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Maine to California: An Interview with Julie O'Rourke

By Lotuff Leather

Tell us about your trip: 

We started from our home in Downeast Maine and ended in Los Angeles, California! As it was, the trip began a week later than expected. Our anticipated departure date had us leaving two days before the mid-Atlantic got hit with a massive snowstorm, so we decided to take a few extra days at home and un-pack and re-pack the car a few more times. We planned on taking 11 days to drive out, so we took a route south that brought us through the Carolinas and Georgia before heading westward. That route adds an extra 1000 miles but is well worth it when you're trying to beat the bitter cold. 

What prompted the trip, especially in the middle of the winter? 

We've spent 5 winters in Maine--not including the 18 I endured as a kid--and each one we have loved and appreciated for many reasons. Each year, as spring approached and turned into summer, we emerged optimistic but tired and a little fatter. So this year we decided to cut our losses and spend the winter in California. 

What were some of your earliest stops while on the road?

The first few days of our trip took us to Portland, Maine, Providence, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia. All are familiar places, and we got to stay with old friends who have generously opened their doors to us many times in the past. This is the best way to start a trip--to stay in places you know as you work out all of the kinks. Our kinks included an incessant barf bout from our 8-month-old baby. Sorry friends! 

Was the extra 1,000 miles and extended route worth it? Where did you stop?

As we hit Durham, North Carolina, we really began to feel like we were on our way. In the following days we visited Athens, Georgia, New Orleans, Austin, Marfa, Texas, Tucson, and then finally Los Angeles. We tried to only drive 6 or 7 hours a day with an hour or two break in the middle to stretch our legs, let the dog run, and play with the baby. With this schedule we were able to really enjoy each place we stayed, as well as have some fun mid-day adventures in unexpected places.

Do any of those adventures and spots in particular stick out to you?

Our favorite stops were for BBQ at White Tiger in Athens and fresh juice at Satsuma in New Orleans. We shopped for crystals at Crystal Works in Austin and happened upon an amazing housewares store called Kettle & Brine (soon to launch an online shop!). In Marfa, we ate falafel (twice) at Food Shark and spent a lazy morning at Do Your Thing Coffee.

Where did you stay? 

Traveling with a baby and a dog makes it tricky to find hotels along the way. With some research, we found some amazing pet-and-baby-friendly spots. Our favorites were Hotel San Jose in Austin, Thunderbird Hotel in Marfa, Texas,  and 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina.

The greatest parts of road trips can be the unexpected stops and diversions off the interstate. Tell us about some of the best.

Each morning, we would stop at a grocery store or a co-op to get snacks for the day. On the days we knew we weren't going to find a good lunch spot, we would pack up something to make on the side of the road. We always travel with a camp stove from Snopeak and a little cast-iron pan, giving us the ability to make impromptu meals.  Somewhere deep in west Texas between Austin and Marfa we stopped to make roadside mulitas. Maybe (probably) it was because we found the best tortillas in the world or because we were cooking alongside stocky palms and long dirt roads...that was my favorite meal on the trip. It was also the first time I felt really far from home. 

You must have encountered so many varied landscapes over the course of 3,000 miles. What was the most beautiful? What surprised you?

Being a New England gal, and an easy-to-impress New England gal at that, I was blown away as soon as we stopped seeing pine trees. But what really took me aback was the desert. Cacti will never cease to amaze me. I made Anthony pull over to get a tumbleweed that blew across the highway so I could take it home, but it wouldn't fit in the car.

It must be tough traveling with a whole family across the country. What challenges did you face and what got you through in the end? 

When we told people what we were planning, they laughed at us in a "you don't even know what you're getting yourself into" kind of way. But we've felt like that a lot of times along our parenting journey. We went into this adventure the same way we do everything else: a little bit naive, plenty of time, and all the optimism we could muster. We never rushed, we stopped when we needed to stop, and we were always open for a change of plans.