Tuesday, September 1, 2015

vacations with Calla and James.

This summer has been busier than any summer in my recent memory – including the summer where I got married and bought a house within weeks of each other. I don’t know what the deal was with 2015, but shit just went crazy. But crazy in a good way. There was always something to do and somewhere to go, and every spare minute was accounted for.

Never fear, though: James and I made time for plenty of road trips.

It’s no secret that James and I love a good vacation. Most of our vacations are also road trips, and summer is prime road trip season. And since James is a teacher, summer is about the only option for trips anyway.

Traveling weather in Minnesota is a precious commodity, and I want to take full advantage of it. If I had my way, we’d be gone every single spring, summer, and fall weekend. But between me working weekends and James beseeching me to let us stay home once in a while, we don’t get to go on a road trip every weekend. Sigh.

Our little vacations also tend to be limited to long-weekend road trips because let’s face it – we’re not made of money. Road trips are cheap, and plane tickets are expensive. Though I get intensely jealous of the fancy overseas vacations I see pop up in my Facebook news feed, I must remind myself that James and I have done a fair bit of traveling ourselves. Most of it on four wheels.

James and I have been together for more than eight years, and in that time, we’ve put on a lot of miles. It’s worth noting that most of these road trips were taken in the last three years. Allow me to explain why:

2007 – 2009: both of us were in college. College = broke. We managed trips home to see our parents and the rare getaway to Minneapolis, but that was about it.
early 2010: a combination of me working a zillion part-time jobs plus unpaid internships alongside James student teaching meant no time/money for anything, let alone vacation.
late 2010 - 2011: James moved to Ellsworth and I stayed in Minneapolis. Several months later, I moved to Sioux Falls. James was still in Ellsworth, about an hour away. During that time of the dreaded long-distance relationship, most resources/energy were spent driving between each other’s apartments.
2012 – present: our circumstances finally coincided in a way that they never had before: we were living together AND had stable jobs! Hooray!

So it’s taken us a long time to get here, but we are finally checking locations off our “to visit” list. Before we begin, I must tell you how a place earns a spot on my esteemed list. Each place had to be a location we spent some real time in, not just somewhere we drove through on the way to somewhere else. Example: James and I went through Wyoming to and from Colorado, but you won’t see Wyoming on our list because we didn’t do anything there. I also allowed separate stops from one long road trip to be listed on their own. Example: we went to Winnipeg for our honeymoon, but we made actual stops in Fargo, International Falls, Duluth, and Minneapolis. You will see each of those sites on my list.

We have explored a number of towns near us, but not all of those made it onto our list. Pipestone, Sioux Falls, Brookings, Mitchell (to see the Corn Palace, obviously), Worthington… though we found great stuff to do in all of those towns (especially you, Brookings), they just didn’t have the feel of a road trip. You know what I mean.

Anyway. Each of our trips really deserves a full blog post to itself: mainly because our adventures always tend to morph into misadventures. Someday I’ll have an elaborate story for each one, but today, a little list and a little blurb will have to suffice. Here, state by state, is a breakdown of our trips (road or otherwise) over the years!

James and I took a truly fantastic road trip to Colorado in August of this year. James – having never been to Colorado save for one twelve-hour stint where he flew to Denver and then drove back to South Dakota with me the next day – loved it. And honestly, who wouldn’t? Colorado has mountains, streams and rivers, forests, breweries, and great people. We can hardly wait to go back.

James and I visited our college friend Sara in Boulder, and she took us biking in downtown Boulder, hiking, and rock-climbing. We had never been rock-climbing before and spent a few moments convinced we were going to die, but we totally didn’t. We felt like we were at the top of the world.

Colorado Springs
My cousins Royal and Lori live near Colorado Springs, so we stopped to visit them. They are Rocky Mountain National Park pros, so they gave us all sorts of insider tips for our trip there. We also wandered through Garden of the Gods, which was as fantastic as its name implies. Next time on our Colorado Springs to-do list: Pike’s Peak.

Fort Collins
I put our Colorado stops in alphabetical order, so they’re not in chronological order. Fort Collins was our first stop on the Colorado tour, and we saw my cousins Adrienne and Greta and their families. James and I camped at a KOA in Fort Collins – my first positive experience camping in a tent – and went white water rafting on the Cache le Poudre (which was easily my favorite part of the whole trip). We wandered around downtown Fort Collins that afternoon, and we both felt like we really REALLY wanted to move there.

Brian and Laurie, my uncle and aunt, live in Golden. We visited them and, of course, went on a tour of the Coors Brewery. We also went on an ill-fated whitewater kayaking attempt that involved me capsizing and very nearly losing my kayak in Clear Creek. Oops.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was truly amazing. James and I had intended to spend a couple of hours there and then head on our way home, but our couple of hours turned into many hours. How could they not? We drove/hiked up to 12,000 feet. We saw a moose and alpine lakes. We got our picture taken at the Continental Divide. We saw the sun set over the mountains. Nothing can compare.

Even though we technically live closer to Iowa than we do to South Dakota, James and I both kind of forget that Iowa is even there. I go to South Dakota for work every day, so that’s what I’ll blame… but James teaches in Ellsworth, a town in which one of its borders is literally (and I don’t use the word “literally” lightly) feet from the Iowa border. We have only made a handful of trips to Iowa, and here’s hoping we’ll stop neglecting our neighbor state so much.

Le Mars
We went to Le Mars just for Blue Bunny ice cream. Honest to God.

Okoboji/Spirit Lake
It was Memorial Day weekend, and I had driven from the cities to spend my long weekend with James. He had just wrapped up his first year teaching in Ellsworth, and I was searching for a job closer to him. We spent one of our three days touring Iowa – we wanted to go to Lake Okoboji, as we’d heard it was a magical and wonderful place. But guess what? We totally failed. All we found at Lake Okoboji was a tiny little patch of beach. As it turned out, the rest of the beaches were private. We subsequently gave up and went to Spirit Lake instead, which was friendlier.

Orange City
James’s band marches in the Orange City Tulip Festival every year, and I usually can’t go. They march on a Friday, which tends to be a work day. However, this year, I worked on Saturday and therefore had Friday off. Mom and I went to Orange City to see James march, and the Tulip Festival was nothing short of fantastic. We looked at glorious tulips, saw a wooden shoe carving demonstration, had street food, watched the parade (which some of the most spectacular floats I’ve ever seen), and ate poffertjes (little Dutch pancake things). Poor James missed all the fun stuff because he was on-duty, so he and I went back the following weekend so he could see Orange City. The tulips were a little wilted by then, and most of the stores were closed for the weekend, but we still got to see Windmill Park.

Sioux City
Our Sioux City road trip stands as our ultimate failure. I had just moved to Sioux Falls, and James and I decided that we wanted to see what Sioux City was all about. Neither of us had ever been there, and it was so close. Why not? We got there and promptly found… nothing. Just nothing. We saw the Floyd Monument and the Argosy riverboat casino (which is no longer there) and could find nothing else to do. We even stopped at a gas station for recommendations on good Sioux City food, and were given suggestions such as Taco Bell and Perkins (“or there’s Olive Garden if you want to spend some big money”). We ended up crossing the border into Nebraska to eat at the Crystal Café.

Where do I even begin?

New Orleans

James and I first visited in 2008 on a college jazz trip, and I absolutely fell in love with New Orleans. I lived there for three months at the end of 2009, and James and I went back at the end of 2013 for our honeymoon. We ate so much delightful food, and we spent our days wandering the French Quarter. We rode around on street cars and met all sorts of delightful southerners. We went on a riverboat tour and rang in the new year by watching fireworks lit off a barge on the Mississippi River. New Orleans feels like home.

MANITOBA (yes, I know it’s a province, not a state)
James and I got married in July 2013 and decided to put off our “real” honeymoon until December (see: New Orleans). Instead, we took a road trip to Canada. Thanks to a couple of failed study abroad attempts, I’d had my passport since 2008, and I was thrilled to finally get to use it. Five years later. To go to Canada.

Our main Canadian destination was Winnipeg: a quick seven hour drive. We didn’t know what to expect, but I LOVED Winnipeg. It had great parks, great architecture, and the friendliest Canadians (true to the stereotype). And the food! I began a love affair with Tim Horton’s, and I still pine for their yeast donuts. We hated to leave Canada, and I’d like to think that Canada hated to see us go.

As I have spent nearly eight of the last ten years living in Minnesota, it’s naturally the place we have explored the most. Most of James’s family lives in Minnesota, and there’s also a whole ton of stuff to see and do.

James and I would go to Alexandria all the time when we were in college. It had the nearest Target, nearest WalMart, nearest anything. Alexandria didn't become a road trip until after we'd graduated and we made it part of a 2014 trip to Morris. We went to the fabled Carlos Creek Winery, which boasts a (delicious) line of wines called Minnesota Nice.




Duluth, obviously, is a favorite. James and I first went there in summer 2010. I was living in Minneapolis, and James had lived with me for the summer and was about to move to Ellsworth for his new teaching job. Ever since a family trip to Virginia when I was 15, I have loved huge ships – and I’ve loved water all my love. Duluth has both. We got to watch those monstrous ships come in, and we stuck our feet in the frigid water of Lake Superior. We have been to Duluth several times since that initial trip: in 2011 for more exploring, in 2013 on our way home from Winnipeg, and in 2015 for a friend’s wedding. One of these days, we’re going to make it up the North Shore.

International Falls 
International Falls was one of our final stops in the northern leg of our honeymoon trip. It was beautiful up there – so many trees and so much wildlife. We canoed on Rainy Lake and visited Voyageurs National Park. James also locked us out of our cabin at 5 in the morning when we got up to watch the sun rise over the lake, but you know. Minor details.

You remember our ill-fated journey to Lanesboro: James had convinced me to try tent camping, and we nearly drowned thanks to torrential rains. Lanesboro was indeed a pretty area with a lot of character, but it’s hard to appreciate it when you’re in a permanent state of cold dampness. We did explore a cave and discover a delightful winery (Four Daughters) on our way home, so there’s the bright spot. Plus, who doesn’t love a good “everything that can go wrong did go wrong” story?


Mankato wasn’t as much of a fail trip as Sioux City, but it came close. James and I planned to meet in Mankato right around Valentine's Day when I lived in Minneapolis and he lived in Ellsworth – it was pretty close to halfway for both of us. We got there and found out that there just wasn’t a lot to do in Mankato. Had we been thinking, we would’ve met in St Peter instead. Live and learn.


Oddly, James and I haven’t made many trips back to our alma mater. We returned for Jazz Fest 2012, which was a blast. We also went to Morris the week after homecoming 2014 – not to be antisocial, but because I worked during UMM homecoming weekend. I don’t know why we don’t go back to Morris more often, because it brings back so many good memories. We ate at Bello Cucina and Don’s (of course!) and got coffee at the Common Cup. We visited the wind turbine and wandered around campus and reminisced about how young we were. Ahh, the good old days.

New Ulm

New Ulm is a favorite of mine. James and I met there for Oktoberfest when he lived in Ellsworth and I lived in Minneapolis, and I really enjoyed Oktoberfest – even though that was before I drank beer. Now that I like beer, I like Oktoberfest even more. I went to Oktoberfest with Mom in 2012, and James and I went in 2014 with my brother Mitch, James’s brother Jesse, and Jesse’s girlfriend Megan. In New Ulm, we always 1.) eat German food, 2.) go on the Schell’s tour, and 3.) climb Hermann the German. It’s tradition, after all.

St Cloud


James and I don’t make a lot of trips specifically to go to St Cloud, but we did last summer to go river tubing. Ever since river tubing on the Salt River in May 2014, river tubing is my new favourite past-time. James and I went river tubing on the Platte River with Jesse and Jesse’s roommate, and it was – per usual – a blast. We also went to the Benton County Fair, which was a-ok, but you can't really compare it to river tubing. Our last trip to St Cloud was for New Year’s 2015. We brought my brother and sister and had a typical disastrous/hilarious New Year’s.

Our trip to Stillwater was short, but oh so sweet. Stillwater is pretty darn close to Wisconsin on the St Croix River, and it just adorable. I loved the little shops and the cliffs you could climb, and of course, the view of the river and the ships on said river. We also had some really excellent food there, which is a huge bonus.

Taylor's Falls
Honestly, I didn't even remember that we had taken a trip to Taylor's Falls until I started raiding my old Facebook albums for pictures for this blog post. I think we just checked out the waterfalls, crossed the border to say we'd been to Wisconsin, and went home. Who knows.

Twin Cities 
more times than I can count
I’m not sure how to even make a dent in describing all our trips to the Twin Cities. We go there ALL the time. We visit friends and family, we eat our favorite foods, we explore our favorite lakes, and we enjoy our favorite places (especially our favorite lakes). We to go Twins games and the state fair. We learned how to kayak. We discover new foods and new places. To say we love the Twin Cities is an understatement.


Kansas City
We went to Kansas City with my parents and sister for a Twins game, and it was the GREATEST. None of us had spent any time in Kansas City, and it was the neatest place. The food was amazing (barbecue, obviously), and the city itself was just charming. The Twins lost and we got puked on a little, but that’s not important. The important part is that we all fell in love with Kansas City and are anxiously anticipating a return trip. 



Omaha is a fun city, and it’s only three-ish hours from us. James and I spend so much of our time driving to Minneapolis that we forget that Omaha is there… and slightly closer. We’ve been a few times: to see the zoo, to see the Sue the T-Rex exhibit, to explore downtown, to attend a wine and beer festival. And each time, we feel like we’re missing so much. Omaha definitely deserves more of our time.


Fargo is kind of a stretch, but we stopped for a couple of hours on our way to Winnipeg. I would love to spend more time in Fargo, but in our quick stop, we found all sorts of cool shops and restaurants. Fargo: we’ll be back.


Black Hills



Who doesn’t love the Black Hills? We stopped through on our way from Denver when James flew in to drive back with me in 2009, and we did some fun touristy things like Keystone and Wall Drug. The first time James and I went there on an actual vacation, he proposed to me at Dinosaur Park. So fond memories, obviously. We went back in 2014 for our first anniversary, and we borrowed my parents’ Mustang convertible. Now THAT was a road trip. We stopped back through Rapid City on our way home from Colorado this summer, and there’s always something interesting to see or do. We’ve been zip-lining and to the Prairie Berry winery. We’ve been swimming in Horsethief Lake and kayaking on Canyon Lake. We’ve driven through the Badlands and given ourselves heatstroke. We always run out of time to do everything we want to do – are you noticing a trend?

Lake Poinsett 
more times than I can count
Lake Poinsett is always my favorite summertime destination. Nothing beats a beer on the beach, or a sunset boat ride. We have our annual shrimp boil at Lake Poinsett, and we always watch Fourth of July fireworks from the boat in the middle of the lake. I learned how to waterski last summer, and I want to make up for years of lost time and waterski ALL THE TIME. Clocking in at an hour and forty-five minutes from Luverne, Lake Poinsett is one of the closest of our top road trip choices. (Orange City, Le Mars, and Sioux City are all closer, but I’d choose Lake Poinsett any day.) On one (and only one) day on Lake Poinsett this summer, James and I skied, rode a Jet Ski, tubed, kayaked, and boated: five water sports in one day. That’s my kind of summer.


Hudson/Apple River
Remember how I love river tubing? James and I met his brothers Jay and Jesse along with Megan in Wisconsin this summer for tubing on the Apple River. It was the perfect day for riving tubing… except that we ran out of beer. Except for losing your cooler completely, this is likely the greatest tragedy that can befall you while river tubing. We had a great time, though – especially after fellow tubers took pity on our souls and shared their beer!


I know that this list is relatively short, and there are so many more places that I want to go with James. I know this is a very millennial thing to say, but I have a serious case of wanderlust. Staying home in Luverne = death.

Summer has more or less come to an end, and that means that James goes back to school – which really cuts into our available vacation/road trip time. We’ll have a few fall weekends to work with until the snow and ice set it, at which point travel for fun basically ceases to exist. We have a trip to look forward to in December, so that will get me through the less exciting November/December months. I’ll pout through January and February and start dreaming of road trips in March. Here’s to the 2016 road trip season: may it get here quickly, because I have lots of places to go!

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