Trip Report: Return from the Midwest Holiday

We’re back from the last part of our trip, and we finally figured out how to make the return journey part of the destination. Greetings from home at last!

As I mentioned last time, we’ve sliced and diced the trip from Michigan to the DC area so many times and so many ways. Nonstops. Overnight stays. Flights. Rented cars. Our car. With the dog. Without the dog. (Penny is our second dog since we’ve been making this journey nearly every year.) Planned stops. Unplanned stops. Ohio. Pennsylvania.

Roxanne’s small size makes her perfect for exploring suburban areas and parking just about anywhere. So, for the first time in our decade and a half of holiday travel, we did more than just collapse in a strange bed and hustle home.

Instead, we made a point to get to know Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

What connection do we have to Cranberry Township? None! We spent the night there on the way home from our two previous holiday trips because it’s roughly halfway between Michigan and Maryland. And because we found a hotel we like. But otherwise, the place has no more significance to us than Breezewood. (For the uninitiated traveler, that’s where a series of political battles┬áled to a few mandatory stoplights for thousands of interstate drivers every day. It’s also what made “Breezewood” synonymous with “place to pee” for us, and I suspect many others.)

We picked Cranberry again this year and had settled on a Wal-Mart to use as our overnight home base. But we also knew we’d have a 7-year-old feeling cooped up after 6 hours in the car, the day after a week of nonstop attention from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We needed to find something to do in Cranberry.

A little iPhone googling led us to the wonderful Fun Fore All indoor family fun center. It’s apparently quite the outdoor family fun center in the warmer months too. For $5, we got XY unlimited time in Ballocity, a three-story apparatus that blends a ball pit, a physics demonstration and a jungle gym. Oh, and there were arcade games and Skee-Ball too.

So we played some video games and let the kid jump herself silly for a couple hours. A few shopping centers away, we headed for Mad Mex. It’s a chain of Mexican-ish restaurants in that part of the country, and we chose it because we saw plenty of good vegan options on the menu. It didn’t disappoint. Lindy and I each had enough salad left over to make for another meal.

Vegan salad at Mad Mex

From there, it was less than a mile up the road to our final destination for the night: Wal-Mart.

Wally camping by night

I went inside and met Chuck, the night manager. He graciously agreed to let us stay overnight in the parking lot, shook my hand and bid me a happy holiday. So we found the closest thing we could to a shaded spot — not directly under a light, that is. We put up every shade on every window. I used my indispensable silicone earplugs. Pretty soon, we woke up to find it was nearly 9 a.m.! I felt victorious in snatching a good night’s sleep from a place that could have been loud, bright and unfamiliar.

Wally camping by day

We were four hours from home. We missed our comfy beds, our full-sized kitchen and our dog. But we had one last detour in mind. Even though we’re just a few hours away and have driven around it dozens of times, we’ve never been to Pittsburgh. We decided to stop there and check out the Children’s Museum.

Glad we did! The museum is an amalgamation of historic buildings and new additions. It has multiple spaces dedicated to exploring, and kids are encouraged to touch everything. We had the sense that XY was on the upper end of the target audience for this place, but she had a good time. The laws of physics, optical illusions, a maker space and something resembling an ant farm for small humans were the highlights.

Lindy and I were tickled by the handful of Mr. Rogers artifacts on display too. A couple hours in, from our street parking spot a block away from the museum, we hit the road one last time.

We made it home before dark. And had plenty of time to unpack, put away, launder and eat before collapsing of exhaustion.

Roxanne performed almost perfectly on this trip, and we were very pleased with the visibility and comfort on the road. It was nice not having to schlep all of our things into and out of multiple houses and hotels. The propane heat kept us plenty warm when we slept in the van for four nights. My only complaint isn’t an unusual one, apparently. It’s about the fridge temperature. We had a lot of trouble keeping things from freezing, more so than usual. Had to throw out a handful of oranges and thaw out a carton of soy milk. We experimented with leaving the heat on low even if we weren’t sleeping in the van that night, and it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I think there’s some more troubleshooting to do there.

Otherwise, no complaints.

Things I absolutely loved having along with us:

Things we have picked up since, and will gladly use on our next trip:

New places we liked, and would visit again:

Happy New Year and happy travels to you all!


Also published on Medium.

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