Labor Day in Texas

It’s kind of crazy how the pandemic has warped time. As you may know, Victoria and I moved from Austin, TX, back to my native Wisconsin. We got the keys to our apartment in Sun Prairie on February 29th, 2020. But, of course, everyone knows what happened a few weeks later.

Our ultimate goal was to travel to Texas several times a year to visit. The pandemic kind of put a damper on those plans. For about the first six months, we were in a holding pattern. I didn’t travel at all. Then, slowly but surely, I started “traveling like a hermit.” I’d visit county courthouses and other places. I’d sleep in my car, pack my food, and avoid going into places. Effectively, I avoided people and was essentially a mobile hermit.

While I’m perfectly fine with traveling like a hermit, Victoria is not. She prefers to stay in hotels and not sleep in the car. I also think the dawn to dusk schedule that I keep on the road probably wouldn’t be the most fun for her. Additionally, if we both travel, we have to make a dog-sitting plan for Maya or figure out a way to bring her along.

Another big factor is COVID. Victoria is currently pregnant with our first child, so we have to be extra careful with that. With that being said, we have both been fully vaccinated since this spring. The summer of 2021 was looking good for COVID numbers. With that, we finally felt more comfortable traveling.

We started planning a trip, and Victoria was going to fly. I would do my normal driving and visit courthouses along the way. As August approached, the COVID numbers started to spike, so we thought it would be safer if we both drove.

I took off Friday, August 3rd. I’d use this day to drive to Marshfield and drop Maya off since my parents would be watching her. After doing some planning, we realized it would also make sense for me to drop Victoria off at work. I’d then pick her up on the way back down. This would save us a trip home and about 30-60 minutes’ worth of time.

On that Friday morning, we loaded up the car. I dropped Victoria off at work and then headed to Marshfield.

Maya is very familiar with my parents’ house, so she took to her favorite spot and settled in.

In the meantime, I headed to Nasonville Dairy to get some cheese curds to bring down to Texas.

I visited for a while and then was back on the road. I had to fight a little traffic on my way back down to Madison.

Thankfully, I made it right on time to pick up Victoria from work. We hit the road and were in Iowa in no time.

We were trying to make as good of time as possible, so we made a quick pit stop at McDonald’s and then high-tailed it to Missouri.

One gem of a hotel we found is this SureStay in Cameron, Missouri. We’ve stayed here a few times before. This hotel is pretty cheap overall, but it’s always been clean and a great place to stay. So that’s where we stayed for the night.

When we woke up, the radar didn’t look good. It looked like we would hit a big line of storms as we drove south.

It actually got so bad near Kansas City, our exit to get on the Kansas Turnpike was closed. We had to take US-69 as an alternative route.

Things eventually cleared up, and we were able to cruise along at the speed limit.

Now an interesting thing happened. Since Victoria was on this trip, I had no intention of visiting courthouses. We needed to get down to Texas ASAP, especially with her limited vacation. The thing is, with as many courthouses as I’ve been to, I can spot courthouses from literally miles away.

When we started passing through Girard, Kansas, I could see a set of buildings. There appeared to be a big lawn in the middle of them. I instantly knew it was a courthouse!

I was able to pull into a parking spot on the road I was currently on. It made sense to stop and visit to “collect” this county. I took a 5-minute break to visit the Crawford County, Kansas Courthouse.

I was happy to collect another county, but it was time to hit the road again. It wasn’t long before we were crossing the Oklahoma line!

We kept driving but were getting hungry. We eventually found a Golden Chick in McAlester.

After eating, I realized how hot it was getting. This definitely wasn’t Wisconsin anymore!

Oklahoma seemed not to want to let us go. Right before crossing into Texas, there was a huge traffic jam.

We fought the traffic and were soon in Texas!

We also ran into some Texas-sized traffic jams around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The temperatures were now in the triple digits!

Things finally opened up, and I was happy to set the cruise control again.

On I-35, exit 353 is one of my favorite exits. It is home to Slovacek’s, which makes some pretty amazing sausage. We stopped there for gas, and I made sure to pick up some sausage.

The open roads didn’t last long. There were massive backups in Waco.

Eventually, we made it to Austin and visited some friends. Then, we had a late supper of fajitas.

We stayed with those friends, and the following day we all went to Kerbey Lane.

This place is an Austin institution, so I had to do the Austin thing and get breakfast tacos.

After visiting with those friends for a while, we headed up Mopac to check out our old stomping grounds.

By this time, it was lunch. We stopped at Dos Batos Tacos. This is my favorite place to eat in Austin. They have wood-fired meats, and their pirata tacos are unique. I don’t think anywhere else in Austin serves what they do.

To be central to all the places we wanted to visit, we stayed at the La Quinta in The Domain.

We took a little time to rest and then drove around a little more to see what had changed. Sadly, Fry’s had closed. This was an electronics store that I shopped at often for my projects.

I saw there were now exits for the new soccer stadium. I lived around that area in one of my apartments, and I can’t imagine the traffic around there now.

It was nice seeing the Northwest Hills neighborhood was essentially unchanged. I had lived in 2 different apartments there (I moved every year to keep rent down).

We were still kind of full from eating at Dos Batos, but I wanted to stop at Wally’s. This was another one of my favorite places in Austin.

I got a Wallybanger for dessert.

We made it back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest. The next morning, we headed down Burnet and right past the new soccer stadium.

We stopped at another favorite place, Waterloo Ice House, for breakfast.

I got an egg sandwich with plant-based sausage, and Victoria got breakfast tacos.

After eating, we drove down Burnet a bit more.

We eventually circled our way back towards the hotel and went through The Domain.

As you can see, there’s been a lot of driving around and eating. We wanted to see how much had changed and also visit our favorite spots. It was soon lunchtime, and we met a friend at another favorite place, Texican Cafe.

I always love their flautas.

Victoria got a chicken burrito.

After visiting our friend, it was time to leave Austin to go to Bryan. We were going to see Victoria’s family there.

We made it to her grandparents’ house and visited. We got takeout from Wings N’ More. I got the fish basket.

After visiting, we headed to another La Quinta.

The next morning, we caught breakfast at Blue Baker. This was one of Victoria’s favorite places to eat in college.

I got a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. It was pretty awesome!

Before visiting Victoria’s family again, we decided to head to HEB. We wanted to get some Texas products we can’t get in Wisconsin.

We then visited with family for a while until we got hungry. So we decided to get some BBQ at Cooper’s.

It was now time to start heading back to Wisconsin. Our visit had gone so fast!

Before leaving Texas, we did a quick pit stop at Buc-ee’s for some fuel and other products we could only get in Texas.

We were soon on the road and into Oklahoma.

It was getting dark, and we were trying to figure out a good place to stay. Once you get a little north of Oklahoma City, it starts to get desolate. So we found another SureStay in Blackwell, Oklahoma.

We got a few hours of sleep and back on the road to see the sunrise.

Then came Missouri and Iowa.

We just kept driving, and soon we were in Wisconsin and on the home stretch!

When we got home, I put everything we had bought on the table and took a picture.

The next morning, Victoria had to go to work. I had taken an extra day off so I could drive up to Marshfield and get Maya.

We left Marshfield and made our way back down to Belleville. She was definitely happy to be home.

It was great taking this trip to Texas after all this time. It was crazy to think the last time we were in Texas, it was a year-and-a-half ago, right when we moved to Wisconsin. Hopefully, as things normalize, we’ll be able to start making regular trips there.

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