Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Not quite gypsies on a cross country road trip June 1, 2016

Our van is reflected in the side of a tanker truck while traveling Interstate 80.

Our van is reflected in the side of a tanker truck while traveling Interstate 80 somewhere east of Chicago.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE a road trip?

We were headed for Somerville, near Boston.

Headed for Somerville, near Boston.

I define road trip as a recent 3,029-mile drive through nine states that took my husband and me from Minnesota to our destination—Somerville, Massachusetts—and back. We followed I-80 through Iowa (to stay mostly south of Chicago) and then I-90 through New York on the way out and took I-80 through Pennsylvania on the return home.

Somewhere in upstate New York.

Somewhere in upstate New York.

There was minimal time to play tourist, although we tried to do so in Buffalo, New York, location of Niagra Falls. We were lost for 1 ½ hours in a rough and seedy part of town and never found the American side access to the falls. Road construction and inadequate road signage left us totally confused.

Tailgaters in heavy traffic somewhere along the route.

Tailgaters reflected in the passenger side mirror. Our travels went well until we pulled off the Interstate in Iowa and headed south for the Amana Colonies. Rounding a curve on a state highway, a driver crossed the center line and nearly hit us head on. Randy cranked a hard right to avoid a collision.

Without smart phones, we relied on directions printed from Google maps, a borrowed GPS system (which challenged me more than once), a good old spiral-bound Rand McNally road atlas and road signs.

In the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across this truck fire along Interstate 80.

In the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across this truck fire along Interstate 80.

Driving around Cleveland was no fun with all of the road construction.

We encountered lots of road construction, especially around Cleveland.

We navigated around major cities, swooped up and down the wooded hills of Pennsylvania, delighted in the beauty of upstate New York, survived morning rush hour in rainy Hartford, Ct., saw more dead deer than we ever hope to see again (Pennsylvania wins that count), rated restrooms, groaned at yet one more road construction zone, and complained about the toll roads.

I didn’t pack nearly enough CDs for the journey and hope never again to hear Cher sing Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves. At times I felt like a bit of a gypsy.

So many toll booths, although purchasing an EZ Pass transmitter in advance

So many toll booths…thankfully we purchased an E-Z Pass transmitter in advance of our trip that allowed us quick access through toll booths.

Five days of driving takes its toll.





Road trip, 407 red pick-up truck in Ohio


But everyone should take a road trip like this at least once to gain an appreciation for the immensity of this country, for the diversity in landscape and peoples and communities, and even barns. I did a similar trip nearly 40 years ago as a college student.

Westbound into Iowa as we near home.

Westbound into Iowa as we near home.

Everyone we met, upon learning we were from Minnesota, responded the same: “Oh, it’s cold there.” I found that interesting, that a single word defines our state to those who’ve never been here. Yes, it’s cold. Sometimes. But it’s so much more. It’s lush green and wide open spaces and minimal traffic congestion (except in the metro). It’s home.

After traveling 3,000 mostly Interstate miles, I am even more appreciative of Minnesota. We met some genuinely friendly people in every state, from a young couple at a state park in Indiana to Pat from Michigan who also got hopelessly lost in Buffalo to a native Bostonian cop with a thick Boston accent.

No matter where we live, we are still just people. We each have our own niche, our place where we feel most comfortable, that we call home. For me, that shall always be Minnesota.

Randy driving.

Randy driving.

FYI: Check back to read more about this cross country journey, beginning tomorrow with the reason for the trip.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


26 Responses to “Not quite gypsies on a cross country road trip”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    That was quite a trip. It is always an adventure setting out cross-country via the Interstate road system.

    • The most adventurous part was getting lost in Buffalo, New York. I was crying. The husband was trying to get us safely out of the city and back on the road. It’s not a good memory, but a memory.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        I can relate. This has happened to me in Milwaukee and Chicago. No fun.

      • I have no idea how my husband got us out of Buffalo. We didn’t know it was such a big city. To end up in an area where we instantly locked our doors, where Guardian Angels (or similar) patrolled in daylight, where drivers were nuts and pedestrians walked b/n vehicles in the middle of a busy street proved almost more than we could handle. We (or at least I was) were scared. I never want to see Buffalo again. Nor Hartford, Ct.

        I can only imagine how much “fun” getting lost in Milwaukee and Chicago would be.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        Glad you two made it back safe and sound. Getters rattled occasionally just reminds us how great we have it. Contrast can be good.

      • Oh, believe me, I arrived home from our trip truly more appreciative of my life here in Minnesota.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        Isn’t it cold there? We heard that in Ireland a lot too.

      • That is interesting. Minnesota tourism people, listen up.

  2. “Oh, it’s cold there.”**

    I still say that about my home-state, MN!

    I’ve never been on a road trip, but I’ve been on a loooooong plane trip. I’d assume one must
    go w/ a good conversationalist, right?

    Did you and your hubs solve the problems of the world on your trip?

    Great photos, Audrey.

    PS. how are you? x

    • People apparently think Minnesota is cold ALL THE TIME. Perhaps our tourism entities need to focus on changing this image, or embracing it, depending. It seems like no one wants to visit Minnesota because of that single word, cold.

      We didn’t solve any problems on our trip. In fact, we didn’t talk about problems. That was part of the joy of this trip, forgetting everything for awhile. 🙂

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    You know that I LOVE road trips and I am so glad that you were able to take this one. Construction is inevitable as summer comes and honestly the places that we encounter construction are ALWAYS under construction. The landscape changes are what I love to see and some states have such dramatic changes within a very short distance which always amazes me. On those long trips I have been known to rent / borrow audio books . The boys still talk about a road trip when I made them listen to Tuesdays with Morrie –maybe not the best book choice . 🙂

    • I doubt I will ever do this long of a road trip again. While it was great to see the country, without time to stop and explore, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been.

      Yes, audio books would have been good.

  4. Marneymae Says:

    If you ever happen to be passing through upstate NY again, feel free to give me a heads up!
    The Fingerlakes are quite lovely.
    Nothing like being back to where it feels like Home.

  5. You know me I am up for adventure and travel and love a good road trip. I have road tripped through the United States as well as in 2014 through Ireland. I have been to 31 of the 50 states. I have seen Yosemite and Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore. I have been on Route 66 as well as on parts of the Oregon Trail. I have lived in the Sierras and there is plenty of talk about the Donner Party when winter arrives. I have made not 1 but 2 cross country moves. We all are from somewhere and have our experiences to share – that is one thing I like about road tripping and traveling – I find it interesting. Loving your post today – beautiful road captures – thanks for sharing your road trip experience 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  6. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Sounds like a fun trip. Funny that’s the song that I thought of when you mentioned Cher the other day.

  7. Don Says:

    I love to do road trips particularly when there is no time constraint to adhere to! Your pictures show the great diversity of our country (fantastic pictures) and I look forward to a road trip in our future!

    Drivers of other vehicles have scared the heck out of me too on numerous and I wonder where they got their drivers license “cracker Jacks”” ?

  8. Sue Ready Says:

    I am curious-did you get to do any driving?Yes you put on a lot of miles but i always think traveling and getting out of your comfort zone has its merits. looking forward to part 2

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