Roadtrip: Day One

I apologize in advance for the readability of this post. I’m pretty well burned out after the driving today and this feels like just a lot of thoughts thrown out there instead of anything coherent.

Last night I spent some time wrapping up my packing and making sure I didn’t forget anything. I probably did but I haven’t figured out what yet so it can’t be that big a deal can it? I got to bed around 12 a.m. in the end, still excited about starting out on the trip.

I was planning on leaving this morning by 9 a.m. at the latest. Well, I ended up waking up slightly earlier than I expected. About 4:30 am or so. I woke up and actually went to roll over to go back to sleep but a song was stuck in my head. It’s the ending credits song from “Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.

 

This song is pretty much the anthem of this road trip, and the movie was one of the inspirations for it. If you’ve not seen the movie I would highly recommend it. It made me realize there’s a wide world to see. It won’t come to me, I have to go to it.

This song was stuck in my head and I kept going over the things I needed to make sure I didn’t forget. So naturally I couldn’t get back to sleep. At around 4:45 a.m. I said screw it and popped out of bed. May as well start early since I wasn’t getting any more sleep.

I got myself ready and everything packed in my car by 5:45 and I was on the road by 6. I put on the music and started to let the miles roll by.

I can’t quite explain how driving on the open road makes me feel. I get a big smile on my face and I start laughing because I’m so giddy. Today was no exception! I was barreling down the highway singing at the top of my lungs and smiling from ear to ear. Probably for the best that I’m going on this trip alone.

A few hours down the road I made it to my first stop, Fargo. A co-worker and I searched up a couple restaurants in Fargo the day before for my first meal on the road. I ended up going to C.J.’s Kitchen

 

I got the biscuits and gravy, something any self-respecting southerner or midwesterner should recognize. Unfortunately it wasn’t really anything special. It was good, but not something you’d go back specifically for.

After breakfast I was back on the road! For about 200 feet, I needed gas. This is where my favorite part of the day happens. The gas station I stopped at was called ‘Loaf and Jug’. It was attached to a payday loan place (Ugh) called ‘EZ Money’. As if payday loan places weren’t sleazy enough. Anyway, I saw a kid who was about 10 years old walk in to the payday loan place. I kept an eye on the door while I was gassing up because I have to say that’s not something you see every day. A couple minutes later the kid came out with a small stack of bills in his hands. My eyebrows went up until he fanned them out and I saw they were all ones. I had to keep myself from laughing at this point, he had about $10 in ones fanned out in his hands.

Next this kid saunters over to Loaf and Jug and goes in, a minute later he comes out with two King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy bars. At this point I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. I told this story to my friends immediately after I saw it and one of them had the perfect response. “What a baller.”

Now I actually was back on the road, I punched in ‘Theodore Roosevelt National Park’. Google Maps is super helpful though. As I start the navigation it informed me that the park is closed today, and Sunday. Seriously, how the hell is a national park closed on the weekends?

I kept the GPS for it regardless, I would just figure out what to do when I got to Medora, it was 4 hours away anyway. I have to say that the majority of the ‘Blah’ North Dakota gets for its sights is well deserved. I stopped at a couple rest stops and there wasn’t a whole lot to see. One did have a view that impressed me though.

There’s a thin length of land with railroad tracks running through the lake here. A train actually passed through a minute or two before I got to the point. I wish I had gotten there in time to snap a picture of it!

This one place being the exception rather than the rule. There are a lot of flat farmlands with not a whole lot to see. But when you start to get in to the western edge of the state, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

 

After stopping here I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to bother going to Medora. I wanted to get as far as possible today so I didn’t have a huge drive tomorrow and I figured Medora may just take more time out of the drive. I finally decided to at least check it out.

Boy that was a mistake. Medora looks like the stereotypical tourist trap. It’s basically an entire small town built around the tourist industry. It has a ton of small shops lining the main street. It also had some museums to check out from what I could see. But, to be completely fair, I didn’t stick around to give it a chance. The place was packed with tourists and it definitely did not look like my kind of place. It was all the excuse I needed to punch ‘Glacier National Park’ in to Google Maps and get on my way.

As you continue west through North Dakota the landscape begins to get a little depressing. Oil derricks begin to dot the landscape, big propane tanks, industrial-looking buildings. It seems North Dakota’s fracking industry has taken a bit of a toll.

As I was coming up on the North Dakota/Montana border I remembered that a friend suggested I stop at the Flying J gas station and convenience store.

 

Problem was I remembered that as I was barreling past the exit. I drove about four or five miles down to the next exit, turned around, crossed back in to North Dakota, and stopped in at the Flying J! It’s basically your run-of-the-mill convenience store and truck stop. But it sells little souvenirs that were pretty neat so I picked up a couple things for the people back home.

After that stop I got back on the road and crossed over in to Montana, for realsies this time!

I’m actually finding it hard to say anything about Montana at the moment. It may be that I’m just toasted from the drive but the landscape hasn’t been especially interesting. It could be the route I took. I had a choice of going through the middle of the state or going north. I chose north because, for some reason, my mind associated north with mountains. That is definitely not the case.

Unfortunately I also do not have any pictures of Montana yet. Mainly because most of my pictures have been coming at rest stops and scenic overlooks. I did not come across any of those on my route through Montana so far. Probably because I’ve been on a state highway instead of the interstate.

After something like 14-15 hours on the road I finally pulled in to a town in Montana called Havre. I’ve checked in to a hotel where I’m writing up this post and I plan on absolutely crashing here soon. I have 3 to 4 hours of driving tomorrow to get to Glacier! I’m trying to decide if I want to do that drive and then take my time and hang out at Glacier the majority of the day then get a hotel room out there for the night then get back on the road on Monday. I’ll probably make that decision on the spot, seems to be how I’ve been running this roadtrip so far.

This concludes day one of the roadtrip, it was a doozie. I’ve been in three different states today and have driven over 900 miles!

Here’s to tomorrow.

 

Roadtrip Imminent

This is a strange one. I’m embarking on a roadtrip tomorrow morning. A roadtrip I haven’t really planned for at all.

I mean I’ve had the date in my mind for a month and a half, maybe two months. But in that time I haven’t planned anything other than a couple destinations.

I knew I was going to Glacier National Park right off the bat, but other than that I’ve kind of been filling it in piecemeal. Over the past two months I went from “I’m going to Montana to see Glacier National Park.” to “Glacier National Park, then Colorado.” to “Glacier National Park, then Colorado by way of Yellowstone.” Eventually it came to be “Drive through South Dakota into Wyoming, to Montana, to Glacier National Park, then to Colorado by way of Yellowstone then home after that.”.

Yesterday I decided to get to Montana by way of North Dakota rather than South Dakota. Why? Because I’ve never been to North Dakota before. I have been to South Dakota, albeit quite some time ago on vacation when I was either a very early teenager or even pre-teen. But this trip is all about seeing new things, having new experiences. So I decided North Dakota and have been filling in the details again. I’ll be stopping in Fargo at a little diner for lunch and then onward to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I’ll pass through Bismarck but I didn’t really see a whole lot that interested me there.

Let’s reel this back a bit, I was extremely nervous and excited when preparing for my trip to England. I spent a good week and half or more prepping myself, making sure I didn’t forget to pack anything. With this roadtrip I have a muted excitement and next to no nervousness, I just finished packing up my suitcase that I only started after getting home from work tonight. There’s a casualness to this that belies how I know I feel.

This one isn’t quite the event that England was but I can’t help but feel it’ll have more impact. This is me alone on the road, seeing the sights that roll by. Thousands of miles lay before me of highway, grasslands, forests, mountains, lakes, stars in the night sky, sun on the blacktop. As I type this the smile on my face is widening so maybe it’s just about realizing that this is happening for the excitement to kick in.

I’m going to try and take you all along with me, I hope to get a blog post up each night complete with pictures from throughout the day. I’m not sure how the schedule will work out since I actually have no idea when or if I’ll be in a hotel. I packed a sleeping bag and may be spending some quality time in the SUV if I need to stop and there isn’t a place convenient.

I also started an instagram that I’ll try to update as I go. No promises since I may completely forget about it! https://www.instagram.com/stridetheearth is where you can find me.

All that’s left now is to count it down and get some rest.

Alexandria: It was a pleasure.

As I said in one of my previous posts, I’ve been getting itchy feet. The winter has been long and unrelenting. Every time we thought it was over, Mother Nature would decide to dump a bunch of snow on us.

Back around Christmas time a co-worker suggested a destination to me, an antique comic book and toys shop in a city about two hours away called ‘Hidden Treasures’.

I took the suggestion and filed it away, life and work at the time were a little too hectic.

Well, a few weeks ago the itch became too much for me and decided it was time to set out for Alexandria and Hidden Treasures.

I decided to make the trip on a weekend so the Friday beforehand I mentioned to someone what I was doing for the weekend, going to this cool little comic book shop about two hours away. They asked “Isn’t there a comic book shop here?”. I laughed but knew she was half-serious. I told her that the shop was unique and I definitely wanted to check it out, but that’s only half the reason.

It seems almost every trip I go on it’s not about the destination, it’s about the getting there. Sometimes it’s unexpected and sometimes I’m planning and hoping for it.

Without getting too off-topic, a few summers ago I took a road trip to Montreal, Quebec to see my brother and his newborn boy. I purposely took a route pretty much through the center of Canada because I wanted to see that wilderness. But nothing was so breathtaking to me as as turning off Trans Canada 17, on to 11, and seeing a lake curl off to the distance on my left and stony cliffs rising to my right.

So I finally hit the open road mid-Saturday morning, a smile plastered on my face as soon as my GPS went from ‘turn right in half a mile’ to ‘Exit right in 82 miles’.

Rolling fields and frozen ponds passed by, I couldn’t help but think what it would look like once spring and summer take hold and turn everything green.

The miles rolled by, I sang along (terribly) with the radio, and generally enjoyed the early spring sunshine.

When I finally got to Alexandria I had to smile, it had that small town feel with a single main road running through the ‘historic downtown’. The GPS pointed me to a parking lot the next road over and I was finally out and stretching my legs. In the wrong direction unfortunately. I couldn’t find the place for the life of me.

Finally I got turned the right way and through a little exploration I was able to find it on the side of the building, the doorway tucked in to a bit of an alcove, Hidden Treasures indeed.

When you open the door you immediately get the scent of incense that wafts out, and as you step in you’re greeted by a table full of knick knacks and shelves of old children’s books. I could have spent an hour or two just digging through this stuff seeing if I could reclaim some of my childhood but I wasn’t there for that.

Immediately to the left of the door you squeeze past the counter and are greeted by the sight of comics. Boxes and boxes of comics. I took a second to take it all in and thought about taking out my phone to grab a picture but heard a quiet “Excuse me.” as someone squeezed past. This place was absolutely tiny, and absolutely packed with comics and memorabilia. If you’re standing at a table looking through a box of comics you’ll routinely feel someone brush past you.

I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted when I got here, I just had a request from my co-worker to keep an eye out for a particular comic. “Great Morons in History: Featuring Dan Quayle”. Unfortunately they didn’t have it!

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They didn’t have it at the shop, but at least the owners got a good laugh when I showed them what I was looking for.

I was just aimlessly digging around in the comic boxes when I saw something that reminded me of a friend. That gave me the idea to keep digging until I found a comic for each friend that just spoke of them to me.

I apologize now for not having gotten any pictures of these myself, I’m still a blog amateur and it just slips my mind to take pictures of cool things! Or, also quite often, I feel awkward about just taking out my phone and snapping pictures of things. Hopefully I’ll get over that for your sake.

 

Each of these comics had some aspect to it that reminded me of a friend and I just had to get it for them.

All told, I spent probably an hour and a half or so in the shop just digging through the comic boxes and looking at everything they had. They had a still-in-the-box Star Wars Imperial Scout Trooper and speeder bike that I was sorely tempted to pick up just because the nostalgia hit so hard. Finally, though, I escaped with my wallet mostly intact.

I decided to grab lunch before I got back on the road to head home and stopped in to a restaurant literally right around the corner, a little bar and grill called Raapers. I sat down and looked over the menu but, at this point, I really didn’t feel like making any decisions for myself so I asked the waitress what she would recommend.

That’s how I ended up with this delicious monstrosity.

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The Awesome Blossom burger from Raapers

I promise there is actually a burger in there somewhere. It was a bacon cheeseburger with fried onion rings stacked on top and then what they called sidewinder potatos. They were a spiral cut potato almost like a thick cut curly fry. I actually ended up taking off the majority of the onions just so I could fit the thing in my mouth.

After lunch I fought off the biological imperative for a food coma, rolled myself back in to my car, and got back on the road to head home.

I got in to work Monday morning with a comic for my co-worker in hand and let her know I thought the place was amazing. She says “Did you check out the used book store there too?”.

I guess I have an excuse to go back. As if I needed one.

Nintendo Switch: Please be the current gen console we need you to be.

About a year and a half ago a YouTube link went up in the group chat I have with my friends.

Nintendo was giving us our first look at the Switch. After watching the video we had a brief discussion. One friend was pretty enthusiastic about it. I was not. All I saw was another gimmick.

“Oh, you can pick it up and play it on the move? Thanks, I already have a 3DS.”

I reduced the newly announced console to a footnote in the back of my mind with a couple of sentences.

I didn’t think about it again until almost exactly a year later. While on a trip to the UK, one of my friends over there pulled out her Switch and showed us Breath of the Wild. It blew me away with how vibrant the game looked. The graphical fidelity wasn’t going to blow PS4 or XBox One out of the water, but that wasn’t its intention. As Nintendo has shown in the past, they aren’t here to go toe-to-toe with the other juggernauts in the console space, they want to bring something unique to the game.

With the Switch they managed it. I found myself watching over my friend’s shoulder as she played Mario Kart while we were on our way to Hadrian’s Wall. It was slick and you didn’t feel like you were missing a whole lot going from the television to the handheld.

The Switch has the typical Nintendo line-up, bringing you back to your childhood of racing against your friends, or collecting coins and stars, or exploring the expanse of Hyrule. They also brought some new blood in to the game with titles like Snipperclips and Arms. Snipperclips being a bit of a cutesy co-op puzzle game and Arms feeling like a rock’em sock’em robots arena fighter.

That said, I have to say I feel like Nintendo made a rather large misstep.

Just like their previous generation of consoles, the Wii and the Wii U, Nintendo almost completely forsook the social and online aspect. Sure, you can ask your buddy for their friend code and pop that in to your Switch menu, you can then see what games they’ve played and what they’re currently playing but beyond that you get next to no interaction.

You can’t message your friend, let alone voice chat. You can’t send them a screenshot of something cool you did in game, let alone stream for them. You cannot natively party up with friends, let alone jump in games with them.

Nintendo released an app for Android and iOS called ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ as the toe-in-the-water of their native social-hub-in-the-making of the same name. The Washington Post’s review of the mobile app was less than stellar. The app currently sits at a 3.3 rating on the Android store and 3.1 on iOS. Far from being the worst thing to ever grace the storefronts but reviews on each call out the app for doing something that should be native to the console itself.

From the Nintendo Switch Online app you can start a voice chat with friends. You can also initiate the process for playing online multiplayer with them. In Splatoon 2. Currently the only game supported by the app.

The full release of Nintendo Switch Online to the console itself is scheduled for September 2018, a release that was originally slated for 2017.

I know that Nintendo maneuvered itself in to a on-the-move, play with your friends out in the world type of console but that doesn’t excuse them from making this kind of blunder. If you aren’t out on the roof playing Mario Kart with your friends, if you’re on your couch alone, optionally covered in Dorito dust and surrounded by empty cans of Mountain Dew, you are completely alone.

Nintendo may blow us away with their new social experience in September and I would be the happiest person in the room to see that. But the fact of the matter is they released a console without the tools that the competition had at launch last generation and actively worked on the generation before.

Nintendo, I want you to do better. Playing Breath of the Wild has put a smile on my face like no other, bringing me back to my early years sitting on the floor in front of our CRT television and beating up chickens until a swarm of them came to hand me my butt. But we’re not back in 1991. We’re in 2018 where you’re not competing with Microsoft and Sony to provide an experience that I can share and enjoy with others unless they’re sat right beside me.

 

Prologue: StrideTheEarth, of the itchy feet.

I’ve always wanted to see new places. Or at least I’ve always said I wanted to see new places. I never actually sought out new places until relatively recently.

Last year at the end of October I took my first overseas trip, I went to England, the United Kingdom, to meet up with some friends and see the sights. I absolutely loved it, from the moment I got out of the car at the airport on my way to England, until I was on my way home.

Just a small aside, I don’t know how to explain the energy I felt while I was waiting for my flight to board. It was a nervous, anxious, giddy, energy that had me smiling from ear to ear and I couldn’t sit in one place. I roamed up and down the hallways of the terminal for a good hour before they started boarding the plane.

Back to the subject at hand, after the trip to England I finally saw that I can do it. I can go where ever I like. I can travel, I can see new things. I’m only held back by my own hang-ups and anxiety.

So over this past winter I’ve been dreaming of the places I want to go. I’m working on a list of the things I want to see and, for the first time, I feel like I’m in a place where I can make it happen.

I meant this post to be about something else but it came out more as a confession of sorts. I actually went back and added ‘Prologue’ to the title because of that. Keep tuned for what I actually meant to write about!

Multiplayer is the new Single-player

Sometimes in the gaming world today I hear people lamenting the demise of the single-player game. When MMOs were rocketing toward their peak, many gamers were crying out that they wanted things to go back to the way they were, to the single-player games they knew and loved.

I feel like I’m crazy since I don’t remember it the way they do.

Gaming has always been a social activity for me and those I know, the new age just brought the circle to a digital space. I remember playing Final Fantasy 7 in my basement when I was a teenager, it was a single-player game but I was never alone. My friends were there watching and cheering me on. My brother was looking up the guide on how to keep Aeris from getting (spoiler) shishkabob’d. Spoiler again, the internet lied and no, you couldn’t save Aeris with an intricate button sequence while simultaneously hopping on one leg and reciting the alphabet backward.

I remember sitting in the dark at a sleepover, watching a friend play through Resident Evil, screaming as those god damned zombie dogs jump through the window in the hallway.

Gaming has always been social. I may not have always had a controller in my hands but I’ve been a part of many ‘single-player’ games. I think that’s why playing a single-player game these days makes me feel so restless. As you get older you don’t have sleepovers anymore, you don’t hang out with your friends a couple nights a week, working on homework together and sneaking in some Turok. You’re sitting at your desk or on your couch alone, exploring a world and story by yourself.

Witcher 3 and Skyrim both came out in my adult life and I know they’re fantastic games. I know they’re extremely engaging. Hell, I’ve put a hundred hours in to each, minimum. But there’s an element missing. There’s no social aspect anymore. I can’t turn to my friend and say “Did you see that?!”

Now it truly is a single-player game, and it’s no fun.

I believe that’s why MMOs became so popular. Every player is playing their own single-player game with their friends again. Sharing those cool moments all over again. They may not be on the couch with you, sitting in the dark as zombies try to eat your face, but they are there for you and you’re there for them.

Your friends now take a much more active role as you play through your hero’s story. They’re no longer reading the strategy guide out to you as Kratos takes his righteous vengeance out on the gods. They’re there beside you in-game, a mutually single-player experience.

With MMOs and, to a lesser extent, the social hubs of XBox Live and Playstation Network the social aspect made a roaring comeback. You get to re-live the glory days of single-player gaming with your friends.

Whitby: The Most English Of English Towns

After a fitful night of sleep (I woke up three hours in to it, refreshed and ready to go. Too bad it was 1:30 am UK time.) we got up and ready to get on the road to Whitby.

Whitby is a relatively small town on the north-east coast of England. I’d told my friends I’d love to see the ocean while I was over here in the UK and they said we may as well kill two birds with one stone as Whitby is supposed to have the best fish and chips in England. Oh yeah, they have a goth festival too.

I haven’t done too much research on it myself but apparently this goth festival started back in the 90s, it started in Whitby due to its mention in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Thousands of people attend it, flooding Whitby in what would normally be very quiet seasons. Nowadays they hold it twice a year. Once in April and once in October. Having been there in October I don’t know how anyone can survive the April date.

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On the road to Whitby. Lots of rolling hills and lovely views.

Whitby was a fantastic town with a ton of charm and holy crap breathtaking views. It was also very windy and very cold. Not to mention a little bit rainy. We didn’t let that dampen our fun though. We spent the entire day in Whitby walking down the streets, checking out a few of the shops, and climbing the stairs up to the Abbey. All while surrounded by people kitted out in spikes and black makeup.

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Just some of the houses in Whitby. The one with the blue door caught my eye.
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It had just finished raining for the time being, across the bay is the abbey up on the hill. The archway to the left is made out of whale bone!
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A closer view.
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One of the streets in Whitby as we were headed toward the Abbey. Shops lined the streets with all kinds of things for sale. There were some fantastic entertainers too.

The streets were exceptionally crowded I thought, but my friends told me that if it hadn’t been so cold and rainy that it would have been like a cattle-car.

I did get my fish and chips from a place called Magpie Café. Apparently they are a full service restaurant but we got it from a little take-out offshoot. I have to say that these were probably the best fish and chips I’ve had in a long time, if not ever. We sat in a pavilion down the street and ate out of our takeaway boxes while chatting and watching the ocean roar in off the wharf.

After lunch we went to an arcade along the main road and played a few holes of minigolf, tried our luck at a couple 2p machines, and generally got ourselves out of the cold for a little while.

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Looking back across the inlet from the bluffs at the abbey.

We’ve had a full day at this point, the sun was beginning to go down, so we decided to say goodbye to Whitby and head home to rest and recuperate for the next day.

York!