The Best of the Midwest

We finished our trek east with visits to a number of friends and family members. We loved telling stories from our travels and getting to see the homes of friends and family we had never visited. It certainly was nice to have a guaranteed place to sleep, laundry facilities, and an unlimited shower. Our time was a bit more rushed than I would have liked, so it felt like we had barely arrived at each place before we were pushing off again. Of course we didn’t do as much relaxing as we had imagined, feeling the need to keep moving east before the summer is over and our trip to France with David’s family. The time was still nourishing and restorative and I think we both felt ready to get back out there adventuring once we had paid our last visit. We didn’t take as many people pictures as we should have, but below are some photos to capture our stops.

Minnesota

Ever since I learned our friend in Portland, Meghan, was from a farm I was eager to visit and had lots of questions to pepper her with. When I was growing up I had an unusual fascination with farming and especially the Amish culture. I wanted to live in nature and liked being able to see the results of hard work. I’m curious how I would have actually liked growing up on a farm versus how much I idealized the lifestyle. I have come to appreciate the complexity, uncertainty, and decision-making that is involved in farming, elements that I would find challenging. When talking about our van trip with Meghan, she mentioned her parents live just off I-90 and would welcome a visit on our way through Minnesota. Therefore, I’ve been looking forward to this stop on our trip for quite a while.

We spent a lovely day with Meghan’s parents (Don and Teresa) and also got to meet her brother’s family, including his two adorable kids. I can’t gush enough about what a great time we had. Don and Teresa are warm, open, and gracious and made us feel so at home on their farm. They happily answered my many, many questions and we loved getting to see where Meghan grew up (and where Don grew up as well, as the farm was originally his parents’). We spent a couple hours walking around the farm, which is about 750 acres. I was so amazed by the amount of equipment needed to run a farm, especially one that grows organic produce like the Chirpich farm. David loved the chance to operate the combine and tractor, which involve an impressive amount of technology. It was hard to comprehend just how much corn and soybeans the farm produces, but viewing the massive grain storage containers gave me a bit of an idea. We are excited for a future trip back during harvest time so we can witness all the action.

We made a quick stop in the town of Spillville, Iowa after leaving the farm. Don had recommended the Bily Clocks Museum and mentioned the upstairs included an exhibit on Dvorak. David was immediately excited, as Dvorak is one of his favorite composers and he had remembered that he lived in Iowa for a summer. The clocks were fascinating, with intricate carvings inspired by locations around the world (although the brothers never traveled more than 35 miles from home). They designed and built the clocks in their spare time and never sold them, intending them to support their younger sister when they could no longer work the farm. Sadly, their sister died young and so they decided to leave the clocks to the town of Spillville, with the requirement that they never be moved. I haven’t included any photographs, as the museum requested that we not share them. However, you can read more and see a photograph on this Visit Iowa page.

Madison, WI

We made a quick stop in Madison to break up the drive from Minnesota to Chicago. Madison has also always been on my list to visit based on what I’ve heard about biking and beer. We didn’t have too much time to explore, but managed to fit in a brewery stop, morning run (for me), delicious brunch, and stop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison cheese shop – delicious! This definitely gets added to the list for a future visit of its own.

Chicago

We stopped in Chicago to visit Ben and Deirdre. David lived with Ben in Boston (and they went to school together) and they did the hike in Newfoundland together that we plan to tackle in a couple weeks. We unintentionally timed our visit to Chicago for their last night there and Deirdre’s 30th birthday party. We loved seeing their apartment on the first story of a cool old house and making plans to meet up for some winter skiing. David and I rode on the trail just a half-mile east of their house along the water for some nice downtown views. We couldn’t believe how many bikes, people and scooters were on the path. I was too busy trying not to hit anyone else to take any photos or videos, but it was wild. While bikes and walkers were separated on some portions of the trail, in pinch points (or where the lake overlapped the path) everyone shared a narrow path. I did some reading on the path and learned that significant improvements have been made in the past couple years.

Indiana

We took a scenic route from Chicago to Cleveland in order to stop in Indianapolis and Bloomington. David’s Grandaunt and Granduncle (Sue and Murray) live in Bloomington, which is a lovely town about 50 miles south of Indianapolis. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures, but I went on a nice run around Indiana University and through downtown. We enjoyed lunch with Sue, Murray and a couple other relatives before continuing the drive to Cleveland.

Cleveland

We spent a couple days in Shaker Heights (just outside of Cleveland) where David primarily grew up. Unfortunately his mom was out of town visiting her mother, but fortunately his sister, Sara, was also in town from Dayton. While we had dreamed about spending this time lounging on the couch and sleeping in in a real bed, we ended up spending the majority of it doing a full clean of the van. We removed everything except all the pantry contents in order to do a deep clean and reorganization. While we didn’t end up getting rid of too many things (mostly a couple kitchen items and extra clothes), we did make some good adjustments to our storage. We added another layer of bins in the back so now the bed is a little higher than it was before. This helped remove some of the clutter accumulating around the bikes and on the bench seat. Our goal is to have a place for everything so we don’t have to pick up a lot of things in order to put the kitchen table up, the bed down, or cook a meal. Can you believe everything in the photo below fits inside the van?

Verona

Our last stop in the United States before entering Canada was Verona, just outside Pittsburgh. My Aunt Lisa recently moved here from Florida, making the Pittsburgh area home to both my aunts and cousins on my mom’s side. We were so lucky to enjoy a homemade dinner with the whole family! What a treat it was to see so much family at once, especially since we live across the country and time together is rare. We were sent on our way with some delicious brownies and Iron City beer, which was much enjoyed! David, who has become quite the dog fan, enjoyed doing a small photo shoot of my aunt’s dog Diesel, who proved very photogenic.

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