Through America’s Heartland

This post is pretty long since we waited so long to update the site with our travels. tl;dr: We ate Midwestern classics to our hearts’ content and visited friends and family in Glenwood Springs, Omaha, Nashville, and Indianapolis.

Taking the scenic route out of Moab, we just HAD to make a stop in Castle Valley to take a sweet shot of Black Butte in front of some of the most recognizable western movie scenery in the US. From there, we continued along until we came to the quiet mountain town of Glenwood Springs, CO, for a short, but specific visit. My old roommate in Washington, Chris, has a brother, Troy, that established a small, yet remarkable brewery there: Casey Brewing and Blending. Unfortunately Troy couldn’t make it to meet us, but his employees showed us around and gave us some beer to try. Needless to say, it was quite good. After visiting with them and a few beer business owners that came in, we set off with our new box of beer to finish the drive to Boulder.

 

 

Shortly after Glenwood Springs, we heard a noise coming from the car. Unsure of what it was, my first instinct was to check the part that had given us issues in Utah, the suspension rock chip guard. I found that it was rubbing against the wheel, moved it out of the way, and we continued with no problems…until we reached about five miles east of Vail and heard the noise yet again. At that point, I decided to take the rock chip guard off and deal with it later. When the noise didn’t go away after that crafty solution, I looked under the hood and found that the radiator fan was rubbing up against a wire. Upon further further inspection, I saw that the fan was rubbing since it was missing several fins! This was the moment we had been waiting for. We knew when we set out on our road trip that fate was in Black Butte’s han–er–wheels. She had decided she wanted to act up, and act up she did. After assessing the situation and talking it over with our good friend and former Audi mechanic, Erik, we deemed that it would be OK to drive the car carefully the 80 miles to Denver and bring it to a shop the next day for a new fan. In spite driving VERY carefully and slowly up the pass, things broke bad pretty quickly when the belt started squealing and white steam started pouring out of the engine bay. We luckily found a place to pull off, and the prognosis was predictably poor. The fan had completely disintegrated and punched a hole in the radiator, which was now emptying coolant all over the shoulder of eastbound I-70. This event, henceforth referred to as “The Incident,” caused just a bit of head and heart ache. After about an hour wait, we were loaded up on the back of a flatbed tow truck, heading away from the scene of The Incident, and toward Golden. I had previously told my friend Catherine that we would not be staying with her in Arvada due to logistical reasons. Now, for logistical reasons, I called upon her to help us with a place to stay and a ride from the shop. Luckily, she was just getting off work and came immediately to whisk us away for much-needed beers and sustenance. Over the course of the next few days, she was a rock star in making sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed, including and especially donuts!

 

 

The setback with Black Butte unfortunately put a fan blade in our Colorado plans. Prior to The Incident, we had an aggressive plan to tackle climbing the first flatiron, mountain biking, touring CU and all that comes with it (yes, that includes a potentially late night on Pearl Street), a full day hike, a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, and to visit some of our favorite breweries in the area. In reality, we are able to partake in about 2.5 of those activities. We were worried that we were going to have to forego all our desired activities due to the lack of our primary means of conveyance (with all our gear trapped inside) and spent much of our first day relaxing and taking care of different items we had neglected over the past week and a half (though clearly not the blog, whoops). Later that afternoon, Graham graciously offered to help us meet some of our goals. He drove us to Boulder so we could jaunt around my old haunts at CU. I had not been back to Boulder since they had finished the new portion of Folsom Field, so I naturally gravitated to that first. We later walked all the way up by the gym, Norlin Quad, the Library, UMC, and finishing off in the depths of the Physics building to relive the source of many nightmares and to the Geology building for Graham to relive his. Despite that, I still have chills every time I go back and it further solidifies my happiness in attending college in Boulder.

 

 

The next couple days were spent pensively awaiting news on the car. In the meantime, we were able to get a hike in, meet up with friends, and grab some good beer, a must while in Colorado. There were a few setbacks, but the car was still finished on time, around five o’clock on Thursday afternoon. We said our goodbyes and expressed as much gratitude as we could to Catherine and Graham, as their generosity and warmth was beyond outstanding and a true testament to their fantastic character. We then picked the car up and immediately drove up to Boulder as we had a dinner date with the Remnants, family friends that have been amazing hosts to my family, friends, and me since arriving in Boulder for the first time in 2006. We had a lovely dinner and chatted for hours, ultimately deciding to stay another day so that we could visit with them more, see their daughter Julia, and try to make up as many activities that were previously lost the next day.

We started out with a never-disappointing meal at Lucille’s Creole Cafe (a must-do brunch spot while in Boulder) followed by a quick trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. After looking for parking, which was an adventure in and of itself, we were able to hike up to Fern Falls, a quick 6 miler with about 700 ft of elevation gain. We would have loved to have spent more time in the park, especially since Jacquie didn’t get to see the marmots that have proved elusive on this trip, but we had some beer to drink in Fort Collins! We boogied up to the New Belgium Brewery, and through the sheer cunning wit of my friend Hanah, were able to get in on a brewery tour! I had been trying to do this since I lived in Colorado, but it had gotten so popular that I was never able to make it work. It certainly lives up to the hype! A 90 minute tour with about 5/6 different beer samplers, all fo’ free! From there we headed back down toward Boulder for some dinner prior to returning to the Remnants for a rousing game of Apples to Apples, which is always more fun when beer is involved!

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Standing among the barrel aging sours at New Belgium Brewing

I awoke the next morning to check another item off my Boulder bucket list, the Valmont Bike Park. The park was put in the year after I left Boulder (though it was promised earlier) and I had wanted to ride it for years. Luckily I was able to pull myself out of bed and get an hour in at the park. I must say, it was well put together! I unfortunately found the route that turned out to be my favorite, a straight and undulating singletrack downhill, when I only had about 10 minutes left to spare. Nevertheless, I’m quite glad I checked it out! The rest of the morning involved packing up and meeting a friend for brunch prior to our 530 mile drive to Omaha to see my childhood best friend, Jonathan, and his wife, Lacey.

Predictably uneventful, the drive to Omaha involved few stops, as we had realized we forgot about the time change from Mountain to Central in the middle of Nebraska. This led us to arrive around 11 PM. Luckily, our hosts were night owls, so we had not eclipsed their bedtime, even though they are parents of three (lovely) children under six! We visited briefly before heading to bed in their toy-clad basement. We had a leisurely morning while the family was at church, and the rest of the day was filled with a great brunch followed by a trip to the zoo, as much a trip for us as it was for the kids. It is certainly one of the most impressive zoos I’ve been to! The kids left halfway through the visit for an evening church event, and we were able to grab some burgers and ice cream close to downtown before heading to visit Jonathan’s parents, who had just arrived that evening from visiting his sister in Michigan. It was great to see them and catch up after so many years!

 

 

The next morning began yet another adventure with ol’ Butte. Not 5 miles after picking her up from a wheel re-balance, alignment, and control arm replacement at Firestone, we heard a knock in the driver’s side front wheel well from one of the balancing weights flying off the wheel. I’ve never had a good experience with Firestone, so this was par for the course. We took the car back and they fixed it quickly, assuring us the others were on good and tight. Only an hour behind schedule, we set off east to meet up with I-29, which would bring us to our lunch stop, Kansas City. A few minutes into that drive, however, a new noise started coming from another wheel well. We immediately deduced the answer, that it was Firestone’s fault, and began looking for another one to fix it. The only one along our route was on Offutt Air Force Base, which Jacquie took as a good omen since I could get us on being active duty Navy. After an hour and a half in the shop to straighten the part the previous mechanic had bent, she was fixed up and ready to go. For real this time. We could finally, three hours after our intended departure time, make our way to KC.

In Kansas City there were two goals: step foot in Kansas (as I had not yet) and get some scrumptious KC barbecue. After a poll of multiple friends, we decided on Jack Stack’s for lunch, and Joe’s for “dessert.” Both were incredible in their own way: Jack’s with its restaurant style ribs (the lamb rack was outta this world) and Joe’s with it’s walk-up counter what’ll-ya-have Z-Man sandwich and pulled pork, which served as a great impromptu dinner later that evening. With our tummies fully sated and the gas tank fully filled, we screamed east toward our night stopover destination of O’Fallon, IL, just east of St. Louis. Other than a quick stop in STL for some gooey butter cake, the drive went quickly. We found a sweet price on an Extended Stay hotel, and cooked our jackpot of an impromptu dinner: pulled pork on English muffins with cheddar cheese accompanied by leftover New Belgium beer. Arguably, the bigger jackpot came from the Forensic Files marathon that was on TV, which I watched until about an hour and a half after Jacquie went to bed.

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The Z-Man sandwich from Joe’s in Kansas City

The next day brought more visits! The first with my friend Brandon, whom I knew from my first ship, and his lovely girlfriend Andrea, in Evansville, Indiana. From there we set forth to Nashville, where we were staying with yet another first ship friend, Kelsey. We had plans that evening to go to dinner with my Great Aunt, JoAn, and her daughter, Christy. Unfortuntely, Aunt JoAn had a terrible fever and was admitted to the hospital earlier that afternoon. Luckily she was in high spirits, and while the doctors didn’t quite know what was wrong, she felt OK and chatted with us for about an hour. It was later determined that she had the corona-virus, which she is still currently fighting off, but doing much better. We ended up going to dinner with Christy that evening, and it was great catching up and hearing stories about Nashville to prep us for the upcoming couple of evenings. We returned to Kelsey’s for a quick drink with her and her wonderful girlfriend, Emily (who had just arrived from a trip to Seattle) before heading out again for some billiards and brews at a local bar.

The next night we hit Broadway, which was more than I could have ever hoped for. If you know Jacquie and I, you know we are live music fiends, and were both in a state of total bliss when we arrived at Robert’s for a cold one and some tunes. If you call yourself a live music fan and haven’t made it to Broadway, add it to your bucket list. It is an amalgamation of the best artists you’ve never heard of. Most of the bands have members that have played with greats such as Lyle Lovett, Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and scores of others. They are some of the best musicians out there, they just didn’t happen to be the front-men or women. This was certainly one of the most memorable nights from the trip.

We stopped by the hospital the next morning to say goodbye to Christy and Aunt JoAn, prior to packing up the car and setting off for Indianapolis. Of course, on the way out of town, we had to pick up some Prince’s Hot Chicken! It certainly lives up to its name, and while the Chicken proved hot, the bread on which the strips were laid proved MUCH hotter. We could have used some milk in the car when we decided to give it a go in the middle of Kentucky.

For a whiskey drinker, no trip through Louisville would be complete without stopping at one of the distilleries! Luckily Angel’s Envy was right off the highway and an easy stop to pick up a thank you gift for our next hosts, Jacquie’s friend Carrie, her fantastic husband Sean, and their delightful daughter Vera, with whom we stayed in Indianapolis. After receiving a tour of their marvelous home, we were lucky enough to pick out a record from their extensive vinyl collection to listen to during our delicious dinner of sausage and grilled corn. We had yet another brunch on our way out of town with Carrie at quite possibly the most hipster restaurant I have ever seen, Milktooth. Atmosphere aside, the food was incredible, innovative, and a must do when in the Fountain Square area of Indianapolis.

From Indianapolis came the final stop in our epic road trip, Aurora, IL! After a brief jaunt over to Munster, IN, to get some beer from the renowned Three Floyds Brewing, we arrived in Aurora early afternoon to a very happy Bonnie Rooney and a perhaps happy Carl Jerry the dog. After briefly unwinding, we unpacked everything out of the car to give suspension a permanent break from all our stuff and thanked Black Butte for her service. Since being back, we have spent time with friends, family, and worked every day to get ready for the upcoming expedition. While we’re sad that this part of our journey is over, we are quite excited to continue our world journey out of only a backpack’s, not 1000 lbs, worth of stuff. At this time next week, we will be on our way to the first destination in our world tour: Reykjavik, Iceland!

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My first game at Wrigley!

2 thoughts on “Through America’s Heartland

  1. What a great description of your wonderful and sometimes taxing adventures. I’m Loving the journey as a virtual participant. Love to you both !

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  2. Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventures! I love reading about your travels and look forward to your next blog. I’m stalking you two! Safe travels ❤️

    Like

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