My dream is to travel overseas and experience the many vast cultures of our world. I want to personally examine the Great Pyramids of Egypt, take a long spiritual dip in the Ganges River of Varanasi, and then enjoy cooking and eating dinner with a family in Mongolia. I want to dance in Japan’s underground world, I want to touch the face of an Old Italian man, and I want to hear stories of someone’s grandmother in a tribe of West Africa. More than anything, I want to see, hear, touch, taste, and feel what other people around the world do in their daily life. I want to learn life lessons and techniques from these people, their land, and their history.
My dreams are attainable, but it will take some time and money getting there. In the meantime, I am able to explore most all of the United States without spending too much money and still staying close to my current jobs. In fact, in over the past five years, I have been able to travel up and down and around the United States one to two times a year. It became important to me quickly that when you are traveling in a car, one must be sure to stop and spend quality time exploring each city, its history, its people, and its value. See a sign to catch a free tour of the Mammoth Caves in Southern Kentucky, jump on it. Barely any gasoline left in your gas tank but have the option to continue driving up a winding, beautiful scenic drive in the hills of North Carolina, do it. Stop and pick out colorful rocks while looking for gold near a natural waterfall. Visit an old, possibly haunted penitentiary in West Virginia while it’s dark and rainy outside by chance. If you have around $500, extra blankets, a good cd collection, and a positive open-mind, a road trip can change your life.
This past summer, I worked over 50-60 hours a week serving, writing, and helping on film projects. I was able to save all of my $1 bills and put them towards an ‘end-of-summer Road trip’ and call it my Soloro Trip. My destination was Nashville, Tennessee, a place I’ve been thinking about moving to in the next year or so. As soon as the summer came to its end in early September, I took my $1 bills out and recounted them. I had enough to get on the road, but this time, I’d be heading out alone – hence, Solo-Ro trip.
Before my week long departure, I had messaged a few friends in random states and let them know I’d be passing through and would like to get together. I only really knew that I’d be driving around Lake Michigan and heading down towards Nashville, but nothing was written in stone. I told my roommates where I was heading, packed my bags, packed some snacks, made sure I brought my massive cd collection, filled up my gas tank, and went on my way.
The first ‘cool thing’ I came across was this beautiful, shoe tree. The tree is located near Kalkaska, Michigan on route US-131. Legend has it that graduating seniors, locals, and any random passerby will toss their shoes up on the tree. The tree had lost a branch in the past due to the weight of the shoes and snow in the winter time. Shoes are even growing on other trees surrounding the Shoe Tree. It was really quite magical to come across.
Friends in Sault Ste. Marie of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula took me around town, which bordered Canada, and introduced me to more new friends, including James, who would help put me in touch with someone who managed a brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We all had a great night out, touring the abandoned tourist town and climbing and jumping off of walls, nearly breaking my left knee cap. We woke up early to catch the sunrise peering from Canada’s border and onto Michigan. After some homemade biscuits and gravy, I headed out to get lost on the extremely scenic route across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, coming across hidden beaches, richly-colored trees, old-Indian burial sites, and majestic natural waterfalls.
After enjoying a beautiful walk back to my car from the waterfall, I sipped from a Michigan Blueberry-Wheat craft beer, spoke with locals about the town, and headed on out down towards Wisconsin. The ride was peaceful, scenic, and rather quite long. With Wisconsin trees to my right, Lake Michigan was on my left for most of the ride. The weather was rainy, but the sun was still shining. I sang, I danced, I thought, I didn’t think. It was, great.
I had spoken with the brewery manager, Ryan, earlier that day about meeting up in Milwaukee at the Lakefront Brewery. Moments before I reached the city of Milwaukee, my cellphone died, I ran through the wrong tollbooth, and I realized I might have been lost. Also, the sky went from dusk to really dark in just a few short minutes. I felt a little bit anxious. After stopping at a random fast-food restaurant to charge my phone, I was able to find the address and head on over to the brewery.
The Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was closing at 9:00pm, as I had walked in around 9:09pm. I met one of the managers, Ryan, and some of his coworkers. They offered me a free craft beer on their tap and let me stay with them while they closed up; I was able to charge my phone for the rest of my ride. After mopping during closing time, the small group of talented and light-filled individuals then gave me an entire tour of the brewery house and I learned all about how the beer was made, where it goes to, where extra co2 goes, and how the beer is then bottled and packed up. The tour was so unexpected, so much fun, and so interesting, I need to go again. Before I left, I was even given an entire case of beer to take home. My roommates would be pleased, and I had made new friends.
Next stop was Chicago, Illinois, and I had to get back on the road. I reached my friend Natalie’s place after 12am and stayed up late conversing with her and a friend from her acting and improv class. I shared one of my new Milwaukee crafted beers with this new friend, telling him I heard it was one if the best rated in Canada. The next morning, Natalie and I went to brunch and enjoyed a unique twist on bagels at Reno in Logan Square. I tried the Hook: Togarashi lox with a delicious artichoke cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, and red onion, mmmm. We got on a train to head downtown, but I suggested we get off at a random stop and walk the rest of the way. It was a thirty minute walk through beautiful, artistic, maybe-not-be-here-at-night, sceneries until we reached the skyscrapers and the Michigan Mile (art, food, and shopping for miles).
We spent time in one of my favorite parks to visit, where the flower baskets hang and the man-made waterfall holds pennies of wishes. We got a cheap cab back to her place, and our cab driver made the entire trip to Chicago worth going. He grew up in a mansion in Nigeria, and all of his children were born here in the United States. He, his wife, and their three children all received their masters in doctoral sciences. He could not take his smile off of his face. He kept talking about being a good person, being kind to others, not judging others, and to just be thankful and peaceful. He believed that everything happened for a reason, and that one is never too old to do good work. My heart is still gleaming just thinking about that man and his smile, his beliefs, and his wonderful stories and life lessons. That felt good.
After Natalie and I hugged goodbye, I got in my car to head south, but first, I’d drive a bit more through artistic areas of Chicago I had not yet seen before. This was good, insightful, intriguing, but also very time consuming as I hit almost every single red light. Next thing I know, I’m getting onto the highway heading towards Indianapolis in 5 o’clock traffic. Oy vey.
The ride from Chicago to Indianapolis provided a stretch of road bombarded by corn fields, some houses, and hundreds and hundreds of large wind-turbines. I had just changed over to loud rap, which played somewhat perfectly as I felt intimidated by the alien seeming wind-turbines. Finally, I stopped to get gas at a Family Matters gas station, and the attendant, Kandi, made my day even brighter. She was so kind, thoughtful, funny, cheery, and just perfect as herself. It was a good day to run into kind people.
I stopped in Indianapolis to visit with my childhood friend Charlie and his mother. Charlie jumped in the car with me and we headed down to Louisville, Kentucky. Disappointed by the lack of the nightlife we were once so excited to go see, we decided to keep on driving until we reached Cave City. We found a hotel that was only $50 a night for two queen sized beds, so that was only $25 each. The next morning, we got some old-fashioned country breakfast, visited a rather interesting museum that housed insects, butterflies, and stuffed animals that lived in Kentucky from the 1800s to today. Next stop, Nashville.
When we got to Nashville, we drove around the east side, the west side, and even twenty minutes south to Franklin, Tennessee. In Franklin, we walked around a scenic park for about 5 miles and took photographs of the nature, the trees, and the small lake we encountered (there are not as many lakes in the central south of the United States as there certainly are in North Michigan).
In Nashville, we went our separate ways for a few short hours to really take in the area personally. He wanted to go to a bar and restaurant and I wanted to walked around and up and down the hills in-between buildings and people. Finally, we met back up and with a close friend of mine, Breanna, who had just moved to the area. The three of us got drinks and appetizers at three different bars around and in downtown Nashville. We waltzed the streets and sidewalks and listened to music which played loudly in each bar we walked past. After then visiting with Breanna in her apartment, Charlie and I headed back towards Kentucky as the trip was coming to its end, and the work week was soon to pick back up.
Charlie was left in Indianapolis, helping an elderly woman right away, and I drove back to Grand Rapids, Michigan in five or more hours. The sun was going down, the weather was just right, and the music off was a nice touch to review my findings.
You see, it seemed for a moment that this road trip was maybe taken because I had the time and the resources, perhaps I was even running or driving away from my problems. But in an optimistic way, perhaps these small daring Soloro trips are just steps to getting closer to all of these exotic dreams I have. Small encounters with lovely and lively people just across the lake may suffice traveling thousands of miles just to feel the same feeling.
Try it. I can’t promise you will ‘find yourself’ or ‘change the world’, but I can promise that it will feel good to get away, it will feel good to be on your own, it will feel great to meet new people of all different realms and backgrounds, and you will feel thankful when you’ve made it back home.
From a collection of beloved road trips I had learned that stopping and living in the moment, truly appreciating a new culture and its history, spending time getting to know yourself and others was most meaningful in the end, no matter where in the world you are.
**more pictures to follow.
I am a recent graduate from Grand Valley State University where I studied Film/Video and Anthropology. My goal is to serve the world with communication of and about other cultures; the many different practices, alternatives to cooking and medicine, and to enlighten those who may have suffered from xenophobia.
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