Oberlin Blogs

Move-In, Part 3: Journey Across America

September 26, 2022

Lanie Lee Cheatham ’24

Ah, the open road. There is something so beautiful and so quintessentially American about road tripping. The skies are clear, the roads are long, and there are seemingly endless expanses of grass, hills, and corn. This summer, a week before classes started, my friend Leela and I embarked on our week-long road journey to Ohio.

Day One:

We began in Encinitas, California, where Leela lives. In what ended up being the longest leg of our journey, we drove all the way from California, through Nevada and Arizona, to my home in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

We rose with the sun to try to get to my house before the sun set. As we drove through sunny Southern California, the valleyed landscape blanketed by sprawling suburbs, the car hummed. It always surprises me how much of California is a desert. The I-15 skirts past the Mojave National Preserve, a vast expanse of dry ground, round rocks, and Joshua Trees. Then, it's off to Vegas, where bright lights and flashy signs greet you at every bend in the road. The Chainsmokers, Nelly, Shin Lim, Sweet James, and Carrottop smile bright, their 2D figures pasted on tall rectangular billboards high in the sky. We stopped right at the Nevada-Arizona border for gas, and the sun felt like a heavy hand pushing me towards the ground. Bright green pastures of golf courses–with questionable water sources–contrast the hot and arid landscape. Arizona is just a blip, then Southern Utah greets me like a warm hug. I have a lot of newly-found Utah pride. Growing up, I didn't love Utah because I felt very much like an outsider. The religious culture is very particular, and you are either in or you are out. But things are changing, I am growing, and I am recognizing the beauty of the margins within the mainstream. I am appreciating Utah once more (especially in the New York-California-dominated landscape of Oberlin College).

It was a rush to get to my house, as two other friends, Caterina and Clio (driving from Tahoe and heading to Oberlin in a separate car), were also staying the night at my house, and we were trying to arrive at the same time. They ended up beating us there and lounged around, talked to my mom, and freshened up before we arrived.

My mom and my sister cooked an elaborate dinner for us, pasta, shrimp, steak, vegetables, and s'mores cookies for dessert. Being at home with my family, dogs, and friends was so nice. That night I rested easy.

Day Two:

We slept in and were awoken by my dogs jumping on the bed. Our leisurely rise, followed by a beautiful hike and waffles and squash eggs, was complicated by car troubles. Caterina and Clio had some coolant issues and were researching where to put coolant into their car. They eventually figured it out, and headed out ahead of us, taking the diagonal on their drive through Wyoming. We stayed behind to experience another day of Salt Lake City. Leela had never visited before, so I was determined to give her a Salt Lake City experience. We met two of my friends at the Chinatown Supermarket strip mall extravaganza to get tea. I had an awesome dessert combo of chewy black sesame balls and cheese foam oolong tea at the Best of Utah award winner for Best Slippery Sweets. After that, we had birria tacos and strawberry horchata at my sister's house. We did not get the chance to try out the famous soda shops that are on every corner in Utah, just like how coffee shops in Seattle sit on every corner. Ultimately, though, I think I gave Leela a pretty good tour of the city. We passed by the main Latter Day Saints Temple, under construction but impressive no less, and explored City Creek Mall across the street, made possible by tithing money from the church. I finished up constructing the sourdough cardamom-pistachio-raspberry knots I had started making that morning and headed to bed. 

Day Three:

We rose early once more to get going through Colorado. But first, I had to bake off the knots. I forgot about them for a couple of minutes after they were done, so they got a bit burnt but were still very tasty. Despite Utah's close proximity to Colorado, I have never visited in a way that I meaningfully remember. I'd never driven on the I-70 since it was closed for a while, so the drive was all new to me. It was really pretty, the road was curvy, and mountains flanked us on both sides. We didn't get any food along the way so we just ate many knots, chips, and some Pallisades peaches. We did end up stopping in the afternoon in Eagle, Colorado, just barely making it through a canyon before it closed for flash flood warnings. Leela's close friend's family moved to Eagle from Park City, Utah, a couple of years ago, and she wanted to pay them a visit. It was interesting to talk to people that used to live in the Salt Lake area. We talked about this toy store that used to be in the city that had a long metal slide for an entrance, and you just slid into toy heaven. We ate hummus grilled cheese with shallots and tomatoes, then continued on into the night. 

Day Four:

Our Oberlin friend Leah lives in Boulder, Colorado, so we decided to pay her a visit for brunch. They recommended a place called "The Buff," a Boulder brunch staple. We all got massive iced chai lattes with oat milk and a rendition of eggs with mix-ins and a side of potatoes. We talked about our feelings about returning to Oberlin, all mixed. Leela was excited to go back and I was less so. After we were full of oat milk, we took the rest of our lattes to go for the road and drove on to Nebraska. The drive was long and full of plains. That night we ended in a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska (Benson), which was surprisingly bustling! We stopped in a suburb to get ramen, and we had to wait an hour to be seated. While we were waiting, we strolled around the streets. We saw: an open mic night at a coffee shop, a punk show, an ultra-premium ice cream store, a beercade, and a masquerade ball. I'd never explored Nebraska much, but neither Leela nor I were expecting to find so much stimulation in a suburb of Omaha. We drove into Iowa and found a quiet motel to rest up at. 

Day Five:

The next day the drive was through Iowa. We stopped in Iowa City at the University of Iowa, and it was incredibly crowded because it was move-in weekend. There was also a Latine Fest going on, so we perused through various tables, vendors, and food stalls. We got coffee inside a plant store, and struck up a conversation with the barista who ended up being from Nebraska! We told her that Omaha was our favorite stop on the trip thus far. After we got caffeinated, we got some lunch. Leela got enchiladas and I got sopes. It was so delicious. We ate sitting on a ledge outside and a couple of sorority girls asked me if I knew where a certain bar was for their bar crawl, which I found funny because they could've approached anyone on the street but I guess I really looked like a University of Iowa student. Leela and I continued to explore the campus and took a selfie with a stranger in front of the school's mascot. After we got our fill of wandering around buildings, we continued on and headed to Spring Green, Wisconsin. The drive from Iowa City to Spring Green was incredibly beautiful. The roads were windier than the straight I-80, and greenery and crops swayed along the highway. Our destination was the home of Caterina's aunt and uncle. We were finally meeting up with Caterina and Clio in Wisconsin after we split up in Salt Lake. Caterina's family lives on a gorgeous farm, equipped with cows, horses, and a wood-fired pizza oven. We ate cheese, bread from the wood-fired oven, and olive oil when we first arrived and sat outside on a picnic bench. Then, we moved indoors and had lasagna with beef from their cows and vegetables from their garden. For dessert, we had homemade apple pie and vanilla ice cream. After dinner, we chatted, lounged, and relaxed in the wonderful quietude of the night. It was idyllic.  

Day Six:

I woke up earlier than everyone so I could call my girlfriend who is currently on a Fulbright in Taiwan. The service was spotty at the house, and to not disturb anyone I walked along the road while chatting. Spring Green has these elegant hills covered in greenery that beckon you to come closer. I walked by some cows that wouldn't stop mooing, a dairy farm, and vast fields of flowers. It was heavenly. The sun was just beginning to shine upon the ground, warming up the cool earth and opening a new day. I walked back and forth along the street, then returned to the gradual rise of my friends. Only Caterina was awake and we ate banana bread with loads of butter slathered on top for breakfast. After we were satisfied, we went on a walk through the property. The foliage was dense and wet with morning dew. We walked all the way to a neighboring property, then walked along the road back to the house. The sunlight felt extra bright and nourishing as it shone through the trees above us. The large mounds of trees in Spring Green remind me of the movie My Neighbor Totoro when they make the trees grow in the night. The ambiance of the place seemed abuzz with newness as if the trees there had also been grown by the power of wonder and imagination. Once we returned, we had to shower to get rid of any potential ticks and use a scrub in case we ran into any poison ivy. It was incredibly humid, and I felt so sticky after the shower it was like I hadn't even showered. We sat around more and ate more bread while we waited for all of Caterina's family that lives in Wisconsin to arrive for a pizza party. We ate delicious wood-fired pizza, salad, and fruit tart while conversing with a great variety of people. There was a woman who studies neutrinos in the artic, a woman who studied medieval history, and a man with two hound dogs that he loves deeply. I felt all warm and fuzzy at the large dinner table. After everyone left, we journeyed to the river. It had just rained, so the water extended far up the shore. We took several posed self-timer photos, waded in the water, sat and stared at the sun, then drove back with the windows down. We arrived back at the house and Caterina's aunt had prepared a chickpea vegetable soup and bread for us. We had another lovely meal and more apple pie for dessert. They were so welcoming and incredible hosts. That night, I rested easy again.

Day Seven:

I rose early again to call my girlfriend. The time change works out so when it is 7 am in my time it is 7 pm her time, so we try to call during my mornings since she has work in her mornings. I told her all about the interesting people I shared a meal with and showed her how heavenly the landscape was. I returned to the house and more people were awake. We ate a breakfast of more banana bread and coffee. Caterina and Clio had to get going earlier than Leela and I because they were aiming to get to Oberlin that night. Leela and I were planning on staying somewhere in Michigan and then driving to Oberlin the next day, so we were in no rush. Caterina and Clio packed up and got on the road, but Leela and I stayed behind and sat around the kitchen table. It was the perfect relaxed pastoral atmosphere before our return to school. When we finally departed, we received bread and pizza from Caterina's family and a warm goodbye. Before driving to Michigan, we stopped in Madison, Wisconsin, to pick up some medieval history books and embroidery supplies that Caterina's other aunt was getting rid of. After that, we hit the road through Illinois. While Leela drove, I tried to find us a place to stay in Michigan. We were using reward nights to find hotels to stay at, and unfortunately, we could not find one that let you check in if you were under 21. In a last-minute decision, we just chose to drive to Oberlin that same night. It was a long journey to Ohio, but once we got there we took the coastal highway to Oberlin. It was raining fairly hard during many parts of the journey, so it was a tough drive. We listened to Glee covers as we drove through the Ohio farmland as the sun set. When we were about a half hour away from Oberlin, we stopped for dinner at Raising Cane's to get chicken tenders. Filled up, we drove the last leg of the trip to Oberlin. I thought it was a good idea to drive to Oberlin that night because previously we had thought we could not get into our dorm rooms until the following day but we found out that we could get in that night. However, I was soon humbled by my decision when I walked into my dorm building. I am living in the same place I lived last year, in Third World Social Justice Co-op located on the third floor of Harkness House. Once we drove into Oberlin, I had strong feelings of not wanting to be there yet. I saw so many people I knew, which was nice but also extremely jarring. Leela and I slept a bit uneasily on our raw mattresses since we did not have time to get our bedding from the storage unit. I felt relief that we had finally made it, but also sadness that it marked the end of the summer. 


Ultimately, this was a wonderful road trip. We saw the people of the Heartland of America and the gorgeous varied landscape. Ohio is a beautiful place, and so are Utah, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. Being in Ohio makes me appreciate the natural beauty of diverse landscapes and places. 

Similar Blog Entries