From May to July, 2019, my best friend Amica and I went on a journey across the country that we early on dubbed a “walkabout,” per some sky hippies in Georgia. (See that adventure here.)
The world is totally different now. Our lives are totally different now. We crave the road, but can’t get back to it just yet.
So this month, we’re embarking on what I’m calling a “mockabout.” We’re taking a pretend trip across the country. Every day or so, I’m going to spread out a map, trace roads, Google weather and motels, and imagine what we’d be doing if we were out there for real. I’ll update this blog article as we go, so bookmark it and check back! I’ll also update this Google map.
And oh yeah, on this pretend trip, there’s no such thing as COVID-19.
Shoved off on the adventure today. We just hit the road to get out of PA. Crashing at the Red Roof Inn in Westlake Ohio. $58. Five and a half hours of just interstate, which was plenty enough. Nostalgic for our speaking gigs in New York State where we often crash at the Red Roofs. Having a quiet night in. Weather a cold low-40s and occasionally spitting.
Avoided highways hard today. Drove along the Lake Erie. Got out and sniffed a beach. Trudged through Toledo and made it to Michigan Amica’s 44th state, at last! Trudged through Detroit and off the freeways at last. Staying at the Harbor Beach Inn for $84. Mid-40s temps. In for the night. It’s dark. Want to check out the old steam engine and the lighthouse in the morning.
Still heading for the UP. Explored Harbor Beach this morning and then drove along Lake Huron all day until finding a place to stay in Alpena. We stopped and explored Tawas Point State Park. It was lighthouse day apparently! It was a pleasant day, temps in the 50s. I hope the skies stay clear so I can see that epic twinkle show in the UP. Staying at the Ramada here. Really struggling to find pet friendly motels. And the pet fees blow. So it’s $98 tonight. Boo. Tomorrow, we cross the Mackinac Bridge and are in the UP at last. Will find a bunk and probably stay a couple nights. Will be due for a no-drive day.
Wonderful drive today! Traced Lake Huron up to the Mackinac Bridge. Poked around Mill Creek State Park on the way. I love historic mills. Amica loved the smelling. Then over that marvelous (indeed a marvel) bridge and into the UP at last! It’s been seventeen years, and this place feels just as elsewhere-ly as ever. Started along Lake Michigan, spotting the pasties signs, and cut the drive short at Naubinway. Again, not happy with the rates and the pet fees, but found a charming, rustic room at the Adoba Hotel Naubinway. $80 a night plus a $25 pet fee. We’re staying two nights anyway. Need a still day, and I dig the vibe of this town. Will be checking out the bar tonight … five minutes walk. See if they have pasties and commune with the locals. Beautiful day in the high 50s today. Loving it.
What an awesome day! I got up and got a bunch of work done in the morning. Amica and I explored this little town. A walk along the lake. Temps in the mid 50s. I had to eat at Moofinfries (translate coo-fish-fries). I got battered fish and proper Canadian poutine! Then I had to hit up the pastie place. I drove by all those pastie signs all those years ago and needed to see what all the fuss was about. All wonderful food! Next we drove away from town a little to catch the spectacular twinkle show that is the UP night sky. It was just as magical as I’d remembered. Back to town now and shall end my evening popping back over to the pub to hang out with my new pals there.
Left our dear Naubinway this morning. Getting back on my car stash of non-perishables. We maybe should press west now, as my beloved Rockies are waiting, but I wanted to pop up to the Lake Superior shoreline, so we made way for Marquette where I joyfully explored the maritime museum (it was an easy 60s-weather day so Ammers was fine chillin’ in her giant double car bed) after we went and played at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Our first National Park of the trip! It’s more for boats, but we caught some pretty scenes. Scored a great motel: Brentwood Motor Inn. Classic roadside joint, $62 plus $10 pet fee. That’s more like it! Going to have a chill night and rest up to wander into Wisconsin.
I love driving across this part of the country. Giant fish, giant lumberjacks, crazy giant statue things everywhere. Just like New Zealand. I’m not trying to go to cities on this trip, but I had to see Duluth again. I loved this town so much when I did comedy here back in the early 2000s. Lodging choices not great. Bagged a Motel 6 with interior hallways, which is a pain. $85 and Amica is free. It’ll have to do. I drove her down to the lakewalk area and we had a nice stroll before we ran out of daylight. So, Wisconsin, which I love, was a blur. And we’re going to get Minnesota gone now because Montana’s calling is way louder than a whisper. Another beautiful day of mild temps.
Did some actual highway today. I wanted to hit Jamestown again. I wanted to stay in our favorite motel room from the previous adventure. I even called ahead to the Two Rivers Inn and got it arranged. $54 a night!! We’ll do two nights here. I need to get some work done, and I want to finally see the bison museum! I’ll take Amica back to the old town for a walkaround. Must get a steak from Frontier Fort Bar & Grill. All this tomorrow. Tonight is canned chicken. One big change – it’s FREEZING here! Finally got out the winter gear. Ammie will hang in the motel while I go out and about.
Well, that was a perfect day!! Got a ton of work done in the morning and made it out to the old wild west village. (I’m in the WEST!!) Did two trips. First with Amica, then took her back home so I could do more than that museum’s gift shop this time and then treat myself to a nice steak dinner, which was as delicious as I remembered. Chatted with the locals. Had good human time. Oh yeah, and the wife owner of the motel still sets up a bangin’ breakfast spread. Now a cozy evening in with my doggo, keeping warm up here in no man’s land.
Back on the road today and holy crap is it cold! I looked at cutting south into Wyoming, but it’s no better there. Got up early to make Billings by daylight. All highway and into a city. Was comforting to keep to civilization in this cold. It’s in the 20s at best. Staying at the Dude Rancher Lodge, $80 plus $7 pet fee. Not terrible. Interior hallways, but we bagged a room close to a side exit. It’s a frigid 5-minute walk to Montana Brewing Company, but it must be done. I’ve never been out in Billings, and I’ve got my boots on.
Another looooog drive day, so we’re staying here at least two nights. Made it to Whitefish. Someone mentioned this place to me once, and I looked up some photos of it. Stunning. If the weather holds out, we’re heading into Glacier National Park tomorrow. I thought getting out of the car in 100-degree heat in Big Bend National Park was bad. This…. wow. Hoteling is tough here. Pricey. $20 a night pet fees. The cool downtown joints don’t have first floor rooms, so Amica can’t do it. So it’s a Best Western just south of town. It’s really really nice, but am dropping a hair over $100 a night.
Great day! Got up early early and hit the very good hotel breakfast, skipped work, and went right for the park. Drove through downtown Whitefish on the way and hit a coffee shop with a brew to go, just for fun. Then into the park. Glacier National Park is sizeable, but not impossible to cover well via car in a day. We are fortunate the precipitation is holding off. Saw mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and my beautiful, beautiful Rocky Mountains. I was only here before in 2007, and it sure lives up to my memory of its wild, heaven scraping majesty. Stopped at a market on the way back and had a little picnic dinner in the room while pushing through some work. Checked the weather and looks all clear to make Washington tomorrow.
We’re in Washington! Amica’s 45th state! It’s very cold and rainy, but no winter precipitation so that’s a good thing. Long drive to Walla Walla. College town. I just like the name, and it got us off the interstate for the last couple hours. Crashing in a cute little motel called the Capril Motel, for $55 a night. Having a quiet night in. Seems like a cute little city, but we ain’t city folk. This is a waypoint. I’m craving Prineville.
We’re back in Prineville! I called ahead and booked our same room at the City Center Motel for three nights, still $74 a night. Got here early to check out the little museum. I love small town museums. Tonight, I’ll walk down to Crossroads for karaoke night. I wish there were a band, but that’s OK. I’ll find one soon enough.
Another great day in Prineville! Went back to that nice laundry mat and caught a brew at the same brewery where I killed time last time. Then I found the little coffee shop that’s following me on Instagram because of my Prineville posts from last year. Weather has been mild, highs in the low 50s. Not bad at all and easy to enjoy the park in.
Last day in Prineville. I’m sad to leave. Got a lot of work done then visited my new pals at the coffee shop. Caught a fancy microwave dinner at the grocery store and will enjoy popcorn and a movie in the room tonight. Chill time with my pup.
Sadly left my favorite little town this morning and made for California. Wanted a new national park to see so we went straight down for Lava Beds National Monument. Not the best terrain for Amica, but worth a look. Didn’t mean to, but ended up at another do-over town, in a do-over motel. Alturas. I was eyeballing Lassen Volcanic National Park for our next stop, and this is where the lodging is on the way. This was when I was wondering do we crawl the coast down to San Dimas or head for the mountains. I love that Pacific vista and the mountains may have dicey weather, but they drew me their way anyway. It’s cold and rainy, but we’re cozy inside a $66 room. Can’t resist grabbing at bite at the gorgeous saloon in the Hotel Niles.
Great jaunt through northern Cali today. Cold leaving Alturas this morning but warmed up into the high 50s as we went. Visited Lassen Volcanic National Park which I LOVE because it reminds me so much of Yellowstone (my favorite place in the world). Weird not visiting Yellowstone on this trip, but it’s not the thing for a little car this time of year. From there, we went right for Sacramento, where our friend Brian — whom we met in Broadus, MT during last year’s walkabout — lives. Wonderful time catching up and meeting his animals.
Beautiful day! We adventured to the beach! Point Reyes National Seashore is just north of San Fran. Temps in the 60s. Just perfect. I talked Brian into hitting a winery on the way back and we found a little place to get some seafood where we could sit outside with Ammers. She loved her day!
Another gorgeous day in the 60s. Today we just chilled at home. Spent the entire day in the yard, talking, grilling, then made a fire. It was utter peace.
Departed today and made for Yosemite. Doing another motel do-over with a cute place in Sonora, California. Brian of course yelled at me for booking a motel barely 2 hours from his house, but I really wanted to be here and also not have such a commute to Yosemite. Not super keen on the $99 a night, but when my heart is set it’s set. This evening I actually explored a bit of the town of Sonora, with its wild west mountain vibe, more than just walking Amica along the street on departure day like we did before. Got myself a nice meal in a cozy pub and talked to friendly strangers. Was a cool but not cold evening.
We went to Yosemite today!!! We were here once before, and it was well worth the stop, but it was so absolutely overrun with summer tourists we could barely move about the park. So we barely did. Today we actually got to explore and see the place, and it was a pleasant low-60s (eventually) day for it. Nature’s skyscrapers, all this landscape, and that famed waterfall hold all the magic I recall and more. Back in town, I hit up the grocery store for some supplies and treated myself to Lunchables for dinner.
Made it to Santa Clarita today. Visiting pals Daniel and Heather and their kiddos. This is the part of the trip where my taste buds are the most important. It was backyard extravaganza (temps hit the 70s!) There was steak that started sous vide and ended grilled, with a fine 2016 sonoma cab sauv. There was bourbon tasting. Angel’s Envy, then a comparison of Four Roses’ small batch and single barrel and I couldn’t choose a favorite. We smoked cigars and toasted marshmallows with kiddos Hadleigh and Devin and found planets with the telescope. Amica and I crashed in the backyard guest accommodations: they set up their tent for us so we could have at least one camp out on this near-winter adventure. A fine night of laughter and fine things.
We arrived today at my bestie’s place in San Dimas! I got there early so Brianna and Amica and I could head right out on a crazy jaunt to Joshua Tree National Park, while listening to Joshua Tree of course. We came home to wild little Benjamin and dear hubby Andrew who tended to the little guy all day while we were adventuring. We did make it home while still daylight and cozy sweater weather. I heartily scored us some Mexican takeout to go with the juice of the cacti that Brianna and I love to share. It’s so great to be back in my Cali home with my Cali fam.
Another gorgeous day! We’ve had highs near 70. Today was a bunch of running around to get ready for the Thanksgiving feast, plus a lot of doing what is dictated by a three-year-old: the playground, Sesame Street, wrecking things, but only around the house. He was a champ as we bounced around to different grocery stores. Tomorrow is not just Thanksgiving, but it’s also taco night.
We. Loved. Today. It was a wild outdoor Thanksgiving party, blending Brianna’s local family with Andrew’s local family, at Andrew’s mom’s magical tiered garden in Rancho Cucamonga. There was a full spread of all the Thanksgiving traditional food, in its best forms, plus a brilliant taco bar, because Thursdays here are usually taco night. We spent the day, and by the time everyone was on their thirds, such concoctions as turkey-mashed-potato-guacamole tacos were going down and no one’s pants were buttoned. We gave up on keeping the children’s even on. Amica almost got tired of begging. Almost. Brianna was a champ and brought along her guitar which I begged for and enchanted us with her divine gift, fireside. We all made up stories about past lives in the wild west and Brianna and I then made an ungainly effort to croon out some ballads about our characters. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever felt warmer.
Poor Brianna had to go in to work a few hours today. Andrew and I spent the time recovering from the feast and child-wrangling. Amica is so exhausted I keep checking to make sure she’s breathing. When Brianna got home, we assembled leftovers into absurd creations reminiscent of last night’s third-helping crossovers. After Benjamin went to bed, we went outside and talked way later thank our exhaustion wanted, but it was the last night of the visit, and we wanted to soak up a few more memories and wring out a few more stories. We did so wearing blankets on the lawn.
The terrible sad departure. It always feels impossible. But off we went. We are aiming for Nebraska, but I couldn’t stomach the drove across the Mojave, through Vegas. So we went up route 395 and it was heart-wrenching to skirt so close by my beloved Sequoias and not stop for a visit, but they were on the other side of the mountain. Our stopping point, Bishop, is just south of where we began 395 before, so it was cool to pick up more of this great road. Decent cool day. In the 60s, but getting very cold for the night. We are crashing at an unremarkable Motel 6 for $85. Highlight of the day was having enough daylight left to explore Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site. Wrapping up with a lazy night watching mediocre television.
Got up early today, noticing our route can take us right to Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, where we’ve never been! The high temps here are decent (around 50), but single digits overnight! What a wild place. Loved Great Basin. Like other magical places, it was just an impossible, so-different landscape, like a desert-mountain hybrid. Like I said, impossible. Backtracked a touch and stayed at the adorable Magnuson Hotel, which is a classic-style motel like we love, in Ely. $82 included the pet fee. Lovely day with favorite things.
Another one! Today we got up early so we could make Arches National Park in Utah! This one I’ve been to before, on a great adventure 16 years ago, but it’s new to Amica. The route suits us because I want to be on an interstate to summit the Rockies. It’s safest for this little car. Arches was just as breathtaking as I remember it. The arches, yes, but also those towering sheer walls of red rock. They surely touch heaven. Cool high temps, freezing lows, but not as forbidding as Nevada. We stayed at the Expedition Lodge – $73 and it was so neat! Reminds me of a trendy Euro hostel but it’s in an old motor lodge setup. I did sneak over to the Moab Brewery for dinner. Great memories. Too bad the cute motel across the street is gone.
Decided to stay over in Moab again to properly enjoy this cute little town. Popped back into the park first thing in the morning to do a lazy short hike. Then I explored the shops and did some Christmas shopping. Found a grocery store for supplies and microwave dinner. Back at the motel, I did a little bit of work, then had a nice night in, movie-surfing, with my nuked entree and cheap wine chased with popcorn and hot cocoa.
All the way into and nearly through Colorado today. I’d aimed for Sterling, straight through on I-70, but I just couldn’t stomach this way through my beloved Rockies. Keeping an eye on the weather, it’s clear, and it’s been clear, so I am confident taking my little car off the highway into these elevations. I just have to. We landed in Hot Sulphur Springs at another new favorite: the Canyon Motel. It’s got the pine board panel walls and everything. $102 with the pet fee. Amica must get a job when we get home.
And I returned to Rocky Mountain National Park! It is THE Rockies!! Amica’s first time, and she was quite thrilled with the smells and our short walks. The tundra wasn’t her favorite. Sharing hot dogs was her favorite. I had to have a hot dog and hot cocoa like I did on my first visit here … yes, 16 years ago. The Rodeway Inn in Brush, Colorado was a nice little motel for the night that we bagged for $72 including the pet fee! I went ahead and booked for two nights even though I have no idea what this town looks like in daylight. We had a big day. I have work to do. And it’s time again for a no-drive day.
We’ve been staying reasonably within the 20-50 degree low-high range these past few days in Colorado. Not terrible. It was a pleasant day to just rest and do work and go out for a few smells. I got plenty of writing done. In the late afternoon, we took a stroll down their historic small-town Main Street and I got some photos and then I went uncultural and hit the McDonald’s drive thru for a hot motel room feast. Amica got her own burger.
Today we went for Nebraska and bagged Amica’s 46th state as minimally as we got Florida. We swung through the corner and stopped at a Methodist church parking lot in Haigler where she peed and smelled things. I considered heading for some of the little towns I did comedy in back in the day, but Nebraska ain’t that fancy and I saw on the map some adventuring in western Kansas. Into Kansas, in a pleasant 50+ degree day, and we got state number 47 for her and landed in Dodge City. Found the Regency Inn, a classic cinder-block wall motor in trying its best and a pleasant $59 including the pet fee. This is totally our jam. Tomorrow, we’re going to see what this place is all about.
Today we played in Dodge City! Really cool old Wild West mockup town. Always soothing to find these spots after I leave my Rockies behind. Was a pleasant sunny day in the low 50s, pretty perfect for sightseeing and sniffing. Then it was time to get out of Dodge (sorry, had to do that), and we pressed into northern Oklahoma, which made me long for the Texas panhandle but we need to keep moving forward. We settled for a humbling Econo Lodge in Bartlesville, but it’ll do for $68. Tomorrow, we achieve the trip objective, and we shall celebrate!
We did it we did it we did it! Amica has now been to all 48 contiguous states! We found a tiny house to rent for three nights at $93 a night in Mountain View, just a few miles north from downtown. It’s in boring regular neighborhood, but it’s got a yard and a fire pit and it’ll be our home for the celebration. It’s been days since I’ve been “out,” but here I do just want to spend every moment with my best friend. I went to the grocery store and got us what we need to be moved in here for a couple days. I even picked up a paperback romantic suspense novel because I refuse to turn on the TV in this little spot. Easy microwave dinner for me tonight because I’m exhausted. I can’t wait to sleep in the loft bed!
Ozark exploration day! After a yummy breakfast cooked on the hot plate, we set off for Ozark National Forest and made our way back to Buffalo National River, a stunning flow of life alongside a constant cliff. Were I with a human companion, I’d love to float and spelunk. But I was elated enough to drive and see and smell with my bestie. It’s been another fine sunny day in the low 50s. We stopped in town on the way back home where I picked up a coffee and a scone to go from a quaint cafe, then spent some fabulous time reading and lounging before dinner. For dinner, we had our celebratory steaks and wine.
A very chill day today. Lazy morning at the house, catching up on a little work and a little writing. Then we sniffed around the little park in town. I found a chai tea and poked into a shop for a trinket to commemorate our accomplishment. Back home I started our supper quite early so we could gorge ourselves throughout the evening. I made a small fire and cooked us hotdogs and we had a full picnic: pasta salad, chips and dip, macaroni and cheese. Amica only got nibbles because of her finicky intestines, but I spoiled her best I could. Bread is perhaps her favorite food anyway. Before the fire died, I made Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup s’mores (Amica got graham crackers), paired with red wine. We wrapped up the night exploring the property, and surely others’, stargazing, and chatting (albeit a little one-sided) about the gratitudes of this adventure.
Pushing home now. Just did some serious driving and made it to Elizabethtown, Kentucky for the night. A tolerable Super 8 for $70. Been salvaging some leftovers from Arkansas all day. Amica and I are both tired and it’s time for a lazy mediocre television night. These are the good ol’ times, too.
Tonight’s stop is Elkins, West Virginia. This is just a long way back and this is as far as I wanted to go today. We made but one stop and now we’re here in the Colonial Hotel-Motel, which is an absolute classic dive roadside motel and I love it. $90 for us both. It’s cold here … in the 30s. Before dark I snuck out to see what this town looks like. I performed comedy at the college 18 or 19 years ago but have no memory of this place other than the professor who sat in the middle of the audience and didn’t crack a smile the entire show. It’s a cool college town, and I treated myself to a human last hurrah at the brewery. Amica forgave me when I brought her a doggie bag and braved the cold for extra sniffs. Some final motel TV time now.
And that’s a wrap! Unremarkable drive home, except we did make a nice little stop at Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland, since we were driving right by. Pretty much a lake recreation spot, but Amica said it had nice smells.
This “Mockabout” was an idea I cooked up in the thick of the pandemic and was looking forward to for a couple months while I waited for what would be a semi-accurate departure date. (If the pandemic hadn’t shut down all my in-person speaking gigs, I might have gotten out as early as November 1 since October, being Disability Awareness Month, is my prime time.)
When the day to begin at last came, I was immediately struck with how much of a chore this thing was going to be. On November 1, I was BUSY. And I’ve been busy. The pandemic has had an opposite effect on me than it has on many. I’m keeping up with the threads of my business while I’ve had to take on a full time job to make ends meet, a job where I go to a place of business every day, and the toll it’s all taking on my fibromyalgia consumes even more hours.
If I had hours to kill and daydream, it could have been super pleasant to virtually explore the roads, the little towns. But it all felt pretty dashed off, to be honest, and I didn’t much enjoy the work.
Motel seeking was my least favorite. It was tedious to look if a town had motels, what they were, if they were pet friendly, what the pet fees were. It was research. No fun. And it was entirely opposite what I’d really do, which is start looking for a motel at a certain time and drive through towns, popping in and asking pet policies and pricing (maybe ask to see the room itself), until I found a place that would suit. That’s usually very fun, and totally impossible on a mockabout.
Pet fees really add up, man. But I knew that already.
I think underneath it all, I was also sad that I was pretending to do what’s impossible. Not just now, because of the pandemic and all, but ever. Who knows when this thing is going to let up, when I’ll be back in business well enough to not have to work on the side?
Meanwhile, my old dog is aging. A lot. The way she’s been lately, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this even if we leave next week.
I didn’t see that coming when I thought of this whole thing months ago; it went from a beautiful hope to a reminder of loss. Which is the last thing any of us needs right now.
I myself will get back to the Rockies. I must. I learned on this Mockabout that while summer may have the other tourists around, it’s an ideal travel time because those mountains get COLD, and I can’t hit the back roads that I love so much when they’re iced over. I think May would be a great time. Before schools let out. So, late spring. I’m glad I tracked the weather on this.
Plus, daylight. It’s best to travel when the daylight lasts longer. More time to be out to play. And if I’m being really honest, I’ll say I don’t care to drive after dark anymore. It’s hard for me to see. Oh, and then there’s safety, at rest areas and whatnot.
I’m not sorry I did this. There were some moments I got caught up in it and it was the fun I wanted it to be. Like, maybe I will breeze through Kansas after all because the plains museums and such look neat. Also, it intensified my itch to go play in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan because there’s a lot of cool stuff up there! And it made for fun texting with pals, brainstorming what we’d pretend to do that day. I really made Brianna’s day with what I came up with for our Thanksgiving (while she warmed my soul with her Joshua Tree themed day).
It’s even a good record for budget purposes, for whatever adventures may be ahead. I have the expenses of my first walkabout, and I recorded prices on this. I’m not going to total up the motel costs and miles and fuel costs for this blog. I was going to, but like I said, this thing has been enough work already.
Mockabout with caution, dear friends. Mockabout with caution.