My Cross-Country Move Gave Me A Lot of Feelings (Just Not the Ones I Was Expecting)

I feel like I’m in commercial about a road trip instead of on an actual road trip.
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Claire Lower
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I feel like I’m in commercial about a road trip instead of on an actual road trip.

“Did Sean get a job in Portland?”

“No, he works from home, so.”

“Did you get a new job in Portland?”

“Um, no. I also work from home. I mean, there’s a magazine out there that I write for sometimes but it’s still freelance.”

“So why are you moving?”

“Because we can.”

“What?”

“Well uh, because we want to.”

“What?”

“Because we can” and “because we want to” aren't really viewed as satisfactory reasons for a 3,000-mile move, so at some point during the "why are you moving?" conversation, I would end up rambling about “not really having the complexion for the Florida sun, haha” and “well my mother just moved to Sacramento so this would be closer,” even though those “reasons” are only tangentially related to our decision to pack up all of our possessions and pets and move to the other coast.

We honestly just wanted to.

So here we are, currently staying with a friend in Hillsboro while we take our time finding our next home (in Portland, not Hillsboro). Due to a ridiculously indirect route along which we visited family (and Tynan!) it took us eight days to get here.

I had done a cross-country move with Sean before in 2007, but that trip felt very different. I was 20 years old, able to fit everything I owned into a 2005 Hyundai Accent, and blissfully unconcerned about “making a terrible mistake.” (Many had warned me that I was doing just that; I was not.)

Sean and I drove across the U.S., stopping to see the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, and the tiny alien museum in Roswell. We jointly ruined our childhoods by seeing the first Michael Bay "Transformers" opening night in San Antonio. The whole thing had a very new, exciting, “grown up” feeling, and my only real concern was my college credits transferring from PCC to SPC.

I also had an eyebrow ring. It was a very different time.

Somehow, I was surprised that this cross-country trip felt completely different from the first. I didn't feel sad about the things I thought I "should" feel sad about -- though I had been almost unbearable with how excited I was leading up to the trip -- and driving out of Florida was strangely anticlimactic.

Day One

It takes us three hours to pack up the car, throw away stuff we should have already thrown away, and drag the mattress to the curb. I watch a YouTube video on how to use the old Polaroid I found in my grandmother's house while standing in an empty kitchen. I take a picture of the last time Sean will ever stand in front of the duplex that has been our home for the last three years.

We put all three animals in the car (two dogs and one cat) and go inside to do last minute checks. Sean starts to tear up; I feel oddly unemotional. I should feel sad or excited, or a mix of both, but I feel about as excited as I usually do about a trip to the mall.

We drive away at 10:30 a.m. We drive for 12 hours, listening to episodes of Serial and stopping to eat fast food. I take a photo of the Georgia welcome center and Instagram it. I feel kind of petty for captioning it with “byyyyye,” but I do it anyway. Our two dogs and one cat are surprisingly well behaved, content to sleep and look out the window. 

They preferred the front seat, to be honest.

They preferred the front seat, to be honest.

We arrive at a small, pet-friendly hotel at around midnight. It takes half an hour to get everyone and everything into the room.We drink tiny bottles of Prosecco in bed.

I feel relief; it seems like the pets are going to handle road tripping very well.

Day Two

We don’t make any real progress on Day Two. We go up to Virginia and meet Sean’s dad and sister for lunch. Then everyone (dogs and cat included) pile into his Dad’s car and drive over three hours into Pennsylvania, to visit Sean’s grandmother, who I have not yet met. She is adorable. She buys us dinner at Applebee’s (a 30-minute drive from her house). She refers to us as “youins,” which I love. After dinner, we have to head back to Virginia. I feel sad and guilty about leaving this sweet woman I’ve just met alone in her house.

During the three-hour drive back, Sean’s dad plays Aerosmith, Lady Antebellum, and Black Sabbath.

Day Three

We head to the swanky retirement home where Sean’s Zayde resides. We get there before anyone else which is nice, because we can have some alone time with Zayde, a man who fought in World War II and now has to speak slowly and softly. He asks about my family and about our careers and tells Sean about the first time he saw him.

The rest of the family arrives and we take pictures and chat. Zayde wants to meet the dogs and Kira knocks over a cup of coffee with her tail. I take the dogs outside and get too excited about the leaves.

When it’s time to go, I come back inside to find Zayde holding Sean’s hand and dispensing advice. He instructs Sean, in his gravelly baritone, to not “let his ass catch on fire” which I take as a far superior way of saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

We say goodbye and I am sad because I may never see Zayde again, sad because I miss my own grandfather, and sad about the concept of aging in general.

On our way out of the area, we stop at a cousin’s house in the suburbs. It’s Shabbos, and this cousin is observing, so we can’t call ahead as they aren’t answering the phone. We meet the new baby, eat some chicken and challah, and drop off some magazines that Zayde sent over.

The last stop is in Maryland to see Stacy, who I have known since I was 12 and was the maid of honor at my wedding. We meet at a Dogfish Head and have pumpkin beers and comfort food. I hug my best friend and tell her to come and visit soon. “We’ll go fly fishing.”

Our day ends in Erie.

Day Four

We wake up before sunrise and drive down to Presque Isle State Park for a morning bike ride. I’m cold and loving it because I haven't experienced a cold October in over seven years. Every five minutes or so, I make a cliche comment about how beautiful the foliage is. Then I have to repeat myself because Sean can’t hear me with the wind in his ears. We take pictures with our phones and the old Polaroid I found in my grandmother’s house.

I make some comment about how lucky we are to see this much of the country and remind myself of my father.

We meet another set of Sean’s grandparents -- like myself, Sean has a very confusing family tree -- for breakfast. His grandfather is struggling with memory problems but his wife (who goes to boot camp at the Y twice a week) is taking great care of him. I feel sad because this man used to juggle fire. We leave with a package of homemade peanut butter cookies and head to our last visit for the day.

Sean’s aunt and uncle -- and their two kids -- are like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Everyone is happy and outgoing and kind. His aunt collects antique kitchenware and keeps family photos in neat, organized boxes. She shows me photos of my husband as a baby, and I realize that I haven’t seen pictures of him this young; I didn't know he had ever been this blond.

Sean's 13-year-old cousin shows me her pink and purple room and lets me hold her hamster. She loves pandas and Bastille and tells me I’m “awesome.”

I feel really awesome.

We don’t want to leave. We want to stay and eat locally cured sausages but we have to get going if we want to remain on schedule.

I don’t remember the name of where we stopped, but there was a cornfield next to the hotel.

Day Five

We stop in Madison and have the privilege of dining with Tynan at Sujeo. It is the best meal we’ve had in days. After lunch we introduce Tynan to Angie because icons should meet other icons.

After lunch, we take the dogs to a national park so they can get out of the car and stretch their legs.

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The rest of the day is spent driving through beautiful farm land. We cross the Mississippi which weirds me out because I’m not used to seeing that particular river outside of my home state. Our night ends in Omaha. I do my best Peyton Manning "Omaha! Omaha!" even though I know it’s not original or funny but I just can’t help myself. We order pizza and catch the last bit of Monday Night Football.

I miss my record player and my couch.

Day Six

Lots of driving. We stop at the Gothenburg Pony Express station. I feel like I’m in a commercial about a road trip instead of on an actual road trip. 

We arrive at another cousin’s house in Denver at around 7 p.m. All three of our pets are immediately at home in their house. We drink beer and then go out to drink more beer. Dinner is a burrito from a food truck. After dinner drinks are at a whiskey bar I can’t remember the name of. The bartender has his own barrel-aged Manhattan. It is very sweet.

Day Seven

I am vaguely hungover but a breakfast sandwich and a bike ride around Denver fix me right up. Sean’s cousin takes us to Red Rocks and I’m overwhelmed by how beautiful rocks can be. 

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The air is thin and walking up to the amphitheater is harder than I would like to admit. Sean and his cousin race to the top of the venue and regret it almost immediately.

I hung back.

I hung back.

We go inside the little welcome center and nerd out reading all the bands that have played at the amphitheater. We hike around a little more and then head back home. Dinner is at Forest Room Five, a restaurant one Yelp user described by saying “If a serial killer lived in a cabin in the woods it would look like Forest Room 5.”

I love the creepy decor (see above) and the food and drink are delicious and well priced. (Duck leg for five bucks!) Our waiter is visibly drunk and confesses he had been evicted that morning, but he gets our orders right.

We head back to the house and drink Moscow Mules. I feel lucky to have family that I would be friends with even if we weren't related.

Day Eight

We take a stupidly beautiful route, winding through the Rockies and up to 10,000 feet. I almost faint at a rest stop with snow (!) on the ground because I take some steps too quickly. Throughout the day, I keep murmuring, “Would you look at all of this senseless beauty,” which is something my dad used to say when he took us hiking.

Just your basic rest stop view.

Just your basic rest stop view.

Somewhere in the mountains I say, “I don’t know what my life feels like anymore.” Each phase of my life has had a particular, ever-present feeling associated with it, but there is no consistent undercurrent of emotion for this trip or this mov. It’s exciting and unsettling.

Downtown Salt Lake city is suspiciously clean. The hotel we stay at is the nicest so far. They are very pet friendly.

We eat at a locally-sourced restaurant where we order one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Back at the room, we order dessert and a bottle of wine. We eat and drink while wearing animal print robes.

I feel very relaxed and (finally) excited about our new life.

Day Nine

The Salt Lake is a little out of our way, but well worth the extra travel time. We take a picture of two women who are also moving across the country (from New York to Sacramento) and discover that -- like me -- they went to UF. This makes the world feel small.

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It’s Halloween. At a rest stop, we put the animals in costumes and take pictures so we feel like we’re “celebrating.” They are in their costumes for exactly five minutes.

Much happier not costumed.

Much happier not costumed.

We drive for a total of 12 hours. I have an awkward exchange when I try to pump my own gas at our first Oregon stop. We drive through the Columbia Gorge but can't see how pretty it is because the sun has set. We arrive at Matt's at 10:30 p.m., eat some Taco Bell and crash on an air mattress.

We haven't even been here a week, but I cautiously confident that the move was indeed a good idea. It's been consistently dreary, which I have enjoyed so far, but we'll see how I feel in April. I don't miss Florida, though I do miss some of the people in Florida, and I don't feel the usual sadness that sets in after big changes.

I miss my stuff that is in storage (mostly kitchen appliances and records) but am surprised by all the stuff I don't miss. I'm with my husband and my pets and we're finally in a part of the country that suits us. 

I feel grateful.