Alice, the Human Male, and I made it back to DC around 9:30 this morning after two weeks traipsing around the Eastern Time Zone. In total, we hit eleven states, drove 3,000+ miles, spent approximately 64 hours driving (excluding regular running-around), and visited with 27 family members (not to mention family pets). It was intense and exhausting, but in a fantastic way.
A couple of days after Christmas, the three of us left my parents' house. It's always hard for me to say goodbye to my family, but it was particularly tough this year. I had such a great time, and it was so fun to see Alice play with my parents' pets. Harry and Alice became snuggle buddies, and Izzy and Alice became very good friends. They have a common interest-- toys. After packing up the car, I ran back into the house to grab my coat. Alice followed in, and Iz immediately ran over to her, toy in mouth and ready to play tug. I can't even begin to tell you how guilty I felt putting Alice in the car. I also felt kind of bad taking Alice's food away from my parents' pets. They all loved it. I heard Emmie the cat empty a bowlful one night, and actually caught Harry in the act:
The hole they chewed in the bag was hilarious. It went a good length up the side, and I actually had to rebag her treats, the bag was so punctured.
I also loved seeing my family welcome Alice into the family. They cuddled her, made her homemade dog food, and gave her treats. So many times I found myself thinking about how just four months ago, Alice was a nameless stray in a shelter, and now she has so many people in her life who truly love her. It's enough to make me a little misty.
We left my parents' house and started the long trek down to Marco Island, Florida on Sunday to meet up with the Human Male's mom's side of the family. I'm still not entirely clear on what the exact occasion was, but I think it was to celebrate his grandfather's 80th birthday, his grandparent's 57th wedding anniversary, and an excuse for the family to get together on the beach during the winter. The trip was long-- Google mapped it at about 23 hours, but it took us upwards of 27 (mainly due to traffic in Georgia). I snapped along the way. About 4 hours in, I started begging the Human Male to drop me off at the nearest Target and pick me up on his way back home, and I'm fairly certain I tried to break up with him half a dozen times in Georgia for not doing so.
From Michigan, we traveled down through Ohio again, this time passing through Cincinnati.
We stopped at Skyline Chili along the way to get a taste of the area. So good. They gave us a sizeable bag of oyster crackers with our meals, and I started feeding them to Alice. She loved them. She sat in the footwell and would pop her head through my knees to beg for one. I felt like I was paying her a toll every few feet.
Then we blew through Kentucky (though I will note for my Kentuckians, what we saw was wonderful, and I squealed at a road sign for Ashland):
After about 10 hours of driving, we decided to call it a night near Knoxville, Tennessee. Finding a hotel that accepted dogs was surprisingly easy-- there was a great Super 8 right along the highway that was more than accommodating and kind to Alice, and they gave us a fabulous price on the room-- I think they even refunded the very small dog fee ($10) we initially paid when checking in, too.
Watching Alice comprehend the room was funny. First she ran around and smelled everything, and then she claimed her own bed. We thought it would be fun for her to have her own big bed for the night, but as soon as we turned the light out, things began getting knocked off the night stand and we heard a thud-- apparently she tried to walk across the nightstand to snuggle in the other bed, and fell off in the process.
The next morning, Alice decided that this staying in a hotel thing is okay, and pranced around with her head straight up like she owned the place up until we left:
One thing that we noticed on the road is that there's a Waffle House at practically every exit-- and in some cases, two. Seriously. It started as soon as we entered Ohio and continued straight down to our exit in Florida, and then up until 20 minutes outside our house here in DC. I wanted to take Alice's picture outside of each one, but then I realized that we'd still be trying to meander our way to Florida now if I had. So I got her outside of two. Here she is in Tennessee, next to our hotel:
And here she is in front of one in Georgia:
I'd never been to Georgia before and was very excited about visiting a new state. The glamour wore off, once we got into Atlanta traffic. Fortunately, it made it easy to take Alice's picture in the city as we drove through.
We made it to Marco Island just before 2A on Monday. We crashed nearly immediately upon arriving at the house. In the morning, we got a glimpse of where we actually were. The family rented a dream house-- a $2.9m behemoth, huge on its own but with a screened-in deck and pool area that easily doubled the size of the house. The house was so big that even with 24 people in it, you didn't feel crowded. To top it off, it was on a bay that was full of dolphins, manatees, and reportedly bullsharks. It was insane. Alice loved it-- it was big and open with all sorts of rooms and areas in which she could zip in and out.
Two of her favorite places were around the pool and on the dock. The pool I didn't mind her running around, but we all told her that if she fell off the dock, then she was on her own.
Later the first day, we took Alice over to a local park. While dogs were allowed in some areas, it occurred to me how spoiled I've gotten living in an area as dog-friendly as DC. One of the areas of the park where dogs were welcomed was around a pond, home to ducks and alligators.
It made for a great picture, but I have to say, I spent the day gripping pretty hard on Alice's leash, just in case a full-grown alligator surfaced. I even pulled her away when we saw a bitsy baby nose peek out of the water. Constant vigilance!
On New Year's, I tried to keep Alice up for midnight. She crashed out around 9:30.
Being a dog, though, she woke up pretty quickly when things started getting noisy. The Human Male's family had a midnight dance party, which both confused and excited Alice. She jumped on the Human Male's youngest sister several times, running back to me each time. Alice was also my midnight kiss-- the Human Male got distracted pouring champagne for everyone and I gave up waiting.
We hit the road around 10A New Year's Day to come back home. We stopped at a few places along the way, including a citrus stand that had a 13ft alligator.
We passed through Georgia again, and into South Carolina. This was my first time in the state, and from what I could see in the dark, it was lovely-- lots of palmettos, and the border along Georgia has metal gates that make it look like a fancy subdivision. I was particularly impressed by South of the Border, the humongous tourist trap just south of the North Carolina border (huh!). I'd heard about it before, but I had no idea it was big enough to have its own Zip Code. I'm absolutely planning a trip to go back there and spook around.
One thing I noticed is that there were a lot of fireworks stores along the highway. We stopped for gas and there were two across the street.
Because the beloved Subaru was due back at the rental place today, we drove until we were within about six hours of DC. We figured we'd stop in Fayetteville, North Carolina for the night. We didn't make reservations-- it was so easy to find a hotel in Tennessee, we figured it wouldn't be necessary. Fail. We're not sure what the deal was, but we suspect that since we were in college football Bowl Country and with the New Year's holiday, all of the hotels booked up-- even the extra sketchy ones. We eventually gave up trying to find a place, drove a couple of extra hours, stopped at the closest rest stop and pulled out our blankets (thank goodness for emergency car kits) around 2A, and slept for a few hours. While not an ideal situation for the Humans in our family, Alice thought it was the best. We wrapped her up in her Christmas blanket and snuggled her under the emergency blanket, and she was snoring within minutes.
We got up again at 5A and trekked the final four hours home. Human Male and I were beyond exhausted when we got back and suffering the affects of being confined to a small area for 23 hours with other dirty, dusty creatures, but Alice was completely energized. She ran around the house, jumped in her toy basket, and took us for a drag around the neighborhood, happily accepting attention from everyone that walked by.
All in all, the past two weeks have been fantastic. It was a lot of driving, but definitely worth it. And I think the experience of getting out of the neighborhood, meeting more family, and making new dog friends was great for her. She seems far more confident than she was before we left.
One last note, I came home to a very exciting e-mail: Alice is being considered to appear in a book of dog photos! While the publishers will have the final say if it gets in or not, the magazine releasing the book selected her picture as one of about 500 that will be included (out of a pool of around 15,000 entries). I'm really excited about this-- the picture selected is one of my favorites of her, one of her earliest smiling pictures. Alice, on the other hand, is taking it all in stride. Right now, her main priority is spending as much time as possible curled up on the ottoman. Life is good for this little dog.