Air conditioner noises, adventures in camping, and lots of lakes

Miles driven: 364.8
Pages read: 305
Fish caught: 1

Today we got down to the real business of this road trip: fishing and reading. It was also the day we worked out some kinks.

Last night we pulled in to the camp site we had just reserved with the park ranger to find someone with a tent pitched very close. That didn’t really bother me until it got dark, when a myriad of noises started to come from there. The worse was the snoring at 2 a.m. I was already not sleeping well because I forgot a pillow and my body is foreign to the concept of sleeping outside on the ground. Snoring was not something I had anticipated having to deal with and I had almost resigned myself to only three hours of sleep when I remembered the white noise app on my phone. Once again it was only at 1% (I really need to start charging it more in the car) but it had proven itself already on this trip so I put the air conditioning sounds on loud right next to my ear and crossed my fingers. Apparently it worked because even though I woke up to a dead phone, that was not until 6 a.m. I didn’t think about it until just now, but I’m sure if my dad would have been there he would have appreciated the irony of playing air conditioning sounds to lull yourself to sleep while camping in a park.

We got up early and went in search of a place to get Noah a Minnesota fishing license. This is definitely something we should have done last night, but like I said we’re still working out the kinks. With the help of the kind Minnesotan and my phone whose signal was constantly going in and out, we eventually found our way and made it back so Noah could do some fishing and I could do some reading. We made a successful morning of it: Noah caught his first fish of the trip and I read the first 100 pages of my book.

The river was right by our campsite and met all my requirements for a good reading spot in nature: beautiful and shady.

After that we went back to camp, had lunch, and packed up. Let me take a moment to admit my own inexperience: I have never, in my life, camped outside someone’s backyard. But I don’t do hotels on road trips and I don’t know anyone who lives in this part of the country, so here we are. Of course I also have Noah to be in charge of all things associated with camping. He taught me how to pitch my tent last night and how to pack it up today. He explained that when rolling up your tent, it’s important to keep things airtight. I followed his instructions to the letter, but when I got it all rolled up I noticed something odd. Turns out I had rolled it up airtight…right around a water bottle.

But it was hot and I just couldn’t face unrolling it all and starting over, so there it stayed.

First stop after we left camp was to find the first Target or Walmart and get all the supplies I didn’t know we would need until after actually camping for a night. Also so Noah could get some soap.

I had been looking forward to this day because it was supposed to only be a 3.5 hour drive from Minneapolis, MN to Fargo, ND. I was very disappointed when I put it in my GPS and realized that since we were camping on the northeast side of Minneapolis and several miles west of Fargo, it would actually be almost 5 hours. But we powered through and eventually made it. While checking our directions, I noticed that they really weren’t kidding when they called Minnesota the land of 10,000 lakes.

I was excited about the campsite near Fargo because it was very close to the interstate. Turns out that’s very true…as the bird flies. As the car drives, it was more like five miles on gravel/dirt farm roads. I was really starting to worry there would be nothing at the end of it. When we got there it finally dawned on me that this was one of the free campsites I had found using the website my sister recommended. Then everything made a lot more sense. It was a gorgeous spot and we had it all to ourselves:

The lack of running water was a bit of a bummer, but it was definitely worth it considering we got all that for free!

Noah worked very hard on getting a fire started with limited kindling and we made some delicious brats and s’mores over the fire. I even got the chance to finish my book before going to sleep.

Tomorrow we’re going to cross most of North Dakota, spend the night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and see the North Dakota Badlands. I can’t wait!

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“Very hot” temperatures, cheese curds, and soap

Miles driven: 406.4

This morning we slept in a bit and started out after a hearty breakfast made by our host. Before we left I checked the weather and noticed that Chicago has quite a different definition of “very hot” compared to southern Illinois:

We had another somewhat long driving day today as we planned to make it all the way through Wisconsin and camp the night near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We stopped in Madison, Wisconsin and after a little googling Noah found the perfect lunch spot right by the capitol building. I was especially excited to try some cheese curds. Except the restaurant was closed for Memorial Day. And so was the next one. And so was the next one. At least I got to appreciate the capitol building from all angles as we walked around and around the square.At one point I was seriously considering asking the insurance office we passed by if they might consider making me some cheese curds. Eventually we found the one open place and I enjoyed my fried cheese curds immensely.After that it was Noah’s shift to drive and he got to experience all the frustrations that come with interstate driving: semis trying to pass other semis while going up hill, cars that simply CANNOT pick a speed, and traffic jams that begin just as suddenly as they end with no apparent cause in sight. If you remember from yesterday, he had not driven on the interstate since driver’s ed.It did not take him long to learn my ways. Before long I heard him warning other drivers: “don’t do it!” if they looked like they might cut him off and “this is the third time you’ve made me lose my cruise!” in the exact scolding tone I use. When he manages to give the perfect half second glare at slow drivers as he passes them on the right, we will know the student has become the master.My old car also hit a milestone today: 150,000 miles. This is the car that has been on two previous road trips across the country with me, so we have it down to an art by now.We finally made it to our campsite, the first of the trip. I turned away for one minute and Noah already had the fire going:

“Look, I’m Grandpa Wayne!”He followed that impressive moment by asking me for a bar of soap so he could take a shower. Because apparently he didn’t think he needed to pack SOAP for a 13 day road/camping trip. It’s currently 10 p.m. and he is in my car with the engine running so he can charge his phone. Every 30 seconds or so, I hear him revving the engine a few times. I’m sure when he gets back he will have a very legitimate reason why he needed to do so.Tomorrow we’re hoping to start the fishing/reading part of the trip so hopefully I’ll have pics for you tomorrow of beautiful scenery and big fish!

Update: His explanation was quite logical.

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Megan and Noah’s Epic Road Trip Across America begins!

Miles driven: 438.5

About five or six years ago I had stopped in my hometown on one of my road trips and was talking to my oldest nephew, who was around 11 at the time. He said he wanted to go on a road trip and I told him I would take him on one when his parents said he was old enough. Turns out the magic age was the summer after he turned 16, which seemed a very long time away at that point. I agreed without much hope that he would still want to go when he was that age.

But here we are! Happily Noah is one of the few who went from good kid to good teenager. Since he’s always been a nature lover, I figured long ago that we would hit some of those states that I have never been to in all my travels: Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and, if we got really daring, all the way to Idaho. This is the basic route I came up with:

My preparations for this trip have been a little different from previous ones, when I spent an extensive amount of time planning the route and a minuscule amount of time thinking about what stuff I would need to bring. Instead of just jumping in the car with Cecily and figuring she had any bases covered that I didn’t, I had to be the Responsible Aunt. I thought about everything I thought we would need and then I pretended to be my mother and thought about everything she would think we would need. I bought snacks, I bought sunscreen, I bought bug spray. Guys…I bought a first aid kit. Now that’s some extreme responsibility right there! Noah’s contribution turned out to be a boatload of fishing supplies and a bag of Swedish fish.

We set out for Day 1 around 8 a.m. and Noah took the first shift so that I would be the one doing the driving when we got near Chicago. As we were pulling out, he informed me that this would be the first time he had driven on the interstate since driver’s ed.

The five hour drive to Chicago went well, with Noah talking about the cool cars we drove by and the different kinds of fish he planned on catching and me trying to decide when would be the best time to spring on him my surprise plans for our evening. Before we left I told Noah we would be passing through Chicago on our way and asked him what he wanted to do there. Turns out he had absolutely no interest in the city. My favorite thing to do in a city is see a play or musical, so I decided to see what was playing. I was absolutely shocked by the perfection that I discovered.

You see, I now teach high school English in my hometown and somehow Noah ended up having me as a teacher this year. The very last unit we did was Macbeth and the whole time I was telling the kids that Shakespeare was meant to be seen and experienced, not just read. Noah tried to convince me that we should therefore just watch the movie version and skip all this reading nonsense, but I persisted in trying to make the words come alive.

So you can imagine my intense delight when I discovered that Macbeth was playing at the Chicago Shakespeare theater on the day we would be there.

Fast forward to halfway through Day 1 and I off-handedly mentioned that we might want to eat an early lunch because we were probably going to be eating an early dinner. “There’s one thing I want you to do with me in the city at 6:30” I said.

“Okay” he said just as off-handedly. And then there was a pause as he realized the trap he had just walked into. “…wait…what is it?”

As I told him his face took on a look of grim acceptance of the inevitable.

We received a fantastic welcome from our cousins who live near Chicago. We arrived to their home and feasted on delicious homemade Mexican food and enjoyed catching up and spending some time with one another.

Then Noah and I were off to the city. Before we left my cousin asked if we knew how to get back and I gave my staple answer: “I have a phone, I’ll be fine.” Fateful words. I forgot my phone charger at their house and after taking the scenic route down Lake Shore Drive on the way to the theater, I had 10% battery remaining. But while on a road trip I don’t really worry about stuff like navigating through Chicago at night without GPS until it’s happening so I just settled in to enjoy the show.

Noah asked me how long it was and when I said two and a half hours he gave me that classic smirk all the men in my family make and said “well looks like I’m about to have a two and a half hour nap!” I just smiled because I had just read (yes, I do read the entire program as soon as I sit down to any play) that the famous magician Teller was the co-director of the production and I knew we were in for quite a show.

We were not disappointed. People were disappearing on stage and even when we watched closely we still couldn’t tell how they did it. The witches were watching everything from above and creating a really eerie tone the whole time, along with Hecate who was the drummer hanging out a few dozen feet above the stage. Of course I loved every single second, but even Noah enjoyed it! At some point he stopped just humoring me and actually got into it, something he would not have been able to do if he hadn’t spent nine weeks learning about the story and the characters. So basically my life is complete.

After the show Noah had to keep reminding me that he can’t weave through a crowd like I can. He doesn’t like crowds because he’s bigger than everyone but he’s too nice to make use of that. His nature is just too full of the milk of human kindness (Macbeth reference for the win!).

So we left and began our own adventure: navigating through unfamiliar Chicago streets at night with a phone at 1%! I had taken screenshots of the directions so we started following the signs for the interstate we wanted and they took us weaving through the city. Then we got on the interstate without knowing just how long we should be on it. Every time I started to decide we had gone too far, up popped another sign or the next road that we needed. Every time Noah unlocked my phone to look at the next set of directions, I thought that would be the time that my phone was dead. Somehow we managed to navigate through several downtown streets, two interstates, and five suburban streets and find our way home without getting lost and with my phone battery still on 1%.

I went to bed feeling quite victorious.

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Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin

We took it easy today with a short trip south to a small town called Bray. After exploring the beach for a bit, we took the opportunity to dip our toes in this side of the Atlantic.

After returning to Dublin, I managed to find a bus that took us directly to our hotel at the airport, which brought me joy on numerous levels. In addition to making my feet happy, I successfully demonstrated my serious map skills and got to experience the pleasure of not having to pay for a cab. It’s the little things.

In honor of our last day in Ireland, we have composed a list of things we will miss about traveling on the Emerald Isle (spoiler: there’s a lot of food involved) and a list of things we will not.

Things we will miss about traveling in Ireland

  • People who are always friendly, happy, and welcoming to tourists
  • Beautiful scenery every time you turn your head
  • Sausage
  • Pain au chocolat (or whatever they call it in Ireland)
  • The history
  • Hop House 13 beer
  • Amazing local music
  • Blue raspberry bon bons (I am so addicted)
  • Trains that are efficient, clean, and go everywhere
  • Having someone knowledgeable and fun organize every detail of your daily activities for you (we love you Dara!)
  • Having good conversation with fellow travelers
  • The accent (especially when they don’t pronounce the letter h in th – there’s no way you can keep a straight face when listening to an Irish person say 33 and 1/3)
  • The 40 shades of green (and tour guides who repeat this phrase over and over) and all the beautiful flowers

Things we will not miss about traveling in Ireland

  • Getting rained on at least once a day (yes, we realize you couldn’t have the 40 shades of green without all that rain, but still!)
  • Individual faucets for hot and cold water
  • Having to leave your hotel key card in a slot by the door to make the lights work
  • Diet Coke that is half the size but costs more than a beer
  • Having to wear the same clothes over and over

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Ireland and hello to family and friends, showers that we know how to work, doors we know how to lock and unlock, the best pup ever, Papa Johns pizza, and a closet full of clothes.

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Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, and a rope bridge

We’re nearing the end of the trip now but instead of taking it easy we decided to maximize our time and take a 13+ hour day trip to northern Ireland. We had to meet the bus a few blocks away from our hotel in Dublin at 7 a.m. Worth it!

Our first stop after crossing into northern Ireland was the city of Belfast. There were two options but we decided to do a black taxi historic tour of the city. What stuck with us the most is how divided the city still is after having a cease fire for almost 20 years. I say a cease fire, because several of the locals call it that instead of peace. With all the memories of violence, with all the tall “peace” walls separating the nationalist catholic communities and the loyalist protestant communities, it’s still an unfinished peace. But considering that during the peak of the Troubles there were an average of six bombs going off per day, it’s a vast improvement. The whole city is filled with memorial murals commemorating those lost on both sides of the conflict.

After we got underway again and headed north, we got a glimpse of the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which was used to film the House of Greyjoy from Game of Thrones.

Then we went to Giant’s Causeway. Before we got there we had absolutely no idea what it was and after we got there we still didn’t know. Local myth says that Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) built the causeway because he didn’t want to get his feet wet traveling to Scotland, which is only a dozen or so miles away. We later found it was caused by an ancient volcanic eruption. All we really knew at the time was that it was so uniquely beautiful.

Our last stop was at Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Mom decided to opt out of this walk and it was probably a good thing because Rick Steves would definitely have classified it as quite strenuous. By the time I got back to the coffee shop where Mom was waiting for me, the phone I carried said I had walked 23 flights of stairs in the last hour. The funny thing is my phone’s memory was full and I was carrying Mom’s to take photos, so she gets the credit!

The views were definitely worth the hike though:

Tomorrow is our last full day in Ireland so we’re planning on taking it pretty easy, starting with sleeping in.

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Graves, a great guide, and goodbyes

Somehow we managed to have a lovely day today surrounded by death. Mom just told me I shouldn’t start with that because people will be worried that she died, but I’m confident you all know that I probably wouldn’t be blogging at that point. Probably.

We started by touring the most ancient structure either one of us has ever seen. This site predates the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. It is called Brú na Bóinne and was a passage grave built during the Neolithic period around 3,000 BC. The passage of one side is aligned with the sunrise on the spring equinox and the other side is aligned with the sunset on the fall equinox.

It was so impressive to peer down that passage and know that it was built by people living 5,000 years ago. We know they took honoring their dead very seriously, if only because it would have taken them three generations just to build it. This was before the invention of the wheel or any iron tools, but their design has stood the test of time.


Nobody has any idea how to interpret all the artwork carved on the stones lining the mound, but I’m a fan of squiggly lines in any form.

At this point I have to stop and compliment our Rick Steve’s tour guide, Dara. He has been amazing with every detail this whole trip and has really gone above and beyond. In addition to being our tour guide, at one time or another he has been our waiter, bartender, crossing guard, historian, travel agent, busboy, and anything else we needed him to be.

Today Dara really took one for the team. The way the Brú na Bóinne site works is you go to their little visitor center and then are bussed to the site. The buses only hold 24 people and that is the exact number of people in our group. So today as we were all taking our sweet time getting back from the site, he was standing in line for us to catch the return bus. Our schedule was a bit tight so we needed to get back there as soon as possible so that we could all get a quick bite to eat and get back to our coach. When the bus got there a few of us got on and then a group of Asians who had been milling around tried to get on as well. He very politely told them the next bus would be there in a few minutes but this bus was for his group. The bus driver backed him up because everyone in the entire country, but especially those in the tourism industry, know Dara (most seem to be related to him in one way or another). What I have described doesn’t seem that heroic until you consider that once we all got on there wasn’t room for him on the bus so he had to wait for the next one and ride it with all the people that he had just prevented from boarding! Now that’s a tour guide you want in your corner.

After lunch we headed to Glasnevin Cemetery, the burial site for some of Ireland’s most famous people of more modern times. It was founded in 1832 by Daniel O’Connell, who is a big hero to the Irish people for his peaceful work to abolish the penal laws that prevented Irish Catholics from getting an education, owning land, voting, practicing their religion, being buried with a Catholic ceremony, and much more. Also buried there is Michael Collins, who many know from the movie was a key figure in the Irish struggle for independence during the early 20th century.


One small section of the cemetery, with the tall monument over Daniel O’Connell’s grave in the center.


The tomb of Daniel O’Connell. There are small peepholes on the sides and apparently it is good luck to touch his casket.


Much of Daniel O’Connell’s family is buried with him but because the caskets are lead-lined, they are too heavy for most shelving. The only thing possible would be to take out one of the caskets to make room for heavy-duty shelving, so instead they chose to simply stack the caskets on top of one another.

After another delicious shared meal, we were sad to say goodbye to our Rick Steve’s group. They were a great group of people to share this amazing experience with.

Tomorrow we are in for a very long and hopefully very enjoyable day trip up to northern Ireland. Everyone cross your fingers that we can sleep through the sounds of Dublin tonight because it’s going to be an early start tomorrow!


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The library, the gaol, and the gelato

It was an 18,985 step day for me today as we spent it exploring all over Dublin. First we had a walking tour that took us from our hotel, down the main street of O’Connell, to Trinity College, through the Temple Bar district, over to City Hall, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and finally to Dublin Castle. And that was just the morning.

I really enjoyed our local tour guide and several of the stories he had to tell about the history of the city and its people, but my favorite stop was most definitely the Trinity Library. The Book of Kells was cool, but the Long Room upstairs…wow. It reminded me a lot of the Library of Congress, one of my favorite places in DC, but even more rich with history.

Having a library with a rolling ladder just like this one is a big life goal for me.

Next we took a taxi over to Kilmainham Gaol, a historic prison on the outskirts of the city. It was built in 1796 and designed to be a new sort of prison, where prisoners were no longer held in large rooms with little to no supervision. Still, the conditions were designed to make the prisoners want to reform their ways so they would never have to come back. That meant being locked in a room by yourself in complete silence with nothing besides a candle, a blanket, and a bucket. Those times were interspersed with hard labor. They had no special allowances for children during this time period – a 5-year-old boy served several months in the prison for theft.

These deterrents became less effective during the potato famine in the 1840s, when people would commit a crime just so they could get sent to prison and have the promise of two meals a day. Later on they built this more modern addition:

Then after the Easter Rising in 1916, 14 of the Irish rebel leaders were taken to the prison and executed, including James Connolly who was already dying of gangrene from a bullet wound in the leg and had to be tied to a chair before he was shot by the firing squad. Before this the Irish people had generally not supported the rebellion, but after this brutal response by the British, that changed. Many people have told us that this was one of the key moments in recent Irish history and it was what ultimately lead to Irish independence. Our tour guide for the prison was so good – full of gravitas and always pausing for reflection.

This is where James Connolly was tied to a chair and killed.

On a completely unrelated side note, I wanted to give all of you a demonstration of Irish water conservation efforts. Everywhere we go, in one form or another, there are two options for how to flush the toilet. This is an example from Kilmainham Gaol:

Sometimes they symbolize it with a number 1 and number 2, sometimes it is big and little circle, but they always get their message across quite clearly.

After the prison tour, we took the bus back downtown and Mom elected to take a break at the hotel. I decided to venture over to a few museums, including the National Museum – Archeology, the National Library, and the National Gallery. The highlights for me were an exhibit on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and a Monet painting I hadn’t seen before.

I also walked by this random piece of street art. I have no idea what it represents or signifies, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Finally we ended the evening with some ridiculously good gelato that is just down the street from our hotel.

I may actually go to bed early tonight!


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