Starting off our journey with a good old fashioned American road trip was a great way to ease us back into travel. The last time we drove this much was on our move out to Colorado, and we decided to take a more northern passage since it was the middle of summer and we wanted to visit friends in the Midwest, and most of that region was new to both of us.

The “Northeastward Passage”

Starting from Boulder, we drove northeast to Nebraska and eventually made our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Badlands National Park. We stayed in the area for a couple of days, lodging at a small ranch outside the park.

What beautiful landscapes! The Badlands geological formations are breathtaking – imposing and grand during the daytime; looming like dark groundrows and backdrops at night. We attended a night sky education session, and by learning about the stars and our shared human fascination with the night sky, I felt a unique connection to everyone else looking up in the moment.

From there, we left for Minnesota, staying in St. Paul for a couple days and celebrating July 4th by enjoying one of the many lakes in Minneapolis, touring the Mall of America, paying respects at George Floyd Square, and catching some rooftop fireworks to wrap things up. Summer in Minnesota is absolutely beautiful, and it was great catching up with our friends on their own turf since they’d visited us so often in Colorado.

Next, we drove to Iowa to visit family in Cedar Rapids, passing lots of farms, the Mayo clinic, and picturesque little towns. One benefit of our route and schedule was being able to experience more state highways than interstates and get a feel for different areas of each state. Once we met my aunt and uncle, we caught up over burgers and beers. Emerging from our pandemic cocoon and reconnecting with family was surprisingly special, and their support gave us more confidence about our upcoming journey.

After our short trip in the Hawkeye State, we hopped in the car to meet our newly-engaged friends in Milwaukee with a quick but lovely stop in Madison. Y’all, Milwaukee has it going on. Going in without many expectations, we were surprised at how much it had to offer – from the Lake Michigan views to the art to the food and music, we were impressed to say the least.

After another couple of days, we wished our friends well on their upcoming nuptials and booked it to Chicago for an illuminating architecture tour on the river that made me appreciate the skyline SO much more. Also, learning about how and why Chicago reversed its river was amazing! We ate deep dish pizza; it was OK. Just before nightfall, we arrived in Ann Arbor, another quintessential college town. Seriously, Madison and Ann Arbor are some of the nicest college towns outside of Charlottesville.

After an al fresco brunch, we drove to Pittsburgh, finally hitting mountains again. After living in Colorado for more than 5 years, there’s something special about the backdrop of mountains, even if they’re a little smaller than the Rockies. For some context, my dad grew in Pittsburgh, and we’d grown up visiting my grandparents near the city growing up. I’ve got a huge fondness for the city and its sports teams, with plenty of great memories. It didn’t disappoint. We stayed with friends in the city, meeting their tiny kiddo for the first time in person and exploring the city, from Lawrenceville to the museums in North Shore and the Incline. Primanti Bros and Pierogies, amirite?

Before we made it to the final leg of the journey, we visited some great–aunts and great-uncle in eastern PA. They were excellent hosts and couldn’t help but smile when we talked about planning to visit Italy soon – sharing more family history about my Italian side and bidding us well.

East Coast Shenanigans

We stopped at my in-laws in Jersey for a few days to decompress and reset. Our cross-country road trip had taken a few weeks, and we were pretty pooped. Fortunately, one of my wife’s cousins let us use their Jersey Shore beach house for a while, which was super generous. Time at the beach was refreshing for sure.

Next up – NYC. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel in the subway, but cases were low and everything was just fine. We met friends in the city and enjoyed being more social than we’d been for a long while.

We made it down to Virginia after a quick stop to see friends in DC, and after a few days with my own parents, we headed back into the mountains for some relaxing time before our trip out west. Stopping in Richmond, VA, we toured the city since it was a potential new home base for us, enjoying Carytown and meeting my cousins and seeing how the city had changed since I’d last visited. Not bad!

Shenandoah has always been a special place for my wife and I, so visiting Charlottesville and Lynchburg was just what we needed. We started to get into a daily yoga routine and got more comfortable living a week or two at a time in each place.

Road Tripping Mindset

With our bodies rested, we prepared for our trip to The Last Frontier. We’re headed to Alaska next, visiting friends in Seattle and Atlanta along the way.

America is huge and beautiful, and this trip was an amazing opportunity to see new places that had been on our radar, and plenty more that weren’t but should’ve been! It made us realize how nice it is to have friends and family to visit, and reconnecting with folks as we emerged from our Colorado covid slumber was invigorating. And as a note for future reference, the Midwest is a spectacular place to visit in the summer!