In the summer of 2015, before leaving for China, my elder sister and I embarked on a cross-country road trip – from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and San Francisco and back again over the course of 35 days, making many stops along the way. What follows is a chronicle of our travels, as best as I can recreate it from memory and with some help from my photo library and Untappd app history.
Day 1: June 5, 2015 – Doylestown, PA to Toledo, OH (8 hours, 527 miles)
Went to the Attic and drank with Madison before going to her friend’s old house in the Old West End and testing out my new camera!
Day 2: June 6 – Toledo, OH to Cedar Rapids, IA (7 hours, 478 miles)
Stayed with our good friend Tyler (conveniently located within the void between Ohio and Colorado) for the night and sampled a wonderful medley of amazing beers!
(Hop Sutra by Peace Tree Brewing Company, a Speedway Stout (2013) by AleSmith Brewing Company, 120 Minute IPA (2013) by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Sága IPA by Summit Brewing Company at Bushwood Sports Bar & Grill)
Day 3: June 7 – Cedar Rapids, IA to Lake McConaughy, NE (9 hours, 603 miles)
Drove a long way this time all the way across Iowa and Nebraska and found a lake to camp next to just next to the border of Colorado. It seemed like a fantastic idea, but we weren’t quite equipped for this sort of camping – no wood, and no stove… not even much food to eat considering. While looking for a place to camp, I drove into a sandy area with some speed, thinking that my momentum would carry us through… I was wrong. We ended up quite stuck for a long time. Meg and I were digging trenches in the sand so that my poor little 2WD Matrix could potentially back its way out using a combination of pushing and feathering the throttle. After much exertion, we eventually made it out. Continuing onwards, a suitable location eventually presented itself and this time, we were careful not to drive in too far. So we hoofed our gear a little ways through the sand to a nice secluded area between the dunes and the lake.
Despite the beautiful location, we didn’t end up sleeping all that well because, in our exhaustion, we were both strangely paranoid about imaginary lake tides! Sleeping on the beach to the gentle sound of waves coming in sounds a lot more pleasant than it actually was. Needless to say, we broke camp pretty early the next morning right around sunrise.
One of the best things about this area ended up being this little local diner next to a cattle auctioning farm (I think) called Kathy’s Kafe. Bottomless coffee and the large American portions of breakfast food that you’d expect from a diner in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. To this day, my sister and I both probably thank that diner for its existence in our moment of need. The smell of horse/cow poop and strange stares aside, that place was great!
Day 4: June 8 – Lake McConaughy to Denver and Boulder (3.5 hours, 228 miles)
Short drive this day considering our long drive and poor night’s sleep the previous day. We have many relatives living in Colorado and got to see almost all of them on this trip. The first ones being our Uncle Kevin (our mom’s brother) and our cousin Addison. They live in Denver. We were so exhausted, we took showers and napped almost immediately. Then we decided to head off to Boulder to see an old friend and of course, to go enjoy that amazing mountain city.
Day 5: June 9 – Denver, CO to Ouray, CO (8 hours, 415 miles)
We opted to take the super-scenic route through the Rockies to our great aunt and uncle’s house in beautiful Ouray (boxcanyonblog.com) instead of taking the interstate the whole way. Complete with detours and stops here and there, it probably took us over 8 hours altogether, but it was worth it!
If I remember correctly, we took Route 70 from Denver until the Carbondale/Aspen exit, where we got off the interstate and drove as if going to Aspen, but veered off to the west at Carbondale towards Somerset, Hotchkiss and eventually Delta. Or, it’s quite possible we went the even-more-scenic route and hopped on route 12 (which doesn’t show up on Google maps until you’re practically all the way zoomed in where an inch equals 2 miles) towards Crested Butte (I remember something about making Crusty Butt jokes the whole time) and then approaching Montrose from the east instead of north. Either way, we finally made it in around dusk. Our family had pizza and IPAs waiting for us! Love those two!
Day 6: June 10 – Ouray
We finally had a full day without sitting in the car once! We rested in Ouray for two nights, waiting for our brother Brad to start his vacation and come meet us in Grand Junction on the 12th. So in the meantime, my sister and I got to relax. I went for a bike ride, got rained on and headed back, and then once the rain had cleared up, we took a hike up to see some falls before resting our weary feet at the local brewery!
Day 7: June 11 – Ouray to Grand Junction, CO to Bryce Canyon, UT (7 hours, 400 miles)
Leaving very early in the morning, even before dawn, we left for Grand Junction to pick up our elder brother from the bus station (side note: apparently the massively obese Greyhound passenger with whom Bradley had to share his row with was not particularly reasonable or considerate with their shared space, so Brad was fairly exhausted upon our meeting with him in Grand Junction considering he’d spent the last 300 miles cramped up on a Greyhound bus). We grabbed breakfast and supplies, and took care of some “emergency medical” needs before hitting the open road between Colorado and Los Angeles. Oh, and another reason (besides the fact that our brother is awesome) it was really nice to have Brad with us is the fact that he can drive! I forgot to mention, my sister doesn’t drive, so it was essentially just me doing all the driving up to this point. Having another driver on the trip with us was a fantastic (but short-lived) relief.
We got to Bryce Canyon National Park just a bit before dusk and managed to find ourselves a decent camp site in the nearly-full park. We spent some time enjoying the twilight scenery (I managed to catch a DOUBLE-RAINBOW on camera!) before setting up our camp site and making dinner.
Poor Brad forgot his sleeping bag at home and ended up practically freezing in the car all night! Especially after a terrible night on a bus, I didn’t envy him.
Day 8: June 12 – Bryce Canyon, UT to Grand Canyon, AZ (5.5 hours, 285 miles)
In the morning, Brad promptly bought a new sleeping bag at the store the next morning. Before departing for the Grand Canyon however, we went on a hike down into the canyon. It was a stunningly beautiful hike. A fantastic way to begin the day!
It was nice to have someone from out west with us who had previous experience visiting the Grand Canyon because he suggested we go to the other side of the Canyon instead of the North Rim. This made a pretty big difference! If you look on the map, the North Rim is almost an entire hour off the main highway, whereas if you go around (a route we’d have to take anyway) you can see the Grand Canyon from the south without even going very far out of the way! Plus, we were able to find an amazing place to camp with nobody around for a long ways after we had gotten a good look at the canyon.
This night may arguably have been one of the greatest of the trip. It had been a flawless day with a beautiful drive across some of the most scenic parts of the Western U.S., saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and found a secluded forest with ample amounts of dead wood to burn where the three of us were able to while the night away in good company by a roaring campfire.
Day 9: June 13, Grand Canyon, AZ to Los Angeles, CA (7 hours, 484 miles)
This day was rough… Driving through the dessert… Thankfully the A.C. in the Blue Pill (a.k.a. my blue Toyota Matrix) was working just fine, so we were able to drink our water without it evaporating before hitting our tongue.
Our destination was LA! My sister had been longing to make it back to California, and we were finally there. And, for the first time this trip, we opted for a hotel (courtesy of our brother) because Brad was also in town to attend the wedding of an old family friend.
Day 10: June 14 – Los Angeles & Hermosa Beach
Waking up in LA was pretty great. Being in California was also pretty darn awesome considering all the awesome new beers I now had access to. We took the morning nice and easy, heading to the pool at our leisure and so on. I took a trip to the nearest beer shop I could find, and came back all stocked up on new and exotic, California-exclusive IPAs!
After a while though, we rallied and headed to a house where many of the wedding crew were gathered to enjoy a nice brunch by the pool. We stayed there for a few hours until it came time for Meg and I to depart and leave Brad to do his own thing.
Meg and I headed back to the hotel for a just a little while, to get showered and such before heading to Hermosa Beach to go exploring and get some dinner! We had a blast, driving the practically empty LA highways after dark. We found a fun boardwalk area to explore. Eventually, we landed at a brewery, which always tends to be the best option if you have nothing else to go on in a new area. Places that care about good beer always care about good food to go along with it! This rule has yet to let me down.
Day 11: June 15 – Los Angeles to Morro Bay (4 hours, 230 miles)
The next day began what I had been quite looking forward to – our drive up the California coast on Route 1. We planned to do it in a 2-day stretch, taking it nice and easy, stopping whenever we felt the urge.
That being said, the drive may have been about 230 miles, but it was definitely longer than 4 hours because by the time we were ready to stop, it was quite difficult to locate a viable campsite. Lucky enough to get one of the last available spots, the campsite then had to be set up in the dark by flashlight. Once that was done however, we enjoyed yet another night by the campfire. At some point during our enjoying of the campfire, we witnessed another car pull in quite a bit later. We witnessed someone struggling with their tent, so we went over to help them, empathizing well considering we’d struggled with the same thing not too long before. It turned out to be a mother and her young daughter getting in much later than they’d expected. In the morning they shared some breakfast with us! 🙂
Day 12: June 16 – Morro Bay to Mountain View, CA (4.5 hours, 212 miles)
Brad, unfortunately, had to get back to work before too long and had planned to fly out of the San Francisco airport back to Denver on June 17th, so our destination this day was to get in range of the airport for the following morning. Fortunately, I had a friend from CMU living in Mountain View, a town just a little further south from San Francisco than the airport.
This drive turned out to be spectacular, with many breathtaking views out over the Pacific.
We took a surprise detour to a little town called Salinas, where my brother knew exists the National Steinbeck Center – a museum and memorial dedicated to one of my sister’s favorite authors, John Steinbeck, who grew up in that town. So while Meg nerded-out at the Steinbeck Center, Brad and I found ourselves another brewery to chill at! 🙂
After our arrival, there was still some time to kill before heading to our host’s home for the evening, so we navigated our way to the nearest bay access point where Brad and I went sailing while my sister napped in the car.
Day 13: June 17 – Mountain View to San Francisco and Santa Rosa (2 hours, 94 miles)
San Francisco had essentially been our unspoken yet symbolic destination for the road trip. Despite that however, due to many complicating factors (not the least of which being my dread for the return journey and wanting to get it out of the way asap without it lingering over my head), we merely passed through San Francisco without staying for more than half a day, which I eventually came to regret. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time there, having been able to see some sights and just enjoy the cool temperatures and hilly nature of this city by the sea.
We even had got to hit two different and amazing breweries in the same day! The first being Southern Pacific Brewing in SF where we met our host from the night before and bought him a beer, and the second being Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa where I was able to fulfill an (adult) life-long goal of mine, which was to try the fabled Pliny the Elder double IPA from Russian River.
The lodging we acquired for this night simply goes to show how well-accustomed we had become to our vagabond lifestyle these last 2 weeks. We found a campsite in the wine country east of Santa Rosa and arrived there after hours finding ourselves a camp site that we ended up occupying free-of-charge, set up our tent and went to sleep, waking up early enough to sneak out unnoticed by anyone. Honestly, we didn’t see anybody at the gates upon entry nor exit, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Plus, it was quite a blessing considering we were on a budget that allowed for not much more than food, beer, and gas…
(Tricerahops Double IPA by Ninkasi Brewing Company at Southern Pacific Brewing, California Blonde and Alt by Southern Pacific Brewing at Southern Pacific Brewing, then Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing Company at Russian River Brewing Company!)
Day 14: June 18 – Santa Rosa to Salt Lake City, UT (10.5 hours, 746 miles)
This leg began our trek back east; it felt like going downhill. With nothing much between NoCal and Colorado (our next semi-long term destination as compensation for leaving Cali so early), we decided to head to Salt Lake City and stay there for a night, even going so far as to splurge for a hotel room! Despite being a long drive, it was a fairly easy one, being practically a straight line for most of the way! There was some cool scenery here as well because of the dried salt beds next to the highway.
It wasn’t until after going out in this city in the early evening that we noticed that SLC was actually pretty cool! I particularly took a liking to it because of its urban infrastructure design (nerding-out, civil engineering style!). Moving around in this city was particularly easy and not entirely car-centric! It was quite a relief. We even found another cool brewery to check out that night! There are actually lots of good breweries in SLC other than the one we found, like Uinta Brewery! The city’s library is also very modern!
Day 15: June 19 – Salt Lake City, UT to Golden, CO (7.5 hours, 517 miles)
The next morning, we found a cool local craft bagel shop to grab ourselves some breakfast. This added even more to my fondness for SLC because in my opinion, a good bagel shop is an essential part of any town or city. A part that even Pittsburgh was lacking in…
Enough about bagels however. Our destination today was to get back across the Rockies and make it to our other aunt and uncle’s house in Golden, CO. But before that however, we found another brewery to enjoy a little pit-stop at!
Day 16: June 20 – Golden, CO
It just so happened that our aunt and uncle were taking this particular weekend to get away on a trip-for-two, leaving our cousins in the care of a distant relative of ours, our aunt by marriage’s cousin from the UK. So we ended up getting the weekend to relax in the beautiful town of Golden, spending time bonding with our Johnson cousins!
It was really great! Our uncle, like his brother (our father) likes to keep a good IPA or two on tap. There’s even an amazing brewery within walking distance from their house! Mountain Toad Brewery is really a top notch brewery. The atmosphere, staff and (most importantly) the beer were all phenomenal.
Day 17: June 21 – Golden to Fort Collins, CO (1 hour, 73 miles)
Now back in Colorado on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, we were only a short distance away from Fort Collins, where our brother lives, so we headed up there next. After a nap, we all went out to a lake together to jump off cliffs and swim while enjoying the sunset before proceeding to a local watering hole for food and drinks.
Day 18: June 22 – Fort Collins to Cedar Rapids, IA (11 hours, 777 miles)
It was a brief stop however, and we were on our way again in the morning for what turned out to be our longest haul yet! Instead of camping somewhere along the way, we decided to push all the way out to Cedar Rapids, IA! Almost 800 miles in a day was not easy, but it was rewarding! We got a chance to relax with our friend Tyler again for four nights! We ended up having a lot of fun here!
Day 19: June 23 – Cedar Rapids, IA
(Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing Company, Apex™ by Bear Republic Brewing Co., Hop Hunter IPA by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. at Shaver Park, American IPA (AIPA) by Schlafly – The Saint Louis Brewery at Shaver Disc Course)
Day 20: June 24 – Cedar Rapids, IA
Day 21: June 25 – Cedar Rapids to Toledo, OH (7 hours, 478 miles)
On our way out west, we stopped in Toledo at our grandparent’s house while they were away on vacation, but this time we were able to catch them! They prepared a nice dinner on the grill for their travel-worn grandkids! 🙂
Day 22: June 26 – Toledo, OH to Pittsburgh, PA (3.5 hours, 232 miles)
The sister of one of my good friends was getting married on the 27th in a small city in eastern Ohio. So my sister and I headed for Pittsburgh where I went to grad school and where my former roommate was still occupying the apartment I lived in and we were welcome to stay there for a few nights!
Day 23: June 27 – Pittsburgh to Youngstown, PA (1 hour, 66 miles)
So while my sister chilled in Pittsburgh, I went to Youngstown for TC’s wedding!
In the meantime, I think my sister explored Pittsburgh!
Day 24: June 28 – Youngstown to Pittsburgh (1 hour, 66 miles)
The next day, I returned to Pittsburgh to enjoy some of my old city’s great food and beer offerings along with my sis for a couple days.
Day 25: June 29 – Pittsburgh
After chilling another day in Pittsburgh we realized we were at a crux point in our journey; do we head home after merely 25 days on the road? Or do we keep it going and head back out west to spend our 4th of July in Chicago with our friend Tyler and another friend of mine from CMU who was doing a summer internship there? You guessed it! We went back out west!
The morning before we left, we got to get brunch at one of my favorite spots with some of my CMU buddies. At this point we were running just a smidgeon low on money, so we broke into our emergency stash of cash, which was in the form of a cash lay that my great aunt and uncle made for me out of $1 bills! (Yes, we did feel badly for the server having both been one ourselves… )
Day 26: June 30 – Pittsburgh to Toledo (3.5 hours, 232 miles)
With some time to kill, we stopped off in Toledo for a few days to enjoy some more time with our grandparents, as well as visit a couple good friends. One was Madison, who had lived right across the river from my grandparents the whole time I went to school there in Toledo.
Day 27: July 1 – Toledo
The other was Dejan, who by now has successfully succeeded me as the foreign research student at Kagawa University from Toledo. Since this road trip, I’ve seen him on many different occasions in Japan. On this day however, my sister spent the day back at the grandparent’s house relaxing. It was one of the rare moments during this road trip when we weren’t close enough to holler at each other, let alone poke each other.
Day 28: July 2 – Toledo to Chicago (4 hours, 245 miles)
Timing it so that we had enough time to relax and see the sights, as well as see and spend time with friends, we arrived in Chicago a couple days before the Fourth and met up with my friend from CMU, Lamyae! Unfortunately we timed our arrival in Chicago poorly and landed there right around rush hour. Our destination, Lamyae’s apartment, was up north of Chicago in Evanston, and we were coming from the south. But we eventually made it, all the while enjoying the nice scenery of the city while driving along Lake Michigan.
We didn’t linger for long since we were hungry and ready to see Chicago, so we deposited our bags, and headed out for the train downtown. Lamyae led us to Clark St., an area with lots of restaurants and bars. After much deliberation, we ended up going with a new-age American food joint with small, unique, exquisite-looking dishes. We were not disappointed!
Day 29: July 3 – Chicago
The next day was great! We went to Northeastern University to take advantage of their sailing center and rented a catamaran! Afterward, we went to visit the Baha’i Temple of Worship, one of only 7 throughout the world, in Wilmette, a town just north of Evanston. After a brief stop back at the apartment, we went out again and found ourselves a brewery called Smylie Brothers Brewing. Enjoyed the beautiful weather outside on their deck while enjoying some fine beer offerings. Finally, we ventured south to where we would once again meet up with our friend Tyler who was in Chicago for the Fourth as well! We enjoyed an awesome pre-Fourth celebration complete with sausages, other grillables, amazing craft beer, fireworks, charades and wheelbarrow races!
(Double Fist by Revolution Brewing Company, Purple Line and Smylie IPA by Smylie Brothers Brewing Company at Smylie Brothers Brewing Co., Pompeii by Toppling Goliath Brewing, 5 Grass Hoppy Ale by 5 Rabbit Cervecería, Zombie Dust by 3 Floyds Brewing Company, 1492 by Toppling Goliath Brewing, and The Cherry Bohemian by Exile Brewing Company)
Day 30: July 4 – Chicago, IL
Our actual Fourth turned out to be another fantastic day. After waking up in our tent that was set up in the back yard where, during the previous night, wheelbarrow races had been held, we rallied for brunch and bloody marry’s at a local strip in this particular Chicago neighborhood. It was then that we made our plans for the day’s festivities. We made the decision to go to the North Avenue Beach where we would have a clear view of the fireworks from across the bay. It was also the perfect place to spend a day relaxing. We had lunch supplies, snacks, a frisbee, bathing suits, music, and a place right next to the water so that whenever we got hot, we could take a few steps and dive off the pier!
We stayed there for probably close to 8 hours! The fireworks were, unfortunately, lackluster, but everything else that day had been great. We had lots of fun and were in good company.
Day 31: July 5 – Chicago to Toledo, OH ( 4 hours, 245 miles)
Back eastward again; the final homeward bound stretch. Since we had simply passed through the last couple of times in Toledo, this time we decided to hang out for a few days. My photo library, as well as my Untappd check-in’s don’t tell much of a story over these few days, so it’s safe to assume we used the time to relax and enjoy our grandparent’s company and hospitality.
Day 32: July 6 – Toledo
One of the only pieces of evidence from these few days of what transpired is this picture here,
Which indicates we got to hang out with Madi again! 🙂
Day 33: July 7 – Toledo
Day 34: July 8 -Toledo
On the last day before we left toledo, our grandparents took us to a nice little restaurant by the Maumee River called LaRoe’s. It was a nice sendoff. It was sad to leave since it is so peaceful there, but it was time to head another step closer to home.
Day 35: July 9 – Toledo to Pittsburgh (3.5 hours, 232 miles)
One last stop in Pittsburgh. We were only there for one night, so we made the most out of it, in honor of completing our road trip successfully! Thankfully, our friend Mark was around to help us celebrate properly.
(Big Hop IPA by East End Brewing Company at Industry Public House, D’Tango Unchained by Weyerbacher Brewing Company at Bierport, Turtle Power by Evil Genius Beer Company, Slow Ride by New Belgium Brewing Company)
Day 36: July 10 – Pittsburgh to Philadelphia (5 hours, 304 miles)
And that was it! 35 days on the road, thousands of miles, hundreds of photos, and countless fond memories.
Here are some fun statistics about our trip:
Total miles traveled: 8,169
Total hours spent driving: 128 (that’s over 5 whole days – almost 15% of the entire trip was spent with our butts in those seats!)
Number of different states passed through: 12
- Ouray Brewery
- Abigaile Brewery
- Monterey Coast Brewing Company
- Southern Pacific Brewing
- Russian River Brewing Company
- Red Rock Brewing Co.
- Palisade Brewing Company
- Mountain Toad Brewing
- Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this post to my amazing siblings, MJ and Bradley. I love you guys. The inspiration to do this post was my sister’s birthday, so I hope she likes it!