playing Tetris. We filled every square inch of this truck!

I am currently parked on a comfy chair in my parents’ living room. We are staying here overnight, and then tomorrow morning we’ve got cleaning to do, breakfast with Audrey, our final walk-through in the apartment, and then we have a couple of errands to run. We have to return our cable equipment, pick up the trailer for the U-Haul, and hook up the Mazda.

And then we get to drive seven hours to Spokane. With a cat who is 100% back to normal. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that Sydney is her old self again – but now I have to worry about her freaking out in the backseat.

Hey, in case you haven’t heard: moving is hard AF. And next Monday we get to do this all over again, only in reverse. Ugh. We’d better be happy in Rapid City, because I don’t want to move again anytime soon. Like, ever.

Because I want to chronicle every moment of this journey, I plan to blog from the road. So I’ll check in tomorrow from Spokane.

This is it! The culmination of a solid year’s worth of planning. We are both ready to go!!

Countdown: 1 Day!

A Love Sleeps Deep

I feel sorry for all the Midwest folks who are still waiting for spring as they dig out from a seemingly endless parade of snowstorms. You guys are my peeps (or will be in a couple of months), so I feel your pain.

However, I am not yet a Midwesterner, so I may feel your pain but I am certainly not experiencing it. Because spring is going nuts out here.

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I like fall the best, but spring is no slouch.


We had a moving company representative come by on Tuesday to give us an estimate. It was far higher than expected: $7,300, which is about 2.5 times more than we budgeted. I guess we vastly underestimated the cost of an interstate move. (Actually, that’s not true. In reality, we had no freakin’ clue how much it would cost. I think we just hoped it would be under $3,000.)

Considering we can rent a U-Haul and hire a couple of helpers to move our heavy stuff down three flights of stairs for roughly $1,800, we’re most likely going to go that route. It’s hard to argue with the economics of the situation, especially given that I’m the only one with a job locked up. We’d have to haul one of our vehicles on a trailer and the trip would take a bit longer because of physics (and that pesky Continental Divide that will surely slow a heavy truck down), but it’s do-able. We might have to leave a day earlier than planned in order to make up some of that time, because we’ve already got a week’s worth of lodging booked in Rapid City. Would I rather just hire somebody to do the dirty work? Of course. But I also really happen to like saving money.

Nothing is set in stone yet. We’re still weighing our options.

After the estimator left, we celebrated Audrey’s 18th birthday with my parents. BTW, she moved out last week, renting a room in a house with a coworker/friend. Kids grow up so fast!


Wednesday was our Moondoggies concert at Mississippi Studios. My favorite part of the evening occurred two hours before the show even began. Tara and I had arrived early and were seated by the window of Bar Bar, the adjoining bar and grill, enjoying cocktails and a burger and fries, when Kevin Murphy – their lead singer – walked by. He spotted us and waved. Then he came over, shook our hands, and chatted us up for a few minutes. I eat that shit up, not gonna lie. I love that he knows us (by name even) and doesn’t consider us stalkers, even though we’ve been front and center for eight Moondoggies shows over the past six years. Later he and the band signed a copy of their newest record for us, and even personalized it.

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The show was great, of course. Beforehand I realized that the very first time we went to Mississippi Studios was to see The Moondoggies, so it was only fitting that our last show there would also involve them. Unless something last minute comes up, that is, but we’re running out of time. And I’d kind of like to end it on that high note anyway.

The band played until 11:30 so it was a late night, and we had to go to work the next day, but in the end it was totally worth it.

It always is.

I’m not going to change my countdown app until we have solidified our moving plans, so we might have one day less than indicated, but for now…

Countdown: 64 Days