We left Raleigh in a brand new Nissan Rogue. With our AAA membership, we were able to upgrade our rental from a compact car to the Rogue, a small crossover SUV, for just $10! This was a great upgrade, because now we could fit our bikes INSIDE the vehicle. Yay!
Our destination was Fort Wayne, IN, and it would take 10 hours to get there. But, in typical fashion, we wanted to take a detour...a big detour. The first thing we wanted to see was Natural Bridge. We passed it on our bike trip, but never stopped to look. We had discovered since then that Natural Bridge is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world! We couldn't believe we rode through the town and never stopped(!), so we wanted to go back and see it. As a bonus, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs right by Natural Bridge, so we figured we'd drive on it a bit since it's so pretty. Then after leaving the parkway, we were planning to head to the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia, the longest arch bridge in the Northern Hemisphere and the highest bridge in the Americas...woah! With all of these stops, we succeeded in adding 6 more hours to our trip. We were OK with that though, so we set out with great expectations of seeing some really cool stuff on our way to Indiana.
Well, here's the short story:
We made it to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it didn't have the mountain-top view we were hoping for. It was still pretty though, so we made a video to show you what we saw and also thank some more of our sponsors: Greg and Pat Blewett! Thanks so much for your support and your interest in us - go Iron Butt! (Note: Unfortunately, the sound got messed up, so enjoy the subtitles :-)).
After making the video, we decided to leave the parkway earlier than planned...only to find ourselves in the bowels of the Blue Ridge Mountains, off-roading on 1-lane dirt roads marked only by two tire tracks, and with fallen trees and rocks...in our brand, new rental car. Good thing it was all-wheel drive!
As soon as we found a paved road again, we followed it to the interstate and then to Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge, however, had an entrance fee to see the bridge - $16 per person! So, we opted not to spend the money, and instead took a quick video of their enormous gift shop (it had pictures of the bridge) and say thank you to one of our supporters, Allesandro! Thanks for dinner and the encouragement on a night that we really needed it, Allesandro!
As we pulled out of Natural Bridge, we realized it would be dark before we'd get to the New River Gorge Bridge. We were bummed and thought about just skipping it, but we realized that we couldn't skip it, because now it was actually on the way to Fort Wayne, IN. We thought to ourselves, "Surely they'll have lights on it at night if it's such a big deal!". Well, they didn't. And the observation deck was closed too. We never even got to see a picture of it, which was really too bad because there is a nearly 1000 foot drop from the bridge to the river underneath. Wow!
It rained as we drove, and we eventually got to Zach and Carleen's house (Nathan's sister and brother-in-law) around 3:30am. Carleen let us in and we all went straight to bed!
We were at Zach and Carleen's for two days, and I think the four of us spent at least half of our time playing Wii. (Guess what my Wii-Fit age is? 46!!!! Unbelievable!!) They even bought two more wii-motes so all four of us could play at the same time. Let me tell you, 4-player Mario (with everyone playing at the same time) is crazy!! At one point, (and I don't remember when this was, but I know it's when we were playing Wii), I was laughing so hard, I had to leave and go pee or else I would've peed my pants! We also went to 800 Degrees, a pizzeria named after their 800-degree oven imported from Italy, swapped our rental car for our actual car, chased a UPS truck around, and experienced a bit of the night life in Fort Wayne. I should also note this is the first time Nathan and I have seen their new house. It's warm and cozy feeling, and I really liked the decorations (way more 'adult' and fancier than Nathan's and my mix-n-match dorm-room style motif!). I would show you pictures, but unfortunately, I didn't take any. Fail.
On Thursday, it was time to say goodbye and head to Nathan's parent's house.
They made a special dinner to celebrate us making it all the way across the USA on our bikes. It was soooo good. They made our favorite things, and I ate until I couldn't fit another thing in my mouth...and then we had dessert! Nothing beats a meal made with love! Here's what we had:
Nathan's mom also called some of the local newspapers to see if they wanted to interview us, and we wound up getting interviewed twice, and our story went to three different newspapers! Woah! We proved to the reporters how often we get interviewed by asking if we could videotape some of the interviews - haha! It was a big deal to us, so we decided to do it ever thought we knew they probably thought we were weird.
On our last night there, we went to a restaurant that Nathan has been telling me about ever since we got married, but I've never been there. It's called Fish of Stroh. Nathan went there as a kid, and everywhere we've lived, Nathan has been on a quest to find fried fish that's as good as they make it at Fish of Stroh. I was looking forward to it, and when we got there, I chose a parmesan Tilapia...or something like that. Anyway, it didn't come out looking like the breaded and fried fish I was intending to order, so I was a little bummed. I was really good though. Then I tried some of Nathan's fish (which WAS breaded and fried), and it was pretty good too. Nathan really liked it, but surprisingly to me, I can't say I was able to notice a big difference between this fried fish and the other fried fish we've tried that he says is not as good. Oh well. He was happy, and his parents were happy to take us, and I liked my food even though it wasn't breaded and fried. :-)
All too soon, Saturday came around and it was time to say goodbye again as we headed to Ohio to visit my parents. One of the first things I noticed when I walked into my parents' house was their Christmas tree...or should I say "Chistmas tree". The picture on the left is Zach, Carleen, Nathan and I by Nathan's parents' Christmas tree, the one on the right is my parents' tree...and DVD fireplace. This is the first year my parents have done this, and I thought it was pretty funny. Apparently, now that Evan and I are out of the house, they're letting old formalities and traditions go.
Another surprise is that my grandma and grandpa were there waiting for us! That was especially cool, because the last time we saw them was when we stayed with them at Glacier National Park while we were on the trip (around Labor Day). My mom had made all my favorite food, and even a special, new recipe for Nathan: pumpkin bundt cake with chopped almonds (it was good!). Everything was going great, until I went to get something from the car and couldn't get out of the house.
To my surprise, all of the exterior doors were locked...from the inside! And the only way to open them was with a key! That's right, to lock or unlock the house from the outside OR the inside, you need a KEY! So I went into the garage and sweetly said to my dad, "Daddy, I can't get out of the house." He came over to me just as sweetly, put his arm around me, and said, "I told you that you and Nathan were welcome to come." Then he paused and continued, "but you are never allowed to leave," and he did his best impression of an evil, muah-ah-ahhh laugh. I laughed and rolled my eyes as he gave me a hug. He never misses an opportunity to do dad-stuff like that. Then he showed me where the key was. :-)
My parents made a second thanksgiving, and we all ate tons of food. Even Amanda, Evan's fiancee, came over to eat. Afterwards, the kitchen table reminded me of something you'd see in a movie or something. Welcome to the 21st century...
The next day, Nathan and I gave my mom a late birthday gift: a bike computer. She wanted to try it out immediately, even though it was snowing outside! Nathan and I rode all the way across the USA and never once biked in the snow - and now, here's my mom, taking her bike out in the snow!! Crazy!
I also got a video of the train set my dad set up for me. This is a great video - the end is the funniest. :-) (Mr. and Mrs. Reinhard, you'll like it.)
Then, it was Monday, time to move on again, and my mom wanted us to come with her "just for a little bit" in the morning to talk to some of her friends at the gym she exercises at and at the school she works at (my old high school). So we got up at 4:30 to make it to the gym before school started. We met some cool people and talked for a bit, and then it was time to go to the high school. My mom had a whole list of people for us to talk with at the school - some teachers, some of my track coaches, my band director, etc.. It was really neat to see them all again, and I was so happy that they remembered me. The biggest surprise though came when we met Mr Felton, a science teacher of mine. He wanted us to talk to his class about our trip!
He told the class something like, "You guys know I like science and I think it's important, but what's even more important than that is going after your dreams in life. Goals and dreams are a big deal, and I want you to meet some people that have just done something amazing and completed a life dream of theirs." Wow, what an introduction! We talked to the class about our trip, about being debt free, and even about dating for a bit. Then, he asked us to come back and talk to his 2nd period class! So we did, and we even took a picture with them before we left!
It was snowing as we pulled away from Strongsville, but we had to get a move one or else we'd be late meeting up with my friend Deb for lunch in Columbus, OH. We said goodbye to my mom in front of my old mascot, the Strongsville Stallion, and then headed home to say goodbye to my dad (he wasn't up when we left this morning).
It was great seeing everyone. My favorite memories from these visits are probably: 4-player wii with Zach and Carleen, and nearly peeing my pants because it was so funny; a special dinner with Nathan's mom and dad (with homemade pie and 6 kinds of ice cream for dessert); and getting locked INSIDE my parents' house, my dad telling me I could never leave. Ahhh, there's nothing like family... :-)