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The America Trek Extraordinaire
The summer trek my family dubbed “Our USA Vay-Cay,” holds a special place in my memory for all the sights, tastes, and experiences we had while traveling across this amazing country of ours. As gas prices were cheap that summer, my parents decided to take our family Suburban to the East Coast instead of buying seven plane tickets. Not only were my five siblings and I able to see and experience numerous new things, we also learned to be more understanding and patient as we sat together in a car for hours upon hours.
I can remember the excitement and the preparation for the much-anticipated trip, but the first memory I have of actually being on the road involved the stop in Butte. Settled between two large buildings downtown, we discovered the pleasant “Joe’s Pastie Shop” which served my family a satisfying meal of meat pies and milk. Our friendly waitress informed us that the little pasties became popular in the early mining days of Butte as they were a convenient meal for a miner to pack for lunch. It was also interesting to learn that generally the miners’ pasties also included apples baked into a corner of the meat pie as dessert.
The next day was spent driving through the Dakotas and into Minnesota. Our time spent in Minnesota continues to be one of my most vivid memories of the whole trip that summer. Before we had even left my house, we all insisted that we visit was the Mall of America on our way to the Coast. Traffic in the urban areas of Minnesota proved to be a small nightmare for rural folks from Montana as we searched for, and finally found, the Mall of America.
Never having been to an aquarium before, even my mom and dad were fascinated by the creatures we saw in the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium located in the mall. A tour through the Ocean Tunnel revealed an array of sea creatures, and each one of us marveled at the sharks, turtles, sting rays, and eels. While the two younger kids declined, the rest of us jumped at the opportunity to touch rays and baby sharks as they swam in a shallow pool. I shivered slightly at the slimy, yet rough and sandpapery texture of their skin, but couldn’t wait to tell my friends that I’d touched a live shark!
The excitement of being involved in the busy sea activity helped develop quite the appetite. Upon entering the restaurant labeled the Rainforest Café, we were thrown into a completely new atmosphere. The café was based entirely on a rainforest theme with fake tropical vegetation and jungle animals. After our refreshing meal, we spent the next few hours looking at Lego structures, riding on a few rides, and doing a little shopping. By the time we checked into our hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota we were all thoroughly exhausted from the eventful day in the Mall of America.
The first place we stopped the next day to stretch our legs was particularly special because I love cheese. Until we stopped at the charming little cheese factory in the countryside, I’ll admit that I wasn’t aware that the state of Wisconsin boasted a huge milk and cheese industry. After posing for a quick picture next to a giant cow, my four siblings and I raced into the factory and proceeded to sample more cheese than we believed existed. It was interesting that another state besides Montana centered its industry on cows, but made profit in the products yielded from the cow rather than the beef itself.
We finally arrived to the East Coast on the fourth day where we found many cousins anxiously awaiting our arrival. A trip down to the beach for a day, a visit to Washington, D.C., and a relative’s graduation filled up the days of the next week. The days that we weren’t jumping in the car to go somewhere, we spent either indoors or in the nearest pool as Maryland was experiencing unbearable heat with high humidity.
After spending over a week on the East Coast, it was time to start the journey back across the country. It was early in the morning when we set out for home so all of us kids fell asleep right away. I can remember waking up to the green rolling hills and thick green foliage of Virginia. I stared out the window as the lush vegetation gradually transformed into the grassy fields of Kentucky. I still remember the state of Kentucky for the pure white horse fencing everywhere and how it was such a lovely contrast against the bright green fields. We stopped for the night in a pleasant motel in Louisville, Kentucky, the location of the famous Kentucky Derby. The next day we walked through a horse park that had long barns with thoroughbred horses. Despite the heat, we paused for a while to watch a quick horse show. I can recall one horse in particular named Cigar that was a famous retired race horse. He was priced at over 20 million and acted the part by snobbishly nipping at the man leading him.
To finish our day in Kentucky before moving along, we enjoyed a delectable meal at a small barbeque shack. The waitress, in her thick Southern accent, told us that the restaurant was famous for its ribs slathered in Southern barbeque sauce. I found the ribs delicious, but the barbeque sauce was a bit too tangy for my taste. We sampled what were referred to as “dillckles” which were sliced pickles dipped in batter and fried. I wasn’t fond of the taste of warm pickle when I bit into the appetizer. I also tried cheesy grits, a traditional Southern dish, but wasn’t entirely impressed by them. The gritty texture, coated with cheese, seemed to slide down my throat in a manner that almost made me gag.
After our experience in Kentucky, we got back on the road and continued driving. I remember seeing The Gateway Arch in St. Louis and then driving through Yellowstone Park the next day. We stopped in the Park for a brief bathroom break and then followed the signs to Old Faithful. My family crowded together on the boardwalk to watch her spew her famous fountain, and then it was back in the car for the final hours home. When we finally arrived home, our whole trip had taken over three weeks!
This trip was so memorable to me because, not only did I get to experience the different cultures of so many different states, but I also learned more about my family. We all learned to have more patience with each other, although it was crucial that we did learn this considering we were trapped in a car together for hours at a time. I think we all learned to become better compromisers too, as there were many instances where a compromise was the only option when deciding where to stay or what to eat. I feel as though this trip has given me a broader view about life outside the Flathead Valley as well as taught me a few personal lessons. I learned things that won’t be forgotten because I learned them through actual experience rather than just hearing about them from someone else.