The sun rose in the East and peeked in through the blinds, a wet nose nudged me with a whimper, letting me know it was time to get up. Today was the first day of my new career as a travel writer and photographer and it all started with a road trip to the West Coast. Actually, it started six months ago when I quit my airline job, gave up the apartment and moved back home.
After years in the travel industry I decided to leave it all behind and start my own business as a travel blogger and photographer for the travel industry. I had spent several years traveling the country, international destinations, road trips and living in various areas of the country. But the ending was always the same, I loved road trips and photography.
I even won a Southwest Airlines photo contest and was published in their in-flight magazine. After several years away from home, I found myself missing Wisconsin and decided to move back but never felt complete until the day I decided to leave all that I knew and become a travel blogger and photographer. Which is where I currently found myself, blogging about the places I had visited and taking photos along the way with a goal of making it a full-time career.
I was excited and nervous about this new chapter of my life, there wasn't a moment where I didn't worry about all that could go wrong and all that could happen along the way and wondered how I would handle it. I also knew that when I did make it, the rewards would be bigger than any I had ever had. I would be working at my pace, on my schedule and be able to enjoy the travels and days with my furry co-pilot Aria.
Aria is a Sable Shetland Sheepdog, no not like Lassie, Lassie was a collie. Aria is 40lb Shetland Sheepdog, large for her breed but still within the range. Her size is an asset on the trails and gives both people and wildlife a moment of pause before approaching or moving on.
As I packed the car and double checked to be sure I had everything, Aria looked at me with wonder, confusion, and curiosity; was she really going to go along? It wasn't until the harness went on and her food was packed that she became excited about the packing. A few minutes later, we hit the road but before we got too comfortable we had to make a pit stop at one of our favorite hiking places.
We pulled into the Interstate State Park and before we were at a complete stop, Aria knew where we were. She was up on the back seat whimpering with excitement and anticipation for the hike ahead. Aria remembered the trails and was all too ambitious to get started. She dragged me to the trail and we began our hike. The area was quiet, cool and calming. The sun was still rising and there was a gentle breeze that blew by us which was refreshing considering we were both a little out of practice with our hiking. We hiked up large boulders and a worn out trail lead us to a sitting spot where we looked over the St. Croix River and back towards Wisconsin.
We took one last look around at the park and headed back to the car to continue our journey West. I drove through downtown Taylor Falls, once a logging town, was now lined with older buildings on either side, a gas station and a few miles out, a ski hill which turned into a summer park. I bypassed part of 94W to take a scenic route known as the St. Croix Trail. Aria and I had been on this road before, except at that time, we were heading South towards Prescott, WI.
The Northern route of the St. Croix Trail was not disappointing. As I left Taylor Falls and headed uphill, off to the right was a park and scenic area and, if not looking for it, would be missed. Thankfully, no one was behind me and I was able to get in and Aria and I had one more time to stretch our legs and take in the view which looked out towards St. Croix, Wisconsin and down towards Taylor Falls, MN.
There were benches, covered seating areas, an observation deck and a trail that took you out to an open field. After a few photos were taken and a short walk onto the trail, Aria and I headed back towards the car. I pulled out of the park and continued along the St. Croix Trail towards North Dakota. The Trail took us through small, quaint towns. Time flew on this route as there was plenty to see and enjoy as we headed West.
A couple of hours later I rejoined the Interstate 94W and had begun to pick up speed. It was your typical Interstate with a lot of cars, traffic and all around chaos but eventually it spread out and even though we were never alone while on this route cars become far and few once away from the Twin Cities area. There was also very little to keep the eye busy and if Minnesota didn't glaze over my eyes than North Dakota would.
It was flat farmland as far as the eye could see if it was seeing anything at this point. I had to make sure I had a lot of caffeine and upbeat music for this part. I was amazed at how many turn-offs had the sign "no service" on them and the further West I went, the more frequent they became. Normally, of no concern until I realized the next major city was further away then the miles I had left in the gas tank. To say I got nervous was an understatement. Panic slowly set in as more and more exits continued to say "no service" and the thought of running out of gas was scary and not the way I wanted to start out the road trip.
Eventually, there was a sign that came up with the symbols for gas, camping, and lodging. A small town in the middle of open fields and no major city nearby; what could possibly happen? Well, I'm here to tell you, absolutely nothing... if you stayed in the car. I passed by the only gas station in town and the people hanging out at the pump and in the parking lot, had me quickly looking for a turnaround. As I passed again, all conversations stopped to watch me drive by, a few moved towards their vehicles but none followed.
I glanced down at the reader and still had some miles to go before I was out of gas. As the miles ticked down, sweat began to form on my hands and brow. I had the sinking feeling that I was going to have to pull off in one of these creepy-feeling, small towns to gas up. I turned off a few miles later to another town and a slight feeling of calm came over me. Just past the railroad tracks, there was a gas station with only two pumps and the operator was a market, parts place and gas station.
It was a town that had held on to “small town” living with replicas of the past all around. Even Aria had jumped up on the back seat to take notice. I snapped a few photos while the pump, very slowly, pumped gas into the car. I also couldn't help but notice the windshield fluid next to the pump was almost completely empty. What fluid remained was questionable as it didn't want to go on smoothly but it did improve visibility.
There were now a few people who started making themselves visible and not hiding the looks, that were a little bit longer than usual in my direction and they slowly continued on. The pump finally finished just as a questionable vehicle pulled in and Aria had also taken notice. A low growl had me quickly getting into my car, a glance in the mirror showed she was on full alert and looking towards the vehicle.
I locked the doors and started up the car, by now several more vehicles had come into the area and slowed down when passing the gas pump. Word must have gotten out that a "strange vehicle" had come into town. I headed out and back onto 94W and saw, not more than a mile or two later, a huge commercial truck stop at the next exit. One that I could have made, had I known it had existed. “Really North Dakota? Where was the signage for this?” I cursed and thanked the Universe for his sarcasm and continued on towards Dickenson, North Dakota.
It wasn't too long after that when an attraction popped up alongside the road called "Birds of Flight" a large steel structure located off of the Enchanted Highway. It was something that could be seen several miles away and more steel structures could be seen if I continued down the 32-mile Enchanted Highway. Thankfully, I could see the main one from the Interstate and it was an easy off and back on if I would have liked a close-up. Time didn't allow and I continued past it.
About an hour outside of Dickenson the scenery began to change. The endless, flat fields were starting to become fewer, hills were starting to form and something in the distance suggested they would only get bigger. The straight road now added more curves and inclines. I was getting close to the border which meant I was getting closer to Montana. The anticipation had given me my second wind to make the next few miles to the hotel.
Even Dickenson wasn't a major city but it offered everything I needed for the night; like my hotel room and a place to eat. I pulled in and the area could only be described as the hotel district. There was construction all over and some of the areas I would not venture to at night, but the hotel was clean, staff was friendly and beds were comfortable. As I got out, my legs were wobbly, weak and shaky from sitting for so long. I also hadn't eaten since Minnesota which had my stomach growling and hands shaking from the lack of food. We went for a quick walk, grabbed something to eat and settled in for the night.
It wasn't too bad of a first day with a notation to keep a better eye on the gas tank, and that if I decided to go out West again I was finding a different route. Tomorrow we would leave North Dakota and head into one of my favorite states, Montana. I had never driven through the mountains until I went on this road trip. Oh, the joys, fun and downright terrifying moments they would give me along the way.
Driving across country can bring about some interesting situations. Broken down on a day by day basis enjoy my adventures and set backs along the way to some beautiful destinations.