Conley Armstrong
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Beyond Michigan: Part 1

I traveled this country this last spring, half of it with a 60-year-old man. Here's my journal of the adventure. Part One.

4/21 11 AM  

It was a longer drive yesterday than expected. I had a mental schedule which I needed to follow. We drove from Utah through Colorado into my hometown in Wyoming. I was now four days into a cross country roadtrip with my roommate from a ski town in the high Sierras.

My roommate was Scott. He was quirky in the best way possible, 420 friendly, and dressed normally like a steampunk sailor. He was also just shy of 60-years-old.

I bought a journal today to help properly capture the soul of this trip.

4/21 10 PM

We crossed the Black Hills today. Scott pointed out how so many wars took place on the land we were passing through. Animals used to flock in these valleys before human presence. When Scott would talk, my mind would daydream and try to picture all the history of these beautiful places.

We ended up staying at the Ramada in Rapid City, $42 a night. After rolling a few joints, we walked to the local movie theater. It was like this entire town was a step back in time. The theater itself looked like it could be used as a backdrop for any 1970s movie. We thought about how many towns were like this. Maybe nothing's changed. Maybe we’re just too focused on technology.

4/22 9 AM

We got on the road heading east shortly after I wrote this — it was quiet between us. I think we were both focused on our futures. Scott was re-entering a field which he hadn’t been in for over 20 years. Me on the other hand, I was beginning to settle once I returned home. This was the first time in over three years where I didn’t want to move.

4/22 11 AM

We’ve seen road signs for this place for the last 400 miles. Anybody traveling in the Northern Mid-West has at least heard of this place and it happened to land perfectly in time for a rest break. Wall Drug. This massive tourist trap has long expansive connecting rooms which house over 20 individual retailers. While Scott bought a knife, I found myself probably spending too much staring at a large taxidermy grizzly.

After hitting the road again, we decided to take a detour through Badlands National Park just south of Wall Drug. Upon entering, we learned it was Earth Day and we got free access. The Badlands were a different kind of dessert. All the mountains were made from volcanic ash,  sneaks of red color reveal themselves softly in the peaky mountains.

About eight miles from the exit, we stopped at a pullout to capture the beauty one final time. Scott and a lady with a dog hung out at the lookout point. I walked carefully about 50 feet in front of them off the platform, just to listen. It was quiet. No one talked for what felt like five minutes. When the birds chirped, it echoed through the canyons, I don't think I’ll ever hear something like that again. Just beautiful silence. This is our world.

4/22 6 PM

We needed another rest break to stretch our legs and use the bathroom. A rest area was our last venture before we settled for the night. We were now in Minnesota. A large, probably two-acre tall grassy field laid between us and a lake. We wandered over and stood on the deck. Scott found a floating piece of wood and began throwing rocks at it. This lake was shiny, almost mirror-like. He recalled that his brother and him used to play this as a game when they were children. When walking away, we stumbled upon the name of the lake. Clear Lake. What a perfect fit.

4/23 11 AM

I did it! I finally fucking did it. I crossed two things today — one off my bucket list, one is a body of water. As a traveler, this is the day I have been actively dreaming of for years. I have crossed the Mississippi River. I am in Wisconsin. Here’s to seeing everything I’ve dreamed of seeing.

4/23 2 PM

Scott, being the great traveling partner he was, made sure I lived Wisconsin authentically. When stopping by a gas station on our trek through the state headed to the upper peninsula of Michigan, he happily pointed out that cheese curds were on sale. We bought two bags. They are dense — something I recommend at least trying once.

4/24 7:30 AM

By 10 PM tonight, I’ll have dropped my roommate off in Lower Michigan. We’ve officially been on the road a week. I’ve started looking at trains, rolling papers, gas prices, and hostels. The rest of this is mine. I know this will change my life forever.

4/24 10 AM

Scott warned me the trees in Michigan were different. More dense. The trees were thin. This thin, dense forest lined the road all the way through the state. We began following Lake Michigan up the coast. Scott loved these lakes and wanted me to appreciate them as much as he did.

We stopped at a pull-out because we saw this huge, red lighthouse about a half-mile from the shoreline. Not as prepared as we should of been for the windy day, we decided to walk out to the lighthouse.

The further and further we walked out, the colder and colder it got. It was a different kind of cold, a bitter, non-bone-chilling cold.

4/24 1:15 PM

We ended up just barely catching the ferry to Mackinac Island. This island was just off the bridge that divides the upper and lower parts of Michigan.

Scott used to work as a seasonal worker on the island over 20 years ago. He adored the atmosphere and rustic vibe the island held. I was planning on accepting a job this upcoming summer at the island but I turned it down to stay in California. During that time is when Scott and I began talking more instead of just being quiet roommates.

The end of April to Mid-May is usually when seasonal employees are accepting and moving to their new jobs for the summer. Scott and I ended up catching the ferry ride with all the new employees. It was a weird feeling. I would have been one of these people.

4/24 2:24 PM

With it being the very start to the season, that meant not that many retailers were open. Scott and I bought a sandwich or two from the only open grocery store and walked to the nearby park a block or two away.

Scott began talking about all the places on the island; the Grand Hotel, the employee bunkers, the never changing stores. He also mentioned again that Mackinac Island doesn't allow cars of any kind. It was all foot, bike, or horse traffic. It’s crazy that in over 20 years, he still says nothing has changed besides the rate to get on the deck of the hotel.

With the bitter Michigan air slowly becoming more and more prominent, Scott showed me a quick tour of the island before heading back on the road.

4/24 11:00 PM

We drove the rest of the way to his mother’s house. She lived about 15 minutes off the main track to the city. Just easily enough to commute and get everywhere. This was the community that Scott grew up in. As we were getting closer to his mother's house, Scott began telling me more stories of his childhood. It didn’t surprise me that this tattooed man was a rebel child.

I ended up staying the night with them at his mother’s. She was the exact opposite of Scott. She was this bubbly, kind woman that used to work for the local school district before retiring. I enjoyed both their company but I head on the road alone tomorrow bound for New York so I need to get some sleep.

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Beyond Michigan: Part 1
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