FROM MONTANA TO PA: Tales from my cross-country road trip

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Well I’m back. Ten states, 7 days and thousands of miles later, Tom and I have returned from our weeklong road trip vacation across the country.

The entire trip was awesome — I got to spend time with Tom after a summer away from him, get a taste of the country and have the ultimate adventure. Plus, we were perpetually in the right place at the right time — we ended up in Kansas City the day the Royals won the World Series and spent some time in Nashville just before the CMA awards. All-in-all, it was one of my top trips.

Day 1: Philadelphia, PA to Kalispell, MT to Missoula, MT

The first day was a long one. I woke up around 4, headed to the airport for my 8:30 a.m. flight and landed in Montana around 1:30. The flights went fast, as I made a few friends who happened to be from Reading and were heading West for a hunting trip.

After I landed, I met up with Tom and we walked around, grabbed tacos and prepped his car for the long trip home. We decided to go to Missoula for the night and drove the 2 hours to the city before finding a budget motel. After settling in, we decided to get a little white-trashy and found Hoagieville, a Montana fast-food chain that serves the most banging cheese fries I’ve ever had. We proceeded to order a boatload of food, take it back to the motel, eat it and watch the football game, and then pass out.

It was perfect.

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Day 2: Missoula, MT to Casper, WY

The next day wasn’t too eventful. We met up with a friend in Missoula for an early morning breakfast at a Cowboy-esque bar before starting the long drive to Denver. Wyoming is beautiful, especially through Yellowstone. After about 9 hours in the car, we had had enough and stopped for the night in a small roadside motel in Casper, about 2 hours from Cheyenne, WY.

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Day 3: Casper, WY to Denver, CO to Oakley, KS

The next day, we made the 3 hour drive to Denver. We landed in the mile-high city and explored downtown, stopping for a late lunch and some drinks at Tom’s Urban. I got the lobster roll, while Tom got the Cuban sandwich. We washed down our sandwiches with the restaurant’s version of a Moscow Mule (it was delicious) and stopped at a local bar for some happy hour beers. The food scene is awesome in Denver — there were so many places I would have liked to try.

The undefeated Denver Broncos were playing the undefeated Green Bay Packers the next day (Denver won, btw), and it was Halloween, so the city was bustling.

I loved Denver. The city was clean, full of things to do and had a really chill, fun atmosphere. Everyone was super friendly and I love that you’re just a few minutes away from plenty of great hiking and outdoor activities. I can’t wait to go back and spend a few days.

After a few hours in the city, we decided to head out to help cut down on the amount of time we had to drive the next day and cheapen the cost of a motel for the night. We ended up in Oakley, KS at this teeny tiny motel in the middle of nowhere called the Annie Oakley motel. Thankfully someone was there at midnight and gave us a (surprisingly) gorgeous and clean room for just $40. If you’re ever in west Kansas and need a place to crash, check it out.

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Day 4: Oakley, KS to Kansas City, MO to Fort Campbell, KY

In case you didn’t know, Kansas is flat. It’s like looking at the ocean — you look out and can see for miles and miles. While that’s cool at first, when you’re driving almost 10 hours it’s not as fun. Tom and I kept ourselves occupied by reading scary stories (It was the day after Halloween so every site was sharing their favorites) and reading about the little towns we were driving through.

It wasn’t awful, but I have to say the drive through Kansas was my least favorite. Once we made it to the other side, though, we stopped in Kansas City for some awesome barbecue (the place, Papa Bob’s, was even featured on Man Vs. Food!). We then drove downtown to walk around, grab a coffee and explore. I actually really liked the city — it was not what I was expecting. It had a similar feel to Denver, though it seemed older and quirkier. (It also was cool that we happened to be there the day the Kansas City Royals won the World Series. I guess we were just good luck charms to all of the cities we visited).

After stretching our legs, we buckled in for a long ride to Nashville. Since we are fatties, we stopped for a late-night dinner at Popeye’s because they are everywhere down South (and who doesn’t love Popeye’s?!). We didn’t make it to Nashville, though — we stopped an hour outside of the city once we realized we’d get to there too late to stay at our friend’s house and instead found a cute spot in Fort Campbell for the night.

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Day 5: Fort Campbell, KY to Nashville, TN

We woke up, hit the Waffle House (my fav.) and made the short drive to Nashville. We were staying with a friend, so we decided to check out town a little while we waited for him to finish up with work. We parked near Vanderbilt and wondered into a small café for some fruit tea, a local favorite made with various fruit juices and fresh iced tea. We popped into some shops, finding one that had the most wonderful collection of knick-knacks and vintage clothes. I picked up a little clay pig for good luck and some gifts for home.

We left downtown to beat rush hour and headed to the suburbs to meet our friend Brett. We organized the car and had a quiet night there for the evening since the previous day’s drive wore us out.

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Day 6: Nashville, TN

Since we had a place to crash, and were ahead of schedule, we decided to spend another day in Nashville. After getting up, we headed to Outlanders in Nolensville for an early lunch/late breakfast. This place was, by far, one of my favorite food spots in the trip. They’re known for their chicken finger baskets, which come with tasty fried tenders on top of a bed of homemade French fries and served with your choice of sauces. If you go, try the honey-habanero option. It was amazing. We also just HAD to order a side of fried buffalo chicken mac and cheese balls. Yes, you heard that right. They were huge fried concoctions of spicy, gooey mac ‘n cheese. Seriously, if you’re in the Nashville area, you need to try this place.

We then went downtown to explore the Honky Tonks, grab some Goo Goo bars and stop to listen to the live music that peppers out of each bar. We even grabbed margaritas and a snack at Margaritaville while listening to a Jimmy Buffet cover band. I’d call that a success.

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Day 7: Nashville, TN thru VA, WV, MD to Lancaster, PA

I’m still recovering from our 12-hour drive home. While it was a long, long drive, it was amazing as we passed through some of the most beautiful areas of the Shenandoah Valley. Since we were leaving the South, I forced Tom to stop at Cook Out on the way home for some burgers and shakes (seriously, why is Cook Out not a thing up North?).

We arrived back in PA around 9 p.m., tired but happy to be home.

Now, here’s the sappy part. I am so incredibly thankful for this trip. For one thing, after spending 6 long months away from Tom, it was great to spend real time with him again (even if it was in a teeny-tiny ’96 Volvo).

Plus, as a type A personality, getting the chance to just run away without a real plan was fun. Would we end up in Kansas tonight, or Missouri, or we could stop by this little town in Wyoming? I loved the spontaneity of it all.

But, honestly, the thing that made me most grateful was when I got home. From my parents to my work colleagues, I’ve heard it a few times how the ‘adults’ in my life were envious of the trip. Each time I tell someone what we did I get back Oh, I always wanted to do that.

If there’s one big, big lesson I learned from the whole trip it’s that if you want to see the world, do it while you still can. (That, and always go to Outlanders for chicken fingers in Nashville… trust me).

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