Almost 3 weeks ago, we started our road trip adventure from our home in Los Angeles, CA to Zach's hometown Racine, WI with our 4 and 5 year old daughters in tow. We decided to do this long drive because flying during this time of COVID-19 doesn't seem like a good option for our family. So off we went, after a weeks worth of planning, looking at Google maps and booking hotels. Here was our itinerary:
Day 1: Tuesday, June 30 (California - Nevada - Arizona - Utah)
We wanted to get out of LA before there was traffic, so we planned on leaving at 4:30 a.m. For the first time in our lives, we were actually ahead of schedule and left at 4:20. Our girls were up and excited for the first 20 minutes or so before they passed out in the back. We drove for about 4 hours straight until we got to Las Vegas where we took a break for breakfast at Toast Society. I went in to order while Zach took out the jump rope and hung with the girls outside.
After Vegas, we drove into Zion National Park around 1pm. This was our final stop for the day. The original plan was to just chill in an air-conditioned hotel suite for the rest of the day and catch up on some calls and emails while the girls caught up on My Little Pony. We weren't expecting that our hotel, Cable Mountain Lodge was literally right next to the river running through the park. So Taj, our youngest, insisted we buy a "boat" to float down it. For a few bucks, we bought an inflatable tube and got some great hang time in the river. It was a beautiful place that we look forward to visit for longer the next time.
Day 2: Wednesday, July 1 (Utah - Colorado)
When we left the next morning around 4:00 a.m., we walked out to a pitch-black sky full of stars. We could even see the Milky Way. Before we jumped on the Interstate towards Colorado, we actually pulled off the road for a few minutes and took in that starry sky for about 30 seconds until the girls started crying because they were scared of the dark. That was our queue - it was time to hit the road.
Driving through Utah during dawn was beautiful. It was our favorite part of the drive. We drove into Vail, Colorado around 1:00 p.m. that day where we stopped for the night. Vail has great scenery but very manicured. Obviously, it's a hot destination spot during the winter for skiers and snowboarders, but it still attracted a lot of people in the summertime. A lot of people were probably wanting to get out of the cities and escape to the mountains with all the panic around COVID.
That night, we were pretty wiped. The adrenalin wasn't pumping as much, even with some ice cream from the village. Surely the altitude also played a role in the lower energy level. We knew we had the longest leg of our trip the next day so we had to get lots of rest. We called in for some room service pizza and salad for dinner and called it a night by 9pm. Good thing we all slept well enough at Lodge at Vail and left at 6:00 refreshed the next morning.
Day 3: Thursday, July 2 - Family Date Night (Colorado - Nebraska)
This was our longest day of driving - 633 miles from Vail to Omaha. The night before we were wondering if such a long leg was overly ambitious, but the girls were game and we were ready. The first couple hours of our drive, we were surrounded by thick forest and beautiful mountains. But by the time we hit Denver, the Rockies were behind us. We didn't realize that half of the Rocky Mountain state was actually pretty flat - and not at all scenic. Yup, boredom on the road finally hit us! We survived with a couple breaks for gas and meals. We pretty much drove for a whopping 11 hours until we got into Omaha. As soon as we got out of the car, we could smell a familiar Midwestern scent. We felt accomplished and wanted to treat ourselves to some Omaha steaks in the restaurant of our downtown hotel - they were indeed delicious! We had a great family date night and stay at the Magnolia Hotel, we highly recommend!
Day 4: Friday, July 3 - Homestretch (Nebraska - Iowa - Illinois - Wisconsin)
Zach woke up around 2:00 in the morning and couldn't get back to sleep must be from sheer excitement of returning home. But he was kind enough to let the rest of us stay in bed until 5:00. At this point, we knew we were a few hours away from Wisconsin, so there was a lot of good energy and anticipation. The girls were excited to see their grandparents, so getting everyone up and out was easy.
We drove through a lot of rolling hills and farmland in Iowa. We stopped for coffee and gas in Des Moines. I had to take over driving at this point since Zach had to nap. Then, we stopped again in Iowa City where we had a great breakfast at a charming restaurant downtown called The Encounter Cafe. After tasting the girls' 'crispy on the outside-fluffy on the inside' pancakes, we ordered some more for ourselves even after we finished our breakfast - they were that good! And the staff was so nice. Most of the women working there were Mennonites. Apparently, there is a Mennonite community in that part of Iowa. Simply put, Mennonites are similar to the Amish in their traditions, but less strict when it comes to using technology. You learn something new every day, right?
So now we were fueled and fed and ready for the last 4 hours in our trip. We crossed the Mississippi River going into Illinois and drove up through Rockford and crossed into Wisconsin with some celebratory applause 👏. That last hour and a half was a nice drive, much of it with the windows down. And at 2:30pm sharp we pulled into Zach's childhood home. After 80 hours, nine states, 2100 miles and countless "Are we there yets?", we DONE-DID-IT!