Rooted in Richmond

Adventures in parenting, travel, and life

You can probably already tell from the picture above that there isn’t much newsworthy from day six.  We drove six hours from Fargo, North Dakota to Black River Falls, Wisconsin.  It was heavy on boredom and light on memories.  When we left Fargo, we weren’t sure how far we’d drive or where we’d stay.  We only knew that we wanted to make it south of Chicago the next day.  This was a lot of new territory for us – we’d not been to Minneapolis before, other than the airport, and had spent little time in Wisconsin.

We crossed from North Dakota into Minnesota almost immediately when we hit the road.  I didn’t realize how far east Minneapolis is and was expecting a booming metropolis soon.  It turns out, Minneapolis is all the way across Minnesota on I-94, about 3.5 hours from Fargo, which anyone would know if they looked at a map (not me!).  So, I was pretty disappointed to find that we had a morning of interstate cruising ahead of us.  Everyone I know from Minneapolis has some serious hometown pride and we were hoping to spend a few hours exploring the city.  Unfortunately, right around Minneapolis was when we started to hit the first hot weather of the trip.  Coming from the Pacific Northwest in early June, it’s easy to forget that a lot of the country is already reaching high temps.  Dense urban environments and hot weather and dogs don’t mix well, and we decided to push on through for Laney’s sake.  Hopefully, we’ll get another chance to explore the Minneapolis metro area another time.

As it got later in the afternoon, we started looking at places to stop for the night and found that there wasn’t much in the way of hotels.  Eau Claire, Wisconsin was a little earlier than we wanted to stop, and we thought we could push on a little farther down the road to shorten the drive the next morning.  Tomah, at the junction of I-94 and I-90, seemed like a possibility, but it was a little farther than we wanted to go.  The city of Black River Falls (pop. 3,500) didn’t seem to have much of note but did have a few hotels that seemed decent enough for one night.  We decided on the AmericInn – one of the only pet-friendly options for miles.

We rolled off the interstate and thought man, this place seems a little depressing.  When we pulled into the hotel parking lot, we were the only car there.  Chris went to check whether the place was even in business and my stomach sunk a bit when he came back with a key and a weird smile.  “It’s just for one night,” he said.  The hotel was so dark you wondered whether you’d need a flashlight and the smell was unidentifiable but very ominous.  Against my better judgement, I took Zoe to the pool and hot tub while Chris ran to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, which appeared to be the only game in town for dinner.  We didn’t see a single soul, including at the desk, the entire time we were there and miraculously, didn’t contract any diseases from the steamy pool area (that we know of…).  We went to bed early to lose consciousness and escape the smell and got on the road as soon as we woke the next morning.  As we floored it eastbound onto I-94, we talked about the creepy vibe of the hotel and surrounding area.  We asked the trusty Google why Black River Falls exists and learned that in addition to agriculture and tourism (we clearly missed that part of town), the city is the focus of a non-fiction book-turned-film called “Wisconsin Death Trip.”  The book discusses the harsh life in rural Midwest areas in the late nineteenth century, and how it affected the psychology of the residents.  Yep, we thought.  Sounds about right.  Onward to day seven and Illinois!

Welcome back, and thanks for not giving up on us!  If you were following along on our relocation road trip, you might think we made it to North Dakota, jumped through space and time to buy a house in Virginia, and then fell off the face of the Earth.  Sometimes it feels that way!  The last three months have been a blur and full of all the feels… Excitement, hope, trepidation, exhilaration, nostalgia, exhaustion, and everything in between.  The headline is we’re here, we’re settled(ish), and we’re returning to regularly scheduled programming.  Chris loves his work, Zoe just started preschool, and I…. well, I end most days not quite sure what I did but the time sure is flying!

I’ve thought about the blog every day since my last post and never intended to go this long without posting.  But here we are, and it’s time to get back on the wagon!  I’ve missed writing and it feels good to be back at the keyboard.  I just read through the old posts and already miss being on the road and can’t believe how long ago that time already seems.  Speaking of which, it’s time to catch up on the remainder of the road trip and an update on life back east.

Day 5 of the road trip was waaaaaaay back on June 2, 2018, which seems like a galaxy far, far away at this point.  I can’t believe I left off posting right before the coolest day of the trip!  But that’s life, interrupted.  Anyway, day 5 had us waking up in Dickinson, North Dakota with Chris in a panic.  After a night of relaxing solo slumber in his own bed, he awoke to find Zoe sleeping soundly and me asleep with my head on her feet, after being kicked in the face all night.  I awoke a few minutes later to Chris spastically running around the room, looking under beds, behind curtains, and in the hallway.  “I can’t find Laney.  I think she got out!”  My heart jumped to my throat for about 0.75 seconds before the sleepy haze cleared and I remembered that Laney doesn’t have opposable thumbs, can’t open doors, and was, in fact, asleep on my feet all the way under the covers.  IMG_0036All this drama unfolded in less than a minute, but by that point we were all wide awake and got up, ate some breakfast, and headed out for our windy morning adventure in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which could also be named Bison, Bison, and More Bison National Park.

We drove the 20 minutes from Dickinson back to the park entrance and did a loop around the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The winds from the day before continued at a sustained 30mph all day, making it tough to spend much time out of the car.

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IMG_0003The drive would normally be 90 minutes but took us two hours with stops.  Wildlife was abundant, and Zoe and Laney particularly enjoyed the barking prairie dogs (or “cranberry dogs”, if Zoe’s telling the story) and bison.  We also saw a few deer and wild (as well as domestic) horses along the way.  Unlike some of the more well-known national parks, this one wasn’t crowded, and we passed few cars and even fewer people out of cars.  The wildlife can enjoy remote and serene surroundings with little interference from humans.  In this peaceful setting, it’s easy to forget the hustle and bustle and highways and imagine the rolling hills and badlands covered with roaming bison centuries ago.

 

Our visit prompted us to do some googling on the history of the park and Roosevelt himself.  I was surprised to learn that before becoming the 26th President of the United States, he spent time in his 20s as a rancher in North Dakota, and that his time there heavily influenced his conservation policies.  We spend a lot of time in national parks and I’m so thankful we’ve had the opportunity to expose Zoe to these national treasures and talk with her about the importance of conservation at such an early age.  It’s something we’ll certainly continue to prioritize as part of family escapades.

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All this adventure and education worked up quite an appetite so we stopped in Medora, a cute little western town right outside the park.  We ate a tasty farm-to-fork lunch at The Farmhouse Café and then the stars aligned for Zoe when we found a mechanical bull ride on the way back to the car.  You can watch her cowgirl debut in the video below.

 

After lunch, we hit the road for the not-very-memorable 4.5-hour drive from Medora to Fargo, crossing into the Central Time Zone along the way (cue ominous music and more rants about nightmarish toddler bedtimes).  It was along this stretch of I-94, almost five days into our trip, that Zoe first mentioned she missed the beach.  It’s like her gut knew she was almost as far from the ocean as she could possibly be in the continental US and was not happy about it at all.  Eastern North Dakota is a pretty boring drive and more what we expected North Dakota to be like, with lots of plains and few signs of civilization.  As a result, the drive felt long and we were relieved to arrive in Fargo, which felt surprisingly shiny and new and thankfully surprised us with the nicest hotel of the trip.  Fargo is the most populous city in North Dakota and is right on the border of Minnesota.  In 2014, Forbes ranked Fargo the 4th fastest-growing small city in the United StatesIt’s good that we enjoyed modern amenities while they lasted because next up, we hit the road for…. Well, we’re not sure where… And end up staying in a city that was the focus of a non-fiction book-turned-film called “Wisconsin Death Trip”.  Stay tuned!

You guys, we bought a house!  I know I’m ahead of myself and I’m only on day five of the road trip chronicles, but we’re just so excited that I had to pause for this breaking news.  After ten days on the road, we are very happy and relieved to be in our new place.

First day in the new house

We closed this morning (Friday) and the movers won’t arrive until Wednesday so we’re still living with only the stuff we could carry in the car, and I’m writing this from the floor of the empty family room.  It feels so good to have a quiet space where everyone can spread out and get some alone time, though.  Laney is sound asleep on her new bed in our bedroom – I doubt we’ll see her for a week.  Zoe took her first bath in a jetted tub tonight and I’m pretty sure the entire neighborhood knows that it was the best 20 minutes of her life.  She went to bed easily for the first time since we left Seattle, and not a minute too soon.  And I’ve never been as excited about curling up on an air bed as I am tonight.

Our new house is in the Short Pump area of Richmond, only about ten minutes from our old house here.  Short Pump has changed immensely since 2010, though, and we’re in a different neighborhood that we didn’t explore much when we lived here before.  We’re excited to get out and explore the new area and all it has to offer, minus the sweltering heat.

The last 36 hours would have been utter disaster without the help of our parents.  My parents accepted delivery of our smaller car at their house in Roanoke about a week ago.  There were several unexpected turns of events with the shipping company, not least of which was when they confirmed delivery, yet no car had been delivered… We really appreciate my parents’ willingness to roll with the ambiguity and help us out.  Chris’ parents met us in Richmond to hotel babysit Zoe and Laney while Chris and I did the walk through and closing for the house.  I would almost rather continue living out of a car than take an exhausted Zoe to a document-signing session.  Their help allowed us to tackle the house stuff stress-free and with full attention.  A bonus to all of this is that we got to spend time with both families immediately upon getting to Virginia.  We’ve missed them and are so happy to be back in the same state!

This weekend will be dominated by shopping for furniture and all things domestic.  We’ve got one more week to get our act together before Chris starts work.  We are so thankful to be here and starting to get settled.  It feels like it’s been a long time in the making!

Next, the road trip saga continues…

Day 4 (Friday) had us driving from Billings, Montana to Dickinson, North Dakota.  It was mostly a driving day and we jumped off I-90 for the first time to I-94 and entered new territory.  We reluctantly left the mountains behind and drove into the Great Plains.  We crossed the border from Montana into North Dakota and were pelted with tumbleweeds as we plowed into strong winds.

North Dakota was a pleasant surprise – hillier and more lush than we expected.  I never thought I’d describe North Dakota as beautiful, but here we are!  The rolling landscape transitioned to badlands with vibrant colors that resembled Badlands National Park, which we visited in 2010, but with more vegetation.

We stopped in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park visitor center to collect information for our park visit the next day and then drove another 20 minutes to the hotel in Dickinson, North Dakota.  Because of the aforementioned bedtime shenanigans, we’ve been trying to get to hotels by dinnertime so that Zoe can get in bed earlier.  This was our earliest hotel arrival yet, which was fortunate for Zoe because it turned out the hotel had an indoor pool with water slides.  After some pool playtime, Chris picked up Mexican take-out for dinner, complete with bottled margaritas.  We hunkered down for the evening under a tornado watch but thankfully avoided severe weather.

Next, we explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park and trek across North Dakota from Dickinson to Fargo!

Highlights: Beautiful views along I-90, Butte downtown

Lowlights: Severe storms

On day 3 (Thursday), we drove from Missoula to Billings, Montana.  As predicted in our second blog post, we broke in the travel potty with “the inevitable emergency side-of-the-interstate-in-Montana pit stop” somewhere between Missoula and Butte.  I-90 through Montana gets pretty sparse after Missoula so we didn’t make many stops.

The Hummingbird Cafe in Butte, MT

We took a break in Butte for a delicious vegan lunch at The Hummingbird Cafe.  We planned to picnic at Chester Steele Park but they have a giant sign covering the entire side of the bathroom building notifying you that you’ll pretty much lose your life savings in fines if a dog so much as looks at the park.  To avoid going broke, Laney took a nap in the car while Chris, Zoe, and I had a quick lunch and played on the playground.  Dog-friendly amenities are becoming fewer and farther between as we’re making our way east – we’re certainly not in Seattle anymore!

Butte is an interesting town, with a history centered around its mining industry.  It still has a rough feel, but also has more hipsters than we expected, the greatest coffee shop we’ve discovered on our trip so far (Oro Fino), and beautiful old buildings.  After running around at the playground, we enjoyed cruising through the historic downtown and seeing the ornate Victorian and Queen Anne architecture.  The whole city is situated on a hill that offers great views from almost everywhere.

The drive from Butte to Billings is spectacular and we were fortunate to have beautiful blue skies for the first half of it.  We crossed the continental divide and cruised about 55 miles north of Yellowstone (bummer that we didn’t have time to stop!).  About an hour outside of Billings, we started to drive into some severe storms with dramatic thunder and lightning.  Being born in Seattle, Zoe and Laney aren’t very familiar with intense weather.  Around midnight, a storm considerably worse than anything we saw in seven years in Seattle rolled through Billings, with booming thunder and lightning strikes within a half mile of the hotel.  Fortunately, Zoe was exhausted and slept through the cacophony.  Laney, however, is terrified of all loud noises and tried to take shelter under the bed.  When she couldn’t fit, she tried to climb in the bathtub.  I ended up sitting on the floor of the bathroom with her for about 30 minutes, with the door closed and classical music blaring.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a restful night!

Next up, our first adventures in North Dakota!

Day 2 and I’m already behind on posting!  Day 2 was Wednesday and we woke up in Moses Lake, Washington.  The weather was gorgeous and we could see Mt. Rainier and either Mt. Adams or Mt. St. Helens from the hotel parking lot.  We stretched our legs with a little walk down the street to Starbucks and then hopped in the car for the 4.75 hour and 300 mile drive out I-90 to Missoula, Montana.

Riverfront Park in Spokane, WA

About 90 minutes into the drive, we made a stop in Spokane, Washington to explore their downtown riverfront area. I have to admit that I feel pretty bad for all the shade I’ve thrown Spokane’s way over the last seven years.  I’ve traveled through it a few times and always remembered it as… underwhelming at best.  But, I admit I was wrong!  I’d never been to their downtown before and Riverfront Park was beautiful and had so much fun stuff.  We spent a few hours there but could have stayed the rest of the afternoon.

Looff Carousel

The park is 100 acres and includes a pavilion, clock tower, carousel, IMAX theater, waterfall, bridges, and the Spokane River Centennial Trail.  We enjoyed walking around and taking in the beautiful views of the city and river.  The highlight for Zoe was definitely her ride on a tiger on the historic Looff Carousel. It was built in 1909 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Next, we drove about 40 minutes east through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where we stopped for more coffee and enjoyed the beautiful views of the mountains and Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The drive from Coeur d’Alene to Missoula is a road tripper’s dream.  It’s almost entirely through national forests (Coeur d’Alene National Forest and Lolo National Forest) and is one stunning view after another.  The skies really do look bigger in Montana and the 80 mph speed limit lets you bask in them while covering ground quickly.  We crossed from the Pacific Time Zone into the Mountain Time Zone at the Idaho/Montana border, which was an oversight in our planning and meant we got to Missoula about an hour later than expected.

Thankfully, we still had a few hours of daylight to explore Missoula, because it’s one of my favorite cities to visit.  It’s home to the University of Montana and is the perfect mix of college/western/hipster/cowboy.  Surrounded by mountains with a river running through it, the outdoor activities are endless.  While Zoe and Chris played at Dragon Hollow playground by the river, Laney and I walked upstream and found a viewing platform on the riverbank.

People gather on the platform to watch white water kayaking and river surfing, which is apparently a big thing in MissoulaBrennan’s Wave is a man-made whitewater feature that allows endless surfing just a short distance from shore.  Zoe literally shrieked with delight and we nearly had a scene dragging her away for dinner.  We grabbed the best dinner I’ve had in a long time at Tamarack Brewing Company and had a sunset picnic on a hill overlooking the river.

Dinner picnic in Missoula, MT

All in all, a pretty perfect day!  Oh, and maybe the best part – the sale of our Seattle house closed!  We are now officially without a home until June 8.

Highlights: Riverfront Park in Spokane, Missoula river surfing, Seattle house sale

Lowlights: Toddler bedtime in another strange place after advancing an hour in the Mountain Time Zone

Next up, the drive to Billings, Montana…

We’re on the road!  We were planning to leave Seattle May 30 but were ready to go and decided to hit the road a day early.  The movers took a lot longer than expected yesterday and we didn’t get on the road until close to 4:00pm.  We drove a little over three hours to Moses Lake, Washington.  We’re already glad we decided against making any reservations for this trip, as we originally thought we’d go to Spokane, then scaled it back to Ellensburg when we got on the road late, and ended up in the middle at Moses Lake.

It was surreal to say goodbye to our little house of four years and drive away from Seattle, knowing it was the last time we’d see it as “home”.  It started to sink in when we crossed Snoqualmie Pass and could see the Cascades in the rear view mirror.  It’s amazing how much the landscape changes in just three hours.  We’ve already left the lush forests and majestic mountains and are in the warm, sunny plains of eastern Washington, looking back at the snowy peaks of the Cascades in the distance.  We passed the first of many wind farms and crossed the beautiful Columbia River.

We got to Moses Lake around 7:00pm and quickly found a hotel and ran to a grocery store to pick up dinner.  We picnicked in McCosh Park and enjoyed some fresh air and exercise, until Zoe pushed a swing into her face and bust her bottom lip open.

Thankfully, one of our kids is really chill in hotels (hint: not Zoe) and we got a little sleep last night.

 

This morning, we’re hitting the road under blue skies and sunshine.  We’re planning to stop in Missoula, Montana tonight, with stops including Spokane, Washington and beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho along the way.

If you’re interested, you can follow our Rooted in Richmond Instagram.  We’re posting lots of Insta Stories of our travels!