This next leg of our trip is where we’ll surely lose the remaining few of you troopers who were managing to keep track thus far. We know it says Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee on the cover… but actually, it was 12 states in 30 days, two separate itineraries, ten pit stops, a birth, and a funeral. Buckle up. Or buckle down? Buckling in any direction will work.
It all started with a temporary detour to NYC in hopes of witnessing a birth in the family — Mitch’s brother’s first kid, and therefore our first foray into aunt and uncle frontier! Luckily, Mitch has quite a few connections between Detroit (where we last left you) and the Big Apple. First stop on our eastbound route: Cleveland.
Nope, no time for that now. On to Pittsburgh.
This wasn’t Hailey’s first time meeting Mitch’s old crew from his Pittsburgh years, but it was eventful nevertheless, as we found out Martha (front & center) was pregnant! The celebratory cupcakes were made by Katrina (right), while Rick (left) brought nothing to the table. More about Mitch’s friends in future posts, if they play their cards right.
The host of this house party, and the host of us while in Pittsburgh, was Mitch’s college friend Meghan and her pup Candy! Spoiler alert: Meggo will end up being the first Rogue Trip host to earn two pit stop cards. So let’s see, one $0 value item, multiplied by two is… well, at least we can say their value can only increase.
We did manage to squeeze an activity into Pittsburgh that won’t make sense to post later, so: have you heard of Redbull’s Flugtag competition? Where teams of engineers compete to design sailing (flying?) contraptions and see how far they can sail them off a launchpad before tumbling into a body of embarrassing shame water.
Here’s what the scene looked like as teams were getting ready to launch. Folks, what you’ve got here are your classic legends of Pittsburgh: zombies, and old Polish women. The two teams appeared to get along just fine as long as the zombies kept getting their fill of pierogi.
As for the actual competition: this is what it looks like. The only real winners are the ones who manage to avoid bellyflops.
Alright! Philly, show us what ya got, as fast as possible. Ex-Pittsburgher and fellow techie Les was home from his very own adventure around the U.S., and we caught up on the rooftop of a high school turned beer garden. The conversation was so intense that neither of us could be bothered to turn and look at the camera. It’s also just possible we’re dudes, who always make that kind of thing difficult.
We also took Pittsburgh Katrina’s advice and dropped in for some culture at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum of deformities, disease and what not. Unfortunately, they don’t allow photography, but don’t hold that against them. Definitely hit it up if you’re ever in the City Of Brotherly Love.
Alright, keep this train rolling… who the hell else does Mitch know within a few hours’ drive? How about Joanna and Cam (with pup Tia sneaking in there) in Gladstone, NJ! Jo and Cam gave us the royal treatment with delicious beers & burgers, a walking tour of their town, and all the trappings of their beautiful home despite having moved in just weeks prior. The Rogue Trip #NewHomeowner crew keeps piling up!
And finally… last but by no means least… and predictably awaiting us with a spread of fancy cheeses and olives… Mitch’s mom! Hosting us as Pit Stop #29, whether she likes it or not.
With mom’s place as the base of operations, we tooled around NYC visiting friends and co-workers while waiting for this darn kid to pop out. Along the way, we got a healthy dose of family fun at the annual Turck lake house reunion. Pictured below is Mitch’s cousin Richard, probably getting fishing advice from his 10-year-old son James behind him. James catches fish like other kids catch colds.
Of course, we also visited Astoria, Hailey’s hood during her NYC stint. Here’s Astoria Park — site of daily Tucker fetches and shady late-night jogs.
Just a few blocks away, you can usually find Astoria Beach:
Meanwhile, this baby is taking his sweet time… so we went with the best available alternative: the very real and very huggable Dutch! We brought him his very own Junior Ranger vest, which he promptly filled with trains and cereal. The staples of a forestry veteran.
Wager a guess as to what New York Metro area food we missed most? Pizza? Popular answer, but not quite… there’s more than one way to skin a good pizza, and a lot of folks in the U.S. have caught on. Nope, the NYC staple you simply will not get elsewhere without selling your soul is… the bagels!
Hailey is known to freeze up when presented with all the bagel ordering options, which is not looked kindly upon by locals standing behind her in line. But — she redeems herself with a nose for cheap dumplings, arguably the third leg of the cheap NYC food holy trinity. Three dollars, five dumplings, one happy camper.
Guys, WHEN IS THIS BABY HAPPENING. Don’t try to change the issue by putting out a birthday cake for Zack and Hailey.
Odie rolled through 2/3 of the U.S. and managed to avoid any damage. He gets back home to NY and immediately runs over a crate. Thankfully, Uncle John is still here and still willing to help out! A well-earned literal pit stop for these fine folks:
Hailey had scheduled a flight back to Arkansas to catch up with her dog Tucker, her Nana, and her mom. That flight was apparently the motivation this nephew-to-be was looking for, because he was born precisely ten minutes after Hailey’s plane took off.
Little Zion is officially in the house! Silver lining for Hailey: quality time with Nana and mom, plus a road trip to Branson with Tucker.
So here’s where things get more complicated. The plan was for Mitch and Hailey to meet back up in Chicago (more or less where we’d left off on our itinerary), with Mitch driving Odie back west and Hailey taking a flight in. So, while H gallivanted around Arkansas and Branson Missouri, Mitch kicked off his long haul by dropping back in with Les in Philly.
Like we said, Les is quite an inspirational chap, having done a similar U.S. road trip just months before — the highlight of which included driving north of Montana to knock on Canadian families’ doors for Thanksgiving and offer to help with the meal in order to get some wholesome holiday time away from home. It worked! Canadians. So gullible.
Mitch spent the following night hanging at his alma mater, Penn State. Lovely on the outside… apparently packed with kids going through freshman orientation on the inside.
Can’t a guy brush his teeth in a university bathroom in peace?
Next up, Len and Ipek (and the four-legged Molly) in Cleveland for Pit Stop #32!
Now, we’re gonna tell the following story the way it deserves to be told:
Many of our previous hosts have expressed concern about seeing our bikes left out on the van overnight. Len did the same, going so far as to attempt to take the bikes off our rack himself. He was not happy that I declined his offer to take the bikes in. Well… Cleveland’s prodigal son was right. Mitch’s bike was gone the next morning.
That said, let’s not be too hard on Cleveland. After all, Mitch not only woke up to a stolen bike, but a text from Philly Les asking, “hey, did you leave your bike lock on the ground in front of my house?” Turns out, Mitch’s stupidity got Mitch’s bike stolen. And that’s why Hailey’s bike was still there.
Our great friend Len didn’t gloat, didn’t judge… he simply proceeded to force his own bike on Mitch, saying he never rides it anyway. What a guy! Obviously Mitch didn’t accept the free bike, because then no lesson would have been learned, right? And Mitch sure does love expensive lessons.
And finally, Chi-town ahoy!
And here to welcome the two of us back to Chicago, Mitch’s friend Bernie and his endless hunger for pizza, which we had no complaints about. A busy man right here, whose hospitality we greatly appreciate as Pit Stop #33! The cards are really flying now.
So Hailey touched down in Chi-town as expected… but who are these ragamuffins?!
It’s Hailey’s dear Charleston friends, Chris and Jason! They decided to fly up and celebrate Hailey’s birthday weekend with us. Incidentally, anyone know why that fountain in the background was worth a visit? Any fans of Married With Children out there?
The theme of Hailey’s celebration was deliciously uncreative: drinking. Specifically, the three men in the group forcing drinks on her, just like our mommas raised us.
10am: birthday milkshake at Little Goat Diner:
1pm: oatmeal smoothie at Irazu. P.S., this is one of the best things in America.
4pm: street lemonade. Specifically, arguing with small children about the quality of their lemonade.
6pm: clandestine cocktails at The Violet Hour speakeasy. There are no photos of those drinks, but there is a photo of their house rules. Someone must’ve done something really regrettable to land Grey Goose on the no-fly list.
9pm: flaming margaritas at Mercadito.
We’d tell you there was healthy food supporting all this drinking, but you know damn well we were stuffing pizza and donuts in our faceholes between all of this.
Thankfully, Day 2 was more wholesome with a water taxi cruise. We missed the architecture tour cruise, so Mitch sprung into action and Wikipedia’d half the buildings as we went by. Not enough to earn any tips from the other boat-goers, but enough that they started asking him questions. He fudged a few answers to a French couple, so… sorry about that, France.
Hailey at The Bean in Millennium Park:
Any Murakami fans out there? We checked out his exhibition at the MOCA:
Drake Hotel, Wrigley Field, all the usual attractions:
Chicago was a great weekend with great friends, but one that eventually took a turn for the worse as Hailey got word that her Nana had a stroke and was now in hospice. We decided at 1pm to get back down to Arkansas, and that meant an aggressive 13-hour drive south… Rogue Trip’s longest straight haul to date. It also meant whizzing through Missouri with little more than a restaurant stop in St. Louis. We’ll get you next time Mizzou.
Circumstances being what they were, our timing turned out to be a gift. Hailey got back in time to see her Nana in good spirits. A day later, on Hailey’s birthday, she passed away peacefully. We honored her with a round of Nana’s favorite — White Zinfandel — as we exchanged stories from the old days. Rest in peace, Wanda, and thank you for everything you’ve done over the years for the Irwin family.
The whole family managed to get into town and see Nana before she passed, which is about as much as any family could ask for. Here, baby Brooklyn makes another appearance on our blog with a touching moment.
The Herdlinger sisters were lucky enough to have some audio on-hand from when Uncle Clark drove us all around town with Nana several months prior, as she narrated a tour of her life from the passenger seat. Now, with nothing but time on our hands to reflect, we went out and captured some of that subject matter on video to tie it all together for a family Christmas present. For those of you who didn’t know Wanda Irwin, you can take a moment here to honor her and learn about her life.
We spent a week in Arkansas with the fam, going through Nana’s photo albums, playing our custom Irwin family Guess Who game, and being hosted by Hailey’s mom Paula who, along with her brothers, kept spirits up through it all and worked to make sure the grandkids had nothing to focus on but Nana’s memory.
As the family eventually dispersed to return to regular life, we made our way east to catch up and commiserate with Hailey’s friend Heather, who along with Mark and Marti Pearl graciously hosted us for Pit Stop #36 at their cabin in Hardy, AR.
Mark is an expert mixologist, so that helps any sad story. But more than that, this crew was super-positive and really turned the tone of the past few days around for us. We owe them a big thanks for that. Also, the two girls in this pic are sharpshooters on the school archery team, so we’re scared of what they’d do to us if we didn’t thank them!
As if this leg of Rogue Trip didn’t feature enough circle-of-life experiences, our next Pit Stop was in Memphis, courtesy of Hailey’s childhood friend Katy and her squad: husband Wes, baby Jack, and yet another baby-to-be… the latest wonderful family opening up to make Rogue Trip a tour of gratitude to have such great people in our lives.
Wes highly recommended Germantown Commissary as the choice for Memphis BBQ, which is arguably already the best town for such grub. Despite being a newcomer to this storied Mecca of meat, it did not disappoint. Feast your eyes on Rogue Trip’s all-time favorite BBQ:
Of course, you all know what has to happen next. Graceland.
Just pricey enough that we’d never go back, but arguably worth a trip even if you’re not a fan of The King. Hopefully you’re at least a fan of John Stamos, who narrates the audio tour.
Nashville’s next, and in what is perhaps a Top Five Headscratchers of Rogue Trip, this town has a replica of Greece’s Parthenon.
Thanks for saving us the trip to Greece, Nashville!
The next day before setting sail, we hung out in wonderful Shelby Park. The Dripping Bird sculpture feels like sweet revenge for all the bird droppings that fall on humans.
The last major stop in Tennessee was Pigeon Forge, a family-friendly entertainment town anchored by Dolly Parton and Dollywood. Nothing gets Hailey’s spirits up like beating people at arcade mini-hoops. New high score! That’s just the latest machine Hailey has owned across America.
Pigeon Forge sports a decent alpine coaster, and as a general rule of thumb, you should always ride an alpine coaster. On top of all that, much like our experience stumbling into Moab during Easter Jeep Week, Pigeon Forge was packed wall-to-wall with people and their vintage cars for an impending week of car shows. Note the fresh detail job on that Ford being protected overnight with a big helping of plastic wrap.
So, there’s your latest dose of the Rogue Trip saga. The usual map wouldn’t have made any sense, so below is our attempt to make it easier to digest. An adventure in many ways, to be sure. Be well, loved ones. North Carolina and friends are up next as this year-long tour keeps cranking.