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Cross-Country Road Trip Days 14-17: Heading Home

The final four days of our road trip were full of driving and driving and not much else, so in the interest of brevity, I decided to condense them into one post.

I woke up on New Year’s Day feeling even worse. We were outside of Denver, and the plan for the day was to drive east in just about a straight line until we reached Lincoln, Nebraska. We ended up spending these four days right behind a huge snow storm, but the worst weather we got was this first morning, when we hit some snow leaving Colorado. We made this drive right in the middle of the “polar vortex,” however. Most of the days, the high temperature was in the single digits.


Nebraska is flat and seemed to be nearly empty. The most promising spot we found for lunch was a diner attached to a full service truck stop, one of the largest I have ever seen. It boasted showers, two separate shops (one a gift shop and one a convenience store), a video game arcade, and a gas station, in addition to the diner. After we got back on the road, I made a note when we passed an exit with TWO gas stations, the first we had seen with more than one in quite a while. I also noted the condition of the car’s passenger side carpets, which combined dried red mud from Arches with sand from White Sands and cookie crumbs. “Lots of cows,” I wrote.


We stopped in Lincoln for the night and tried to find a restaurant that wasn’t closing early for New Year’s Day. We ended up driving downtown and stopping at a sandwich shop that was open for only a few more minutes. The temperature when we got there was 8 degrees F. I don’t know much about Lincoln, but it seemed like the city mostly consists of the University of Nebraska campus, and they were clearly celebrating some kind of football victory.


We stopped the next morning at a grocery store to get me cough medicine. We made it into Iowa, our final new state, which I liked much better than Nebraska. Iowa had small hills and trees and farms, compared to Nebraska’s flat emptiness.


We had a “social media” moment in Iowa. We posted on Facebook about being there, and one of our friends commented that we should stop at the Historic Danish Windmill, which he remembered from his own past road trip. I checked the map and found out it was about a half an hour ahead of us, so we made the slight detour to see it.

Historic Danish Windmill

I bought some windmilled rye flour as a souvenir. Then we stopped in Des Moines at Raccoon River Brewing Company for a late lunch. We were charmed with both the brewery and the city, and we ended up taking home growlers of ale (for Mike’s brother; neither of us drinks beer) and cream soda. We crossed into Illinois and ended up at our hotel in Joliet behind schedule. We ate at a sports bar near our hotel, which turned out to be much better than either of us expected. Mike ordered a local brand of cider that was served with cinnamon sugar around the rim of the glass. The waitress had a strong Midwest accent, kind of like the Minnesota accents in “Fargo,” and I had to ask her to repeat some of the things she said because of it.

The second to last day, my cold got worse and I spent most of the morning asleep in the car while Mike was driving. We stopped in Indiana at a local restaurant for lunch, but then in the afternoon, Mike started feeling sick, too, so I took over driving. It really feels like we limped home the final two days because of the state we were in by the end of the trip. We were just focused on getting home. It seemed like we had been on the road forever. Although I never reached a point where I was truly sick of it, I was definitely relieved to finally be home. The fact that I was sick only made it worse.

We stopped at an Ohio turnpike rest stop for dinner, which I was really impressed with. They had a Panera! And then we pushed on to Pittsburgh.


I kept both of us awake for the most of the final night, coughing. We did not have much longer to drive, so we left later than usual. I noted that the weather felt much warmer, but then I realized it was still only 33 degrees F, which seemed sad. We found a nearby diner for breakfast, most of which I couldn’t eat, and then we got on the Pennsylvania turnpike for the long, boring, and familiar drive home. Mike drove the whole way, and I tried to sleep. We made it home in time to order pizza for dinner, and then for me to fall into bed and sleep for nearly twelve hours.


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