We covered A LOT of ground on our trip. Here’s what went down:
Sydney to Dallas, Texas
Dallas to Northern Virginia (Gainesville and Fairfax)
Northern Virginia to Central Virginia (Bedford and Madison)
Central Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia to Wernersville, Pennsylvania
Wernersville to New York City
New York City to Salem, Massachusetts
Salem to Portland, Maine
Portland to Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor to Washington DC/Northern VA
Northern VA to Dallas
Dallas to Sydney
Our first stop in the land of the free was good ol’ Virginia. Northern Virginia, to be specific. The People’s Republic of Northern Virginia, to be exact.
But first, the flight. A few days before we left Sydney, Joel realised that Qantas allowed only 90 minutes to collect and recheck our bags, go through customs, security, and make it to our next gate. He contacted Qantas to see if this was a mistake, but they advised that it’s the minimum time allowed for airlines to provide for connections. For international flights. Through Dallas Fort Worth. The second largest airport in the States. So we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. But once our initial flight out of Sydney was delayed by 30 minutes, we knew we were chancing it. And of course, even with rushing and running through the airport with our expedited LET US THROUGH passes, we still missed our next flight by 5 minutes. So, after a 14 hour flight, our choices were: wait 5 hours in the airport for the next flight; spend $900 on a flight with another airline that would get us home 1 hour sooner; spend $70 taxi to take us to Dallas and $70 to take us back. So we spent 5 hours waiting… waiting… waiting… for the next flight. Thanks, Qantas!
We eventually landed in Dulles around midnight. My sister and her friend Brian picked us up from the airport, and my friends Kristin and Kate surprised us there as well, so it was kind of amazing to have a homecoming squad at 12:30 in the morning, waiting for us at baggage claim. We spent a week with my parents, sister, and nephew in Gainesville, where we went to the Virginia State Fair (oh boy), saw an advanced screening of A Star is Born, I drove my family’s very fancy new cars, I picked through my storage room belongings (I thought I had 4 boxes. I actually had 2 carloads. Whoops!), Joel bought a fancy outfit for the wedding, we took a road trip to my dad’s pet project, The Kernstown Battlefield and then went to Harper’s Ferry, W VA, had a visit with the newlywed Odie and finally met his wife, Carrie, and had general hang times with my family and Mz Bill Purray, eating my mom’s cooking and watching almost every episode of 90 Day Fiance (WHY SO GOOD). I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed my family.
On Friday, we packed up our rental car and trekking 4 hours to Bedford, VA for Kris and Kate’s wedding (Fun fact: renting an economy car will get you a tiny roller skate car that will barely fit two adults and their luggage). I love Kate and I love Kris. They’re the most generous, hilarious, and lovely couple you’ll ever meet. And they throw a hell of a party.
I met them through my bestie Kristin, right after college when I was a certified Train Wreck, and I bonded with them through too many drunk, late night conversations at parties. Kate also saved my ass during one of the many times I was soon to be desperately unemployed, by scoring me a job where we ended up sharing an office together, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had working. Their wedding was +10 gorgeous, and even though it was 900* and humid, I loved spending the day before setting up and hanging out with my Ashburn pals, and Kate and Kris’ amazing and fun families. On the wedding day, everyone looked drop dead amazing. The vows were so heart felt and beautiful that I sobbed through the ceremony. The food was delicious, bar tenders funny, laughs non-stop, dance floor was fire, the bourbon was flowing, and I had a very hard time waking up at 6AM to get back on the road the next day. (Actually, the hangover was only part of it. It was mostly that Joel and I drunkenly mowed through two ham and cheese sandwiches that I unknowingly made with spoiled ham and we had mild food poisoning for the next 3 days). I’m mad I didn’t get more pictures, but we were both too busy dancing until my feet blistered and reconnecting with old friends – i.e. we had an amazing time.
After the wedding, we trekked (slowly, with great struggle and hangover) back north to Madison, where my bestie Daron lives – as I found out – on a farm on the top of a mountain. We figured this out as we were driving up, and up, and suddenly realised my foot was pressed almost down to the ground and we were still only going 15 miles an hour. Daron is a sweet angel baby and hooked us up with her neighbour’s Air BnB cabin, so I could nap (hangover) and have 3 rounds of toilet time (food poisoning), before she took us to Wal-Mart where we bought slippers, pumpkins, junk food, and bullets. We took the bullets and put them in her guns and made shooting happen at the pumpkins.
I know, I know, America = guns. But Daron lives on a farm on the top of a mountain. It’s important to be able to defend yourself against bears/coyotes/foxes who wander in, won’t leave, and get aggressive when you try to scare them off. I’m terrified of guns, and was a terrible shot with the small pistols (in fact, I dropped the .9 millimetre as it was firing – whoops!). Joel, on the other hand, was basically a natural. I got talked into shooting the Henry rifle, even though I really, really didn’t want to. But something magical happened – I made 3 shots on the target in a row, and I loved it. I loved the feel of the rile, I loved how smooth and quiet it shot, I loved how the smoke escaped the barrel, I loved pulling the gold lever to cock another bullet into the chamber (is any of this correct terminology? I have no idea), and they basically had to pry the gun out of my hands. I only missed once. So if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse and I have a Henry rifle, you’re all in good hands. (oh man, just writing about shooting it makes me want to shoot it again)
Our cabin, which was even higher on the mountain top, was freaking adorable. After our shoot em up spree, we all retired to the cabin for dinner, a few hours gossiping, and Keeping up with the Kardashians (it’s not a Daron/Audrey hang time unless there’s bad reality TV or vampires involved), and once the stars came out, there was goddamn magical star gazing. We were so far away from civilization, that we saw the motherfucking MILKY WAY. It was beautiful. And I didn’t get a single picture of it.
From Daron’s mountain, we ventured northward still, to Philadelphia. We were meeting up with my parents there and staying for two nights. I love Philadelphia for two reasons: history, and cheesesteaks. We stayed in an vintage hotel, showed Joel where our country shook free the yolk of the monarchy, toured a submarine and a historic war ship, and ate some damn good food. My dad and I got matching cheese steak t-shirts, my mom nearly got swindled by a street hustler, and we wandered onto the wrong side of the tracks to get the best Philly cheesesteak. All in all, we had an absolute blast. We also lost about 20 lbs in sweat, because it was 90*, SUNNY, and with extreme humidity on the day we went sight-seeing. And, there were more laid out junkies on the sidewalk than I’ve ever seen in any city, anywhere.
We bid a sad farewell to my parents, and after missing a couple turns getting out of the city, headed an hour-ish out of the city to Wernersville, where my bestie Leah’s parents live. Leah, her husband William, and their two (two! when I left the States, there was only 1) kiddos flew east to meet up with us and spend a few days at Camp Lanphar: where you’re never hungry, rarely sober, and spoiled within an inch of your life.
The last time I saw Leah was two days before I flew to Sydney, and she was in Struggle City with her first born, who was 6 weeks old. To see her and William as real life, functioning parents to a 4 year old and a new 2 year old was weird. Like, it’s weird to see the kids I grew up with as actual adults. Weird in that I-know-this-is-what-is-supposed-to-happen-in-life-but-how-are-we-already-this-old kinda way. We spent two days, hanging out, laughing, playing with guns, talking way too much about poo and mudslides, watching kids be kids, drinking too much wine, but most importantly – eating ribs. Leah’s mom makes My Most Favourite Ribs In The Entire World, and always cooks a batch when I visit. This time around though, Leah entered the ring and we had a blind taste-test rib-off. Basically, it was the happiest night of my life, and I probably could have polished off both pants of ribs and died of stomach explosion with a smile on my greasy, rib coated face.
If I’ve learned one thing from our entire trip, it’s that no time with my friends is long enough. And goodbyes still suck, but they don’t mean forever. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have friends who are family, and whose families have become my family. It feels good, man.
While we were visiting Leah, a big storm came through and the temperature dropped dramatically overnight (I saw a meme that put it best: “The weather dropped from 90 to 50 like it saw a cop.”), so it was blustery and cold. So we rolled out of Camp Lanphar in 49* weather and headed up to New York City. On the way, we stopped by Valley Forge to get our National Park Passport stamped (oh, we are SO cool now) and so we could see the sights. I told Joel the same thing that my parents told me before we visited Valley Forge in ’96 – that the troops there were snowed in and ran out of resources, so they had to resort to cannibalism. Except I forgot that was just legend, and the look of disappointment on Joel’s face when he read “No cannibalism was officially documented at Valley Forge” was probably the same look I had as a 12 year old. heh heh.
And I, in all my wisdom, thought “if it hasn’t cooled down yet, it’s going to be this hot forever, therefore I won’t need these sweaters and this winter jacket for the rest of my trip.” WOMP WOMP. I was very, very cold at Valley Forge, in the one sweatshirt I brought just as an afterthought. And I had a feeling it was just going to get colder.
STAY TUNED FOR CHAPTER 2: NEW YORK CITY AND MASSACHUSETTS!