Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

Favorite memories of biking in Iowa (RAGBRAI) August 3, 2017

HH_bikeMissRiver2

Dipping in the Mississippi River

I made it back to Michigan after a week in Iowa with Team LIVESTRONG. Three loads of clean laundry are ready to be put away. My tent and sleeping bag are aired out and clean. My bike received some TLC. My friends are all at their respective homes. I returned to work yesterday (at least physically; I’m still mentally adjusting). After a week of biking in Iowa with friends at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), raising awareness and money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people facing cancer, decompressing from the real world, and achieving a personal goal as a cancer survivor….well, I’m ready for more biking adventures. Or adventures in general.

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While last year was fun being on the support team, it’s true that you don’t really understand RAGBAI until you bike it. My friend told me so many stories from on the route, and I saw picture after picture of fun that I was hooked before I left last year. But I didn’t ‘get’ RAGBRAI until I got on my bike and joined thousands of other cyclists on the route from Orange City to Harper’s Ferry.

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There was a lot to experience and enjoy during the week. Admittedly, it doesn’t usually take much for me to enjoy any adventure that I’m on. I love the excitement of being in new places, trying new activities, food and more, meeting new people, making new memories. I’m a fairly ‘go with the flow’ person, especially on vacation. But I knew this would be a special week. Not only was I attempting to ride my bike many miles in Iowa, raising money for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and hanging out with friends, it was also a recognition (personal goal) of 20 years since my bone cancer diagnosis. I needed to show myself that I could accomplish what I set my mind to, titanium rod in my leg and all. While I was nervous driving into the week, there was no doubt that I was going to open myself, my heart, to making the most of this special week.

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I enjoyed so much during the week. Here are just a few of my favorite experiences:

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AM_ML_HH ragbrai2017 BLOG

Love biking with these girls

Spending time with friends. My teammates live around the country so we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. I was excited to spend the week with some of my great friends, and have the opportunity to make new friends. No matter where I was, riding my bike, eating lunch, standing in line for the shower, riding in the RV to the next campsite, driving to Iowa, there were great conversations to be shared. I reinforced special bonds with current friends, and discovered kindred spirits in new friends.

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Riding my bike. Is it funny to admit that I love my bike? I love the freedom and power I feel riding mile after mile. Knowing my legs and my body, which survived some torturous chemo to kill cancer, is strong enough to bike mile after mile. Sometimes I marvel that it took me so long to purchase a road bike, but maybe it was never the right time until the time that I did buy it. I loved biking through Iowa, enjoying the scenery and towns from the freedom of my bike (although I started deeply sighing at the sight of the large wind turbines, which typically meant a lot of wind to bike through/at)! I gained so much confidence as a cyclist by the end of the week (shucks, I can now even stay clipped in and not look down to remove/replace my water bottle. Don’t laugh, I had to work at trusting my balance for this achievement!).

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Welcoming communities. One of my favorite experiences was exploring the small towns along the route. What a way to see Iowa! Some of the towns had banners, bands and community members waving and cheering as the cyclists approached the towns. Many children set up lemonade stands along the road (I stopped at one on Thursday – the little girls were so adorably excited!). The overnight towns hosted entertainment, food and drink vendors, games, and more. Imagine being a small town, with a very small population, that suddenly has an influx of thousands of bikers, tents, RVs, shower trucks, vendors and more! I fell in love with these small towns. So very different from the busy suburbs of metro Detroit.

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Enjoying life. There were some definite emotional ups and downs during the week that brought tears, but overall I laughed a lot. My teammates are funny with the stories and antics we shared. The sun shone most days. My body felt awesome riding my bike. How can you not laugh? I loved the moments of sharing stories with teammates and others along the route. I loved the impromptu whiffle ball game (where I discovered an almost embarrassing competitive side to myself – except I think I laugh too much to be considered serious competitive). I felt healthy, free, relaxed and alive.

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tent_cornfieldIA BLOG

Beautiful camping spot

Meeting new people from all across the world, from all walks of life. I met a doctor, farmer, college student, fellow marketing colleague, teacher, chef, retirees, and bum traveling around the country (that’s how he described himself!). While the average RAGBRAI participant’s age is 46, I saw young, old and in between on bikes. I even saw a dog riding in a basket and Batman.

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Stopping along the route. There are many opportunities to stop along the route for a rest, food or drinks. Back Pocket is a popular ‘watering’ hole to enjoy Iowa craft beer. The ‘pass through’ towns are full of vendors selling food, drinks and merchandise. The meeting town (half way point) is packed with entertainment, food, drinks, merchandise, games and more. These are the best places to people watch, meet up with other teammates and soak up the moments of RAGBRAI.

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Helping others. Team LIVESTRONG is at the event to raise awareness of and funds for the nonprofit’s programs and services that support people affected by cancer. Our team raised $145,000 (you can still donate!). Throughout the week, I had wonderful opportunities to share information on LIVESTRONG, listen to others’ cancer stories and share my own, and my dad’s, to help others. Every moment was inspiring and motivating. I always come home from these events wondering how else I can help others in their journey with cancer. There is still so much to be done; I’m grateful I can help where I can.

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The week could not have closed in a more special way. At the end of our journey, standing together at the Mississippi River, one of my teammates asked some of us to stick around. When she approached me and took my hand, she asked me if I’d help Terry share our adventure. Terry is her husband who died from cancer. As she sprinkled his ashes in my hand, my heart immediately warmed at the honor of sharing this moment with her, and him (and of course I cried at the honor being part of a beautiful moment). As a small group, we stood together on the dock and sprinkled the ashes into the Mississippi River and across the soft breeze. As I looked at these special people, and at the great river flowing beside me, as I heard laughter and yells of accomplishment from others dipping their bikes in the river, I was reminded again of how precious life is, and how grateful I am to be alive to enjoy it.

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So, my friends, spend your days being happy. Sometimes we must make tough decisions to find that happiness. Sometimes we have to struggle first to then find our peace and contentment. Sometimes we have to look in the opposite direction to find the path we are supposed to walk. Life is full of adventures. I’m ready for the next one.

 

Lessons learned biking across Iowa (on RAGBRAI) August 1, 2017

HH_bikeMissRiver 2017_blog

I made it to the Mississippi River!

I did it. I made it across Iowa. I biked 200+ miles, raised money to support people facing cancer, and achieved a personal goal while acknowledging 20 years since my cancer diagnosis.

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If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve been training all spring (okay, more like the past year!) to join Team LIVESTRONG at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) to raise funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people affected by cancer. I did this in part to honor 20 years from my bone cancer diagnosis and in memory of my dad who always believed in helping others before cancer took him from us. It was a special way to help others facing the disease that forever changed my family. And I did it.

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When I decided to join Team LIVESTRONG on RAGBRAI, I’m not sure I really understood what I was getting into (ha, always a good reason to throw yourself into something!). A friend wanted me to ride last year so I decided to help the support team/staff last year for a few days to get an idea of the event, but I didn’t ride. By the end of that week, I was inspired enough to go home, buy a bike and train for the hundreds of miles I planned to attempt (read that blog). And train I did (with many thanks to friends who shared endless tips/insight into cycling, rode with me or encouraged my crazy idea). I admit that I was ridiculously nervous in the days leading up to the event. I guess I doubted my ability to bike so many miles with the titanium rod in my leg (I seriously need to stop doubting myself. I’m starting to annoy myself.). Guess what? I did what I set out to do.

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If it’s possible to say you’re proud of yourself without sounding stuck on yourself, then I’ll say it. I trained hard, absorbed as many tips and tricks as I could, asked a zillion questions (sorry and thank you to my coach), read blogs, watched videos, mentally and physically prepared, raised funds for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services. While I wanted to ride the entire 400+ miles of the 7-day event, I took my surgeon’s advice and rested in between the biking days, achieving almost 200 miles. I felt physically awesome after each day. My leg started bugging me as the week wore on, but I’m convinced that it’s from sleeping on the ground in my tent (a perfect reason to invest in a thicker sleeping pad) rather than biking (and I feel fine now). I learned enough to be even better next year (eek, did I just type NEXT YEAR?).

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The week brought many high moments and some lows (a very dear friend had a health

Bikes

So fun being on a bike!

issue on the bike, causing him to fall and be injured. He thankfully will recover but it caused some terrifying moments of worry). I learned SO many things about me, other people, biking, Iowa, and life. Enough to fill half my new journal while in Iowa and inspire multiple blogs (if I had the energy to write that much at this time)! For now, I’ll share just a few lessons with you.

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There are some really good people around me: I’ve shared in the past about the awesome camaraderie and kindness of my LIVESTRONG friends. As much as cancer sucks, it is a common bond that ties many of us together. From the other RAGBRAI newbies to the multi-year veterans, I shared many laughs, hugs, tears, drinks, jokes, smoothies, dances and, of course, miles on the bike with my 70+ teammates. They pushed, pulled, encouraged, cheered and supported me. I have deeper bonds with those who started as friends, and many new friends. And outside of the team, I was surrounded by thousands of other cyclists. As I waited 30 minutes in line for a shower, I had a wonderful conversation with a mother and daughter who I ironically rode beside me for a few miles earlier in the day. They recognized my Michigan Awesome jersey and tribute cards. It was a great opportunity to share LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and simply get to know two friendly women. I thought it a little weird when a man randomly commented on my ‘beautiful scar’ running along my femur, only to learn his wife is a also a bone cancer survivor and he was going to tell her of my accomplishment on the bike to motivate her to stay strong. There was the young woman who brought me to tears and shared a hug as she talked about her dad also dying from multiple myeloma. And the many others who told stories of how LIVESTRONG’s programs and services helped them or others. These stories, these moments, filled me so much with motivation, joy, appreciation and sadness (that this disease still affects too many).

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I’m stronger – mentally, physically and emotionally – than I give myself credit for. This week taught me that I need to believe in myself more. I admit that I was ready to throw up that first morning as we pedaled out of the campsite. But a few miles in, I found myself smiling at friends as we shared the beautiful morning on our bikes, and a few miles later, I settled in as we rolled along the road, and a few miles later, I laughed aloud at the pure joy of being on my bike. As the week progressed and I biked more miles, helped take care of my friend, laughed until my stomach hurt, cried, listened, shared, hugged and simply felt myself be in the moment, I realized that I may never have all the answers to life, but I’m doing a pretty good managing it right now.

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Sunrise on the runway.

We live in a beautiful country. When I told people that I was joining LIVESTRONG to bike across Iowa, many people replied, “You’re spending your vacation in Iowa? In the July heat?” Well, yes. I’ve come to love Iowa. As we moved east across the state, the land started to roll into hills and the scenery turned even prettier. I was in awe of our campsite in Waukon on the last night as we were tucked at the end of a runway at the municipal airport overlooking farms filled with soybeans, corn and cows. The sunset’s colors streaming across the skyline made my breath catch and the glorious night sky filled with stars brought tears to my eyes as I thought how incredibly fortunate I am to be alive to experience this magic.

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Life is short, so don’t waste it. When you or someone close to you endures something serious, it makes you hit pause on life for a few moments (or it should). You can’t help but be reminded that life is precious. As cliché as it is, it’s true that we only get one life. Don’t settle for less. Twenty years ago, I had that reminder slapped in my face when I was diagnosed with cancer. Thirteen years ago when my dad died from cancer, it struck me again. There’s been many other moments throughout life to reinforce that thought. It’s why I search for happiness in all I do; why I left an unhappy situation to seek true love and joy; I explore places away from home to meet new people and experiences; I try not to hesitate to share how I feel; I push myself to be a better and stronger person;  I embrace new adventures and opportunities, I try to laugh and soak in the joy of life.

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Sometimes you have to throw caution, responsibility, worry and fear into the

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My fun bike, Ruby.

cornfield and ride your bike. Despite being nervous about riding the first day, I knew that I would be okay once I got on my bike. I trained on this bike, I fit so well on this bike and I truly love riding this bike. There is something about being on the bike that eases every pressure in my body and mind. It’s a freedom that’s hard to describe, especially as a bone cancer survivor. When my femur was replaced with a titanium, I gave up a lot of freedom. I can’t ride my beloved horses, run, play tennis, volleyball nor many of the activities that I once enjoyed. I think of this rod in my leg from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I lay back down. Don’t get me wrong – I am forever grateful to have my leg because there is an alternative. I never want to hurt my leg, but I need freedom. And riding my bike gives me that. Very little beats the moments when you feel the wind tickle your skin, the sun warm your face (while wearing sunscreen) and the power of your body moving with the bike. You have to soak in the scenery, breathe in the air and think of nothing but what’s around you.

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It’s easy to make a difference in the lives of others. More than 70 people came together to bike across Iowa to raise awareness of and money for programs that support people facing cancer. So many of my teammates have their own stories of cancer in their lives, and also had stories of sharing LIVESTRONG with others as they biked the route. It takes one person to make a difference. Together, we raised more than $140,000 for these programs and services (thanks also to many of you who donated to our cause).

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As fun as this trip was, and as proud as I am of myself, the point of this trip was, of course, more than my story. It was about coming together as a team for LIVESTRONG, for people affected by cancer, raising money for programs and services that support thousands of people fighting this terrible disease, sharing stories and information to ensure we are all one in the fight. And it was a heck of a lot fun being able to help others.

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There’s still time to donate to our LIVESTRONG team’s fundraising efforts to help more people facing cancer. Click here to donate.

 

Community theater brings “Leaving Iowa” play home November 16, 2015

LeavingIowaI love attending plays and musicals. I’m in awe of people who can act out scenes, portray characters with emotion and credibility, and get on stage in front of a crowd. I love the creative sets and fun costumes that many plays utilize to take the audience to the world of the play. Community theater can bring these items to the local public, often at a lower cost than big-budget Broadway shows. My husband and I recently enjoyed a play at the Ridgedale Players, a small community theater in Troy.

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I’ve driven or walked by the theater hundreds of times so when my husband suggested we catch an upcoming play, I thought it was a great idea. Ridgedale Players started in 1931, making it one of the oldest community theaters in Michigan. The theater holds approximately 120 seats, along with a small room near the entrance where patrons can mingle and purchase snacks and drinks.

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We purchased tickets to see the current play, Leaving Iowa. The plot centers around Don Browning who returns to his childhood home to take his father’s ashes to the family farm. The story toggles between the present day road trip and memories of family vacations.  The play is both comedic and sentimental. Overall, I thought it was well-done and the actors did a good job.

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Some of the most entertaining parts included ‘flashbacks’ during one of the family’s trips. The actors portraying Don and his sister did an excellent and entertaining job bringing those characters to life, as did the actors playing their parents. I think I laughed the most during a scene where the mother is driving and the dad (sitting in the passenger seat) reaches over to honk the horn. Her reaction is classic and reminded me of personal driving experiences with my husband!

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The play’s story line brought back many memories and nostalgia of childhood family trips: My sisters and I sitting in the backseat, Mom and Dad in the front, the antics between sisters, my older sister sleeping with her mouth open, my dad threatening to ‘pull this car over’ if we didn’t behave. When I look back now as an adult, I recognize those family vacations as more than just that – they were definitely adventures that we were creating as a family.

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Where I thankfully differ from the character of Don is that my dad never hesitated to tell us how much he loved us or how proud he was, and I know that he knew he was one of my heroes. On the day of his death, I can confidently say that while we could have spoken so many more words, we knew how we felt about each other and there was plenty of love. My biggest regret is that he is not still here to make new memories and go on new adventures with our family, and that we can no longer feel his strong arms around us in a hug.

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One interesting note: The play discusses the center of the contiguous United States, which the U.S. Geographical Survey determined to be near Lebanon, Kansas (closer to the Kansas-Nebraska border). If you’re in the area, a marker and American flag highlight the area.

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What was the last play you saw?

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Leaving Iowa runs through Nov. 22, 2015 at the Ridgedale Players. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased by calling (248) 988-7049 or online at www.ridgedaleplayers.com.

 

More from the Kentucky Oaks and Derby May 8, 2015

 

There are still so many stories and memories to share from the trip to last week’s Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. It was like a sensory overload at times for me – so many people and things to see, so many horses to watch, so much to soak in so I wouldn’t miss anything nor forget anything! I took a lot of pictures so I’ve decided to share some visual recaps in the hopes of bringing you a little closer to the fun of this amazing trip.

Twin spires of Churchill Downs

Twin spires of Churchill Downs

The crowd near the grandstands.

The crowd near the grandstands. More than 150,000 attended the Oaks and 170,000+ attended the Derby.

 

American Idol winner, Taylor Hicks, performed both days. A really nice guy!

American Idol winner, Taylor Hicks, performed both days. A really nice guy!

A good year to win the Derby. :)

A good year to win the Derby. 🙂

In the starting gate!

In the starting gate!

A very deserving display honoring the great Secretariat.

A very deserving display honoring the great Secretariat.

Beautiful Churchill Downs track waiting for the horses.

Beautiful Churchill Downs track waiting for the horses.

Talking with Steve Cauthen, jockey on 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

Talking with Steve Cauthen, jockey on 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

More time with Pat Day, Hall of Fame jockey and all-around nice guy.

More time with Pat Day, Hall of Fame jockey and all-around nice guy.

And they're off!

And they’re off!

I hope you enjoyed the picture show and were able to get a feel for the excitement of the two days. As a horse lover, I, of course, encourage everyone to experience these great races to witness history being made!

 

Ready for a road trip August 22, 2014

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 3:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
You never know the beauty you'll find.

You never know the beauty you’ll find.

I love adventure and I love road trips. The thrill of the open road (well, depends on the time of day and construction season), wondering what adventures await, and new memories to be made.

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My family recently headed out for our annual getaway. We decided to book at Barothy Lodge again, our favorite northern Michigan spot on the Pere Marquette River, adjacent to the Manistee National Forest. Unfortunately my husband ended up not being able to go due to various circumstances. I decided to go anyway. I love hanging out with my family and I love a trip to the woods (especially in a gorgeous log cabin).

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While I was admittedly bummed my husband couldn’t join us, I was also a bit excited for a road trip on my own (we were all able to leave at different times so did that). Barothy is approximately 3.5-4 hours from the Detroit area. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm summer day in the early afternoon when I set off with my new Escape packed with clothes, cooler of food and drinks for the long weekend, a book and my iPod filled with newly downloaded music.

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Lots of things can make for a fun road trip. Often times, it’s the people in the car but then again, solo car trips can be fun too. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when heading out to the road:

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  • Pack drinks and food.  I don’t like to stop a lot (excited to reach my destination!) so I always bring a water bottle, easy to eat fruit (banana, apple) and granola bar in case I need a snack. And I admit I always get a treat for myself, either a Starbucks chai latte or Dr. Pepper. Something about a road trip inspires splurging on treats!
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  • Stay alert with good drinks.

    Stay alert with good drinks.

    This should be obvious but make certain you have directions to your destination! While most cars or smart phones have GPS, I always confirm on Google maps on my laptop before heading out. I’ve had several instances where my phone’s map directed me differently than Google maps.  We ran into this in Maui for our massages so I finally called the spa, which gave me another set of directions! It may be safer to check directly with your lodging (many businesses put directions on their website).

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  • Bring good music. There is nothing better than jamming to good road trip music – fun, energized songs you can sing along to.
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  • Games. Have you ever played the alphabet game in the car? If not, it’s pretty easy – you look for letters of the alphabet along the road. You can also play this game when in the car alone in case you start to get bored. You can also look for various state license plates or whatever other clever games you create to make the drive fun.
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  • Catch up with friends. Because of every woman knows nothing passes the time better than talking to a girlfriend (especially when your husband really dislikes talking on the phone). Of course if you’re driving, be safe while talking on the phone. Use hands free devices whenever possible. My new Escape has the Sync option so I can connect my iPhone’s bluetooth technology with the car and talk hands-free. I love it. And please don’t even think of texting while driving. Seriously, so dangerous.
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  • Enjoy “me” time. I’m a firm believer that we all need downtime by ourselves to reflect on life and appreciate you. Everyone is on the go all the time in our society. I loved the ‘me’ time on the road to be able to reflect on what’s happening in my life now, where I want to be in a few months and what I need to do to get there. Ok, not all ‘me’ time needs to be so deep but at least learn to enjoy time alone. I felt my stress and life pressure slowly blow off me as I drove along the highway, windows down, hair blowing, sun shining.
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  • While Michigan has invested in upgrading their rest areas, I’m a little weird about stopping alone. The further north you drive, the less people at the stops. So I try to time my breaks near well-populated and busy exits. It’s been 10 years since I’ve eaten at McDonald’s, but there are free bathrooms.
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  • Enjoy your trip. Not every trip will go smoothly. You might take a wrong turn. You might get stuck behind a slow moving truck (or a stinky garbage truck). You might arrive to your destination later than planned. Take a deep breath and chalk it up to one for the memory book. Life’s a journey. Enjoy the ride.

Do you have any favorite preparations for a road trip?

Made it to my destination. Now the fun begins!

Made it to my destination. Now the fun begins!

 

 
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