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Road trip

Because my contract at University of Wisconsin ended and I was no longer earning money to support my glamorous lifestyle in Madison, I decided to move. My incredibly generous and worried cousin from Bay Area offered me his living room to crash in while I found a job. I happily jumped at his offer. All that wonderful ethnic food and awesome weather: how could I refuse?!

How do I move?

I had two choices.

  1. Ship everything and fly myself and the rest of my stuff there.
  2. Drive myself and rest of my stuff there.

As I had not taken a proper vacation since I started my PhD, I decided to take advantage of this situation to do a road trip of my dreams. I wanted to see all the sights America had to offer. Mainly Yellowstone Natl Park. The only major problem I foresaw was my ancient car, a ‘97 Acura and the lack of air conditioning. I was worried if it would be able to lug me and my entire life across the country or if I would die of dehydration due to excessive sweating. The problem amplified when the brakes stopped working two weeks before I started the trip. I had it towed to the mechanic, who fixed the brakes and deemed my car fit for the road trip as long as I did not attempt to make it to CA in 3 days. That decided it. At this point lack of real $$$ won and a sense of adventure won. I was driving my car.

Trip Preparation

So I spent the next couple of weeks selling and donating most of my material possessions that would not fit in my car and my cousin’s living room. My family back in India was panicking about my trip. Their only silly daughter, all alone, driving across rural America in a car that has more than a couple of dents. I promised to call them and message everybody I/they knew everyday I was on the road. My friends were both excited and worried. I promised them selfies and updates on facebook.

I recently got into biking majorly. At some point it had become my sole link to sanity. I didn’t want to let go of it. So I decided to take my bike along. I stupidly bought a trunk bike rack (more on that later).I was also worried about $$$ and my hatred for fast food chains. And my lovely CSA box. So, I decided to cook everything I had and bring it with me.

The Trip

Day One

The day I finally had to move arrived. I had planned to leave at 7 AM, which meant, after all the last minute cleaning, fiddling with bike rack and moving, I left at 10 AM. It was an interesting ride. The terrain change was fascinating to watch. I listened to NPR all the way. The fact that I was listening to prarie companian when I was in the prarie made me chuckle. I was worried about the bike. So I stopped and checked a dozen times along the way.

My car all loaded up

My first stop was Mitchell, SD. The corn palace came highly recommended and I love palaces and corn! So I was pretty bummed when I found this was the most exciting part about the corn palace.

The corn palace

The visit took me about 5 mins and I headed to the hotel. I had a small kerfaffle with my bike trunk. The stupid thing wouldn’t unbuckle. Some bad decisions and a scratched trunk later, I got my bike and my crap to my hotel room. All my frozen food had unfrozen. The hotel didn’t have a microwave and I stupidly threw away my fork. So I scooped cold pasta with my hands, had dinner and slept the disappointment away.

Day Two

I got up all excited because this day was devoted to sight-seeing. I planned to see Badlands, the wind cave and Mt Rushmore. I attached my bike to the trunk, gassed up my car and set off. 15 mins later I saw my bike bounce up and down the highway. Great! Now I had a new gash on my trunk and my front bike wheel had a big hole in it. I spent about 1/2 an hour making sure I fixed everything right and cursing my cheapness and lack of foresight and set off again. I stopped every 5 mins and fixed my bike rack again and again. Turned out the damn buckle was getting loose. Once that got fixed and the stupid rack stopped moving, I headed on to Badlands.

It is like a giant sand castle!

It was incredibly hot. It was incredibly amazing. When I started on this journey I had planned to ride my bike along the scenic loop. Thankfully a friend talked me out of it. As beautiful as it was, the heat would have done me in. Next stop was this tourist trap spot called the Wall Drug. Given the sheer number of signs pointing to this place, I was expecting something amazing. Turned out to be something quite underwhelming.

I was done with the heat and headed on to see the caves. It is much cooler there you know. Wind Cave National Park was my next stop. This place was incredibly amazing and very cool. I actually needed a jacket! If you are in the vicinity do check it out. Once I cooled down, I headed out to do some touristy things. I went on to see Mt Rushmore. On the way I saw the signs for Crazy Horse Memorial. I decided to take a detour. Bad Idea. It is a tourist trap run by shady people. They sold me a ticket for 11 $ to see a movie about some woman rambling on about the government. If they actually cared about educating people, I would have been happy to pay for the trip to the monument. As it is I felt cheated. So I left and headed on to Mt. Rushmore, where I again had to pay 11 $. Given that I could seen the Presidents without forking my dollars, I kind of regret the 11 $. But atleast I did not feel ripped off. As I was heading back to the hotel, I could see the beginning of a thunderstorm. Already nervous about driving the hills at night I skedaddled early and headed to my cheap hotel.

The Presidents

Day 3

For once the day started as planned. I made good time on my journey to Yellowstone Natl Park. I was early with plenty of day time left. So I decided to check out the Mammoth Hot Springs.

Hot springs galore

Day 4 (Yellowstone story)

I was up early to fill out some job applications. I quickly wrote up some job applications and sent them out. Made it to park a bit late only to get stuck behind some construction trucks. I am told that is very common in the park, that and bison traffic. Still getting there early, where there is still some dew on the leaves in fun in geyser land. Because you get to see a lot of this.

The mammoth springs

Yellowstone Natl. Park was just incredible. All colors and smells. There wasn’t a lot of traffic early in the day, but soon I was finding it a tad bit difficult to get parking spaces. I obviously tried to fit all the main attractions in. At some point I encountered sign posting for a 1 mile hike to Mystic Falls. After being stuck in a tin can for three days, I fell for it and and started hiking without any water (Tip 1: Always carry water). Big mistake! The 1 mile hike was actually 1.7 mile hike to the top of what seemed like an endless mountain to a very dehydrated me (Tip 2: Look up elevations.) The view on the top was glorious (even for a person with a healthy fear of heights)!

The view on top

But still no sight of the falls (Tip 3: Look up hike maps). Some fellow hikers after commenting on my Big Data t-shirt took pity on me and shared their map with me. The hike to falls was another .7 miles. So I quit the hike and went back down. It is actually scary going down on a thin ledge with steep falls. I was glad for the company of other sensible quitters. Once I got to the car, I gulped down all the water I could. Once my heart started beating more steadily. I plodded on.

Sights and Smells

If I were to post all my favorite sights, I think this page will take forever to load. As it was I had just spent a day. I saw the major attractions. I had I hit bison traffic on the way out. After 2 hours of stop and go traffic I headed out into the darkness that all Idaho. As it got darker, my anxiety soared. The fact that I was completely lost in Driggs, didn’t help. Thankfully Driggs was a small town. I managed to make it to the hostel.

Day 5 (Grand Tetons)

Next day I had planned a trip to the Grand Tetons. I wanted a relaxing day. Just hiking and taking in the splendor. So again, thanks to my lack of attention to detail, I ended up on another one of those crazy hikes to Inspiration point.

Inspiration Point

Upon reaching top, I was about to embark on another trek to see the Hidden Falls, but the clouds looked omnious. So I decided to head back to my hostel in Driggs, ID.

Day 6 (Craters of the Moon and Nevada)

I was by now mostly done with my road trip. The weariness was setting in. But I simply had to see the Creaters of the Moon National Monument, a site of volcanic eruption.

Volcanic Site

It was a nice break from the journey. But the heat was getting to me. I made it to my hotel in Elko, NV in good time. I just spent the rest of the day lazing around.

Day 7 (Heading to the Bay Area)

3 hours on the road and I was ready to sleep. I had to stop for a coffee break in Sacramento just to stop dozing off. I was never this happy to stop in starbucks. Once I could think further than a nap, I noticed people on the computer, coding! My kind of people!

I came to my senses and smiled at 50 random people staring at me, I made it to SF.