When I think about my life, I don’t see a big house. I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now. Blogging sometime around midnight. Thinking about the last 7 years of international travel. My running shoes are still on. They’re damn comfortable. Where I live, I have a balcony and I have Mark, but instead of overlooking the intracoastal, I am in a studio overlooking Hong Kong, or house-sitting in Tuscany. Right now I’m drinking water, but elsewhere it’ll be tea. In Latin America, espresso. I may have dinner with a different group of people every night. Sometimes I will eat alone. Sometimes I will have to try the homemade wine, and I will likely overindulge. I’ll learn Zulu from little kids and take a timelapse of the Milky Way. I’ll be a staff photographer for Costa Rica Tourism and Mark will find those hidden gems he is so good at finding. This is what I must have. It’s an intense, non-traditional, unpredictable lifestyle. It’s not for everyone. It’s not meant to be understood. But there’s only one person that needs to, and I’m pretty sure he does
I’m a native Floridian. Never lived anywhere else. This may be fueling my need to trade the beach for the mountains. I live a mile away from the beach and haven’t been there to go get a tan or swim in over two years. This probably sounds pretentious.
The Mr. and I have driven through the 48 contiguous states here in America, which has forced me to come to grips with the fact that I live in a sunny, winter-free bubble devoid of the work and pleasantries that come from living somewhere with actual life to it. The following is a series of moments from the road trips where I felt my true Floridian showed its bright, naive colors:
1) Driving through Wyoming in the middle of the night. A road construction sign blinked “Caution: Elk ahead.” I wondered to myself, What does an elk look like? This highway had a speed limit of 70, but I slowed to a crawl of 25. Just as I go to pass the sign, multiple giant deer-looking animals with huge antlers start traipsing across this lonely (read: pitch black) road. I pull over the side and give Mark a sideways glance that means, You’re driving.
2) Driving through South Dakota on another night mission and I see this sign:
I spend the next two hours convinced that reflectors on the side of the road are beady little eyes belonging to an animal just waiting to jump out in front of the car. (Squirrels do this all the time in Florida; why would deer be any different?)
3) Losing my mind because there was snow in Georgia in February. February is basically summer, no? It was also hot in Georgia. Hotter than Jacksonville. Why in the world was there snow still on the ground?
4) Traveling to Connecticut in April, excited to see the fresh green of spring and instead seeing dull, brown trees everywhere. Isn’t April spring? Where is all the foliage?
5) Taking a picture of cracked dirt. A novelty. There is no dirt in Florida. It’s limestone. And coral. And some ground up seashells. Also, it rains almost every day in South Florida so why would there be any cracks like this? True Texas style.
Bonus: In true Florida fashion, apparently my entire body is cold except for my toes. Because wearing close toed shoes isn’t a thing.
We’re aware that, per TSA recommendations, we are supposed to arrive at an airport about a year before the plane takes off. Last I was told, it was two hours for a domestic flight and three hours for an international flight. This is nothing more than a nefarious plot to get innocent air travel patrons to pay obscene prices for food, drink, and entertainment pieces. If you arrived at the terminal five minutes before boarding, you would have no time to shop!
My theory regarding this silliness proved true when I received a text from my beloved stating his wallet was missing. He was driving a newly purchased car from New Jersey to Florida, and was driving somewhere around Maryland; he reaches for his wallet to find it’s not there.
Big problem. No plastic money. No driver license. Limited cash. He couldn’t stay in a hotel even if he wanted to, because hotels require ID now… It’s Saturday afternoon. Banks don’t open until Monday, and even then, have you ever tried to prove you’re you at a bank with no ID or any evidence of it?
Cue text to me. I’m headed to tutor another student; he has enough gas to travel another hour and a half.
Solution? I whip the quickest U-turn and head straight for the airport. No going home to pack. No changing clothes. No time to bring a charger. Nothing. Everything in my purse is what I could bring. As I’m waiting feverishly at a light, I’m using the hotels.com app to determine whether to fly out of Fort Lauderdale or Miami. The chosen flight was departing exactly one hour from the time I whipped the U-turn. I had about 25-30 minutes travel time to the airport. I couldn’t book a ticket online or over the phone; I had to take a shot with the Jetblue reservationist at the airport.
I’m pretty sure, in this afternoon, I clocked the fastest speed for a Toyota Corolla. I made it to the airport; the flight departed in 30 minutes, which means the gates closed in 20 minutes. I had to park. No time for economy parking – it’s a ten minute bus ride. Can’t risk it. $36/ a day parking? That will have to do. I park my car. I run to the Jetblue reservation desk. A woman calls me over; completely out of breath I say, “I need to be on the flight that’s leaving in 20 minutes.” She gives me a “Are you $% kidding me?” I say, “Can you do it or not?” She makes the reservation. I’m dancing around like a cat on a hot tin roof.
What is taking SO long?
Finally she hands me a ticket. She asks, “Do you know where you need to go?” Before I can answer, she says, “Make a left here.” And I say, “Then what?” And she says, “Then you run.”
And you know what? I ran like hell. Fort Lauderdale airport is not small. There’s a distance to traverse. My lungs were on fire. But it was the most movie-like scene I have ever been a part of. This was an exceptional moment. I’m running, I’m sweating, my lungs are burning. People are letting me skip them in the security line.
I get to the gate, completely winded, feeling victorious, like I had just crossed a finish line.
All of that running, and for what? Did I miss anything? I didn’t miss anything. The plane was boarding on time, but not one person felt compelled enough to form a line. No Mosaic members had boarded. No priority. No parents and children. Nobody.
With my spare minutes, I had enough time to go buy a $12 pack of Twizzlers and text my beloved that I was at the gate, ready to go.
Everyone boards. It was as if I had been there the entire 2-hour pre-board window of time. The only difference in my experience and everyone else’s is that I got a damn good cardio session from it.
The west has some undeniably beautiful landscape – from Colorado to California to Yellowstone National Park. As a duo coming from Florida we witness no seasons (unless you count VERY rainy and LESS rainy seasons) and no real topographic change. This is the foundation for the dash to drive the entire west in a weekend.
Remember that we are your corporate employed 9-5 day jobbers. We gave ourselves three days to drive through America’s largest states. We dropped ourselves into Denver at 11pm straight from Miami. Landing at a new airport always gives me such a rush (see blog post: #5: Depart, Land or Connect at 10 International Airports) and Denver was new to me. We walked straight to the rental car kiosk, picked up the car and drove straight through the night from Denver to the Four Corners Monument.
The timing couldn’t have been better. We pulled up the Four Corners Monument right as the sun was coming up. It’s a beautiful, humbling sight to see this giant orb of light awaken a desert where no concrete jungle resides for hundreds of miles.
At this point we had been up for more than 24 hours. After visiting the monument, we head to each of the states that make up the four corners and collect those signs like Mario collected gold coins on Super Nintendo.
BONUS: Navajo Nation!
And last but not least, Utah!
We had a limited amount of daylight hours, so we wanted to be sure to get to the Grand Canyon before the sun set. It was an afternoon well spent, and Mark spent a considerable amount of time off the park trails.
The sun began sinking into the horizon shortly after we left the Grand Canyon, bound for Nevada. It’s now Saturday evening, and we’ve been up for nearly 36 hours without shut eye. I’m starting to get tired – seems reasonable, right?
We make Nevada, and every time we cross a state line I get another surge of energy.
We decide to stop in Vegas.
We grab In-n-Out (a must do, right?) and set up camp at Bellagio (more on that experience later). We decide to lay on the bed and give our bodies a well deserved stretch and…
That’s all I remember of Vegas.
We woke up and left Vegas at 11am. A quick 45 minute loop west welcomed us to San Bernandino, CA.
At this point we plugged in the GPS our destination for the night: Walla Walla, WA. What did the GPS say? Continue straight for 500 miles. US-93 is dubbed the Great Basin Highway and is the lonely two-lane road that gets people from Vegas to Idaho.
By the time we reach Idaho, it’s just about midnight. Mind you, we did this drive in September, when it’s still blistering hot in Miami, so I did not pack jackets or close-toed shoes or really anything to keep warm. But when I stepped out of the car to get a snapshot of Idaho at midnight, I surely wish I had packed differently.
We cut over to Oregon because there was no stopping now. We were armed with energy drinks and super unhealthy snacks. I lamented driving through Oregon at night ( and I’m sure most Oregonians would agree with this sentiment) as the countryside in the Pacific Northwest is some of the most beautiful (in my completely biased opinion). However, the goal was to collect state signs like gold coins in Super Mario, so that we did do:
Our intended destination was Walla Walla, but we’re overachievers and we drove the extra couple of hours to Spokane. This is where my energy exploded everywhere because I absolutely love Washington. It’s probably my favorite state. I’ll probably write an entire piece decided to Melody’s love of Washington state. For right now though, we’ll stick to just the state welcome sign.
Mark also decided that a night picture of the Idaho wasn’t good enough, so he took a beautiful capture of the sun peeking through the Idaho sign at the Washington border.
Not an hour later do we cross into Montana. At this point we begin wondering how far it is to Glacier National Park.
… It was too far. We wanted to do Yellowstone slightly more.
When we arrived to Yellowstone, we had just a few hours to explore the park. This is easily a place to spend a week but we managed to see Old Faithful, which is incredibly timely, several mineral springs, bacteria pools, and a buffalo.
We did find a little gem of a waterfall, Lewis Falls, upon exiting the park (headed south toward Colorado).
It’s about 8 hours from Yellowstone National Park to Denver, CO where our flight was scheduled to depart the following night.
We departed Yellowstone just as the sun was going down and drove through Wyoming. We collected our last sign, our last gold coin, at the Wyoming/ Colorado border.
MONDAY NIGHT: We took the redeye from Denver to Miami, arrived in Miami at 5am and were back to work by 8.
In a year and a half, we’ve logged over 12,000 miles traveling by car.
…WOW. That’s about the distance from Anchorage, Alaska to the Panama Canal and back. To answer the question that’s bugging you, yes we’ve talked about it and yes: driving the entirety of the PanAm is on the agenda.
Here’s PART I of our tour of the 48 contiguous United States via the state welcome signs. This was a personal goal of Mark’s we completed in just over six months. Most of our drives we spent the first day and night (upon landing at an airport) driving. About half of the pictures are in the daytime; the other half are at night. Without further adieu, our tour!
Southeast Trip – February 2013.
Next up! The Northeast! We flew in to Baltimore (BWI) and after getting stuck in DC for about 2 (Mark will probably say 5) hours, we finally made it out and got on our way.
Last but not least, the sun setting over Maine. To head back toward Baltimore or stay in Portland and feast on lobster? Silly question. We feasted.
Northeast Trip, April 2013.
Stay tuned! The Central Trip will be coming up momentarily.
Miami is a relatively young city, and I am an architecture and history buff. The older a building is, the more interesting it is to me. I’m pretty sure I would lose my mind in Rome, Istanbul or the countryside of England as all of those places have architecture dating back millenia.
I digress. We do the best we can where we are. Vizcaya Museum was built by Chicago magnate James Deering from 1914 to 1926. This was his “summer home.” Standards have certainly changed. Here are pictures of the grounds of his vacation house.
Fountain overlooking the gardens
This place is massive. It’s gorgeous (and sweltering – we are in subtropical climate). Thousands of weddings and quinceaneras take place here. It’s not uncommon to stumble onto an event photo shoot.
We just indulged on a Nikon D5200 as we will be going to Costa Rica in two weeks (stay tuned for those!) and found Vizcaya a perfect place to get familiar with the camera. Mark got his photography prowess on and managed to catch me in a few very scenic, romantic spots around the gardens.
James Deering was a refined man and wanted to make sure his guests were well aware. Letters to visitors managed to be preserved and are on display. Mr. Deering was indeed a refined man with exceptionally high expectations. His letter about the scotch is hilarious if you’ve a dry sense of humor.
Spanish and Italian influences from Renaissance era to the early 1800s are present, including some seemingly unrelated relics like a massive 14th century rug decorated with Muslim and Christian icons. The ceilings are intricately carved on nearly every ceiling and feature seahorses, boats, and other icons.
The back of the house presents an unobstructed view of Biscayne Bay.
Statues are all over the place. I may have a bit of insensitivity regarding this. There are only so many statues I can admire before I start to well…you see.
The gardens are amazing. Very beautiful. Would be less so if it decided to rain, or actually get above 100 degrees. (Hint: August and September are not good times to visit South Florida; it is darn HOT).
I enjoyed being Mark’s photo subject. He enjoyed the new camera. All in all, a raving success.
When describing our travels and adventures to others, the most common response received from friends, coworkers, and random strangers alike is something akin to “Really?! Are you crazy?”
Melody and I enjoy a challenge.
Whether it be to visit 48 States and take a picture of ourselves next to each “Welcome to ______” sign, or to get from Portland, ME to Baltimore, MD in 6 1/2 hours (not a favorite memory for Melody)…we welcome the challenge.
Our first ‘real’ outing was many many moons before our relationship began, but from the moment I met her – amid the deafening roar of the first top-fuel dragster event at Palm Beach International Raceway (formerly known as Morosso) – I knew that this was the person I wanted to get to know better and a person whom I would take great pleasure in having the company of. The only problem was…I was in a relationship, and so was she. This would prove to be the greatest test of my patience to date.
After a series of trials and tribulations with other people, I decided to take a year off of the ‘dating’ scene. What I found within this year was that I am much stronger than I gave myself credit for, and that if I wanted to…I could do great things. I focused on work, developing my business, and thought about the future and where I wanted it to take me. This was also when I began traveling and spending more time with friends, developing stronger relationships with my friends.
In March of 2012, having worked as a Valet attendant at a condo in Boca Raton, FL for the previous 2 years, I realized that I was living a stagnant life and needed to make a change. I decided to pursue my business full-time. The first few months were a little tight, but with the insight from other young professionals and my mentor Dr. Kerensky, I soon began to build my client list and develop my specialization into Efficiency Consulting.
Seven months later, I secured the job which I am still at today, implementing policy and procedures at a construction company based out of Miami, FL as a Special Projects Manager.
One late night in February, after a long day at work, the decision was made that I would take a random trip up to Jacksonville – final destination unknown. I had been speaking with Melody off and on since October of the previous year, and I invited her to join me for a road trip. To my delight, she agreed – sparking our non-stop travel since.
Our first trip totaled 1700 miles in 3 days, driving nearly non-stop. We left from Boca Raton and drove to Jacksonville, FL through the night. We watched the sun rise at the Jacksonville Beach Pier, snapping beautiful photos along the way.
Sunrise at Jacksonville Beach
Melody on Boardwalk
Exhausted and weary from our travels, we got breakfast and coffee, then visited the local Walgreen’s. We procured a map and four quarters, dropped the quarters, and drove to the intersection of the coins – which happened to be Fitzgerald, GA.
Along the way, we had a cotton – pickin’ time!
Built some Snowmen!
Made Snow Angels!
We drove across Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, talking and laughing, with only one night of sleep in Georgia.
This trip marked the first real time that we had ever spent together alone, and was a true test of endurance for us. We spent nearly 40 hours in the car together, and what’s more…we didn’t kill each other.
Since then, we have logged about 12k miles driving around the United States. We have taken pictures of ourselves next to 46 of the State Welcome signs (we managed to miss Massachusetts somehow after driving through it 4 times and it was raining when we went through New York), and have been on many amazing journeys, with many many more planned.