Sunday, December 06, 2009

South Dakota, Thanksgiving Weekend, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

6:30 am: Rise and shine, sleepyhead. (Well, after a few hits to the snooze button.) There was still much to do since the freezing rain the night before had prevented me from packing the car up ahead of time. Much to my surprise, my car was covered in snow, though it was 40º already. The goal of hitting the road by 7 was looking impossible.

7:44 am: Finally in the car and on the road, but unable to shake the cold from my aching body, still in pain from a full-blown sarcoid flareup. Nausea and lack of appetite added to it all, thanks to the medication. Attitude improvement needed. Desperately.

Took Rt. 12 north, then 43 south to 90, and 90 all the way west to South Dakota.

As I drove north on 12, the farther I went, the more snow was on the ground. Spring Grove and Lake Geneva had a total blanket of snow still, and the temperature was dropping to near freezing. I'd officially traveled beyond my comfort zone and was on unfamiliar turf once I left Lake Geneva. The thought was both comforting and intimidating.

8:40 am, 45.8 miles:
Stopped in a Mobil in Delavan, WI for gas.

9:45 am: Reached Madison, WI and finally found some decent rock stations on the radio to keep me awake. This is where the rain stopped falling as well, and the sky opened up with chutes of sun between the harmless clouds.

10:25 am: Passed Wisconsin Dells, somewhere I've never been, and from the looks of it, somewhere I would just as soon never go.

The landscape started getting more interesting at this point. Hills, rocky outcrops, forests. I should've known I was approaching the Mississippi River, but I hadn't over-researched this trip and studied the maps like I usually do. When I found myself on the bridge over the Mississippi, staring at the Welcome to Minnesota sign, I was astounded.

11:30 am:
Looked up at the cliffs that mark the Minnesota border hugging the Mississippi River, and watched two eagles soaring above me. Once I picked my jaw up, I ooh'd and ahhh'd quite a bit at the gorgeous hills and had mean thoughts about all the people who should've told me to be on the lookout for this magical change in landscape. What a treat!

12:30 pm, 321.6 miles:
Gassed up in Stewartville, MN at Kwik Trip, a creature unknown to me. 10.96 gallons = 25 miles to the gallon, traveling at about 75 mph with cruise control. Not too bad for an AWD, I suppose, but still disappointing. Michigan trips yield me about 30 mpg.

Before 1 pm: Dexter, MN delivered a huge shock to my system. The largest wind farm I've ever seen! It was like being in a sci-fi movie as some tiny, miniature version of myself looking out at hundreds of enormous, white whirly-gigs. Bizarre. Windmills dotted the landscape for the rest of the drive through Southern MN, but Dexter had the most, by far.

3:20 pm, 539.8 miles:
Crossed into South Dakota and the only difference seemed to be that SD was more amber. Truly, if it weren't for the blue sky and inside my car, I would've thought I was in an old sepia photograph.

Stopped for more gas at a BP, feeling a lot like I'd been driving for days and it would never end. 10.2 gallons = 21 miles per gallon, traveling at about 87 mph with cruise control. Yikes. Going to have to slow down some just to conserve gas, which means arriving later and driving longer in the pitch black. Not happy.

The sun was setting by the time I hit the Missouri River, which was another shocker for me. I didn't remember anyone telling me how awesome this area would be, and how it would be a dividing line between the boring farmland I'd been seeing throughout WI, MN and the first half of SD, and something vastly different. I'm sure in the summer the green hills are pretty, but the golden hills of late fall, peppered with sporadic pine trees and bushes, occasionally cows, was really gorgeous. And it remained that way until I hit Murdo, where I would be stopping for the night.

6:00 pm, 756.2 miles:
Arrived at the Murdo Super 8, exhausted, drained, wanting to go to sleep, and irritated that I'd been under the impression that Murdo was on Mountain Time, not Central Time, which is not the case, so it was actually 6:00, when I was thinking it would be 5.

Went inside to check in and somehow forgot the Murdo Super 8 was going to be my most expensive night, challenged the clerk on the rate for the evening, and finally, too exhausted to go back and check my records, tried to pay the man and found that my debit card was denying me. I hate this debit card! It gets rejected about 50% of the time, and then the bank has the nerve to tell me they have no record of a charge even being attempted, so they can't say why it was denied. I end up feeling like a deadbeat who's overdrawn, when that's never the case, and here it was happening again with the hotel clerk. Thankfully, my credit card worked fine.

On my way back in with my luggage, I stopped again and asked him if he could recommend a place to get some food, somewhere that might be open on Thanksgiving night. Maybe he was irritated with me because he looked out the window, saw that the truck stop across the street was open, and said to go there. He turned his back on me and went about his work. This left a bitter taste in my mouth, particularly since I'd eaten nothing but a banana and some pumpkin seeds all 10 hours of my drive, and I was feeling quite alien here.

As I went back to get the remainder of my luggage from the car, I noticed the pick-up truck parked next to me. It was a beat-up old monster of a vehicle, windshield cracked from one side to the other, camouflage binoculars on the dashboard, garbage on the floor, and a big honking shotgun sitting across the bench seat. These are NOT my people, I thought. Why was I here? I couldn't quite remember anymore.

After settling into my room, I made my way across the street to the Triple H Truck Stop for Thanksgiving dinner.

It seemed appropriate to order the Indian taco and a slice of banana pie for dessert. C'mon, it's Thanksgiving! Indian tacos on the menu. Indian waitress taking my order. This was as close to a meaningful Thanksgiving as I've ever had. I had to eat what the Indians gave me, right? Well, it amused me and felt right, so that's what I got.

I then spent the evening watching "South Park" reruns until I showered and crashed sometime after 10.

All in all, it was a tough day. Saw at least 10 dead deer on the road, 3 dead coyotes, 2 dead foxes, and one dead hawk. On the plus side, I saw more livestock than I ever have (including the trip to Amana, Iowa), and a tree full of pheasants, which was weird to me. I had no idea South Dakota calls themselves the Pheasant Capital of the World. Learning new things each day! Trying to broaden my horizons. Still living tightly in my own little self-centered, jaded world. Maybe tomorrow would find me in a better place, mentally.

Friday, November 27, 2009

5:30 am: The alarm went off and I noticed it was still just as dark as it was when I went to bed, so I shut off the alarm and dozed on and off a while.

7:30 am: Finally arose, dressed, packed, and meandered downstairs to the breakfast room, where I was greatly tempted by the waffle iron and waffle mix -- it smelled so good -- but knew I couldn't spend the day on just carbs, so instead I grabbed an English muffin to accompany the yogurt and granola I had back at the room.

8:30 am, 756.2 miles: Gassed up at the Country Mart next to the Super 8 in Murdo. 8.87 gallons = 24 miles per gallon, running at ~ 75 mph with cruise control. Slightly better mileage and slightly slower time. Was in a hurry to get out of Murdo and get to the Badlands.

Crossed into Mountain Time about 5 minutes after leaving Murdo. Figures.

9 am:


Seriously: whoa!

People said I should see it if I'm in the area, it MAY warrant a visit, but they were probably all on crack. This was the single most amazing thing I'd ever seen.

Was I on the moon? Was I on another planet?

How did this happen? What is this stuff? And why here? Truly: WTF?

The road twisted and wound around spires of enormous, jagged rocks, striped horizontally with shades of grayish-beige-white and pink, occasionally other colors sneaking in.

Sometimes I drove down into a canyon and had the massive formations towering above me, and other times the road rose up to the pinnacles and I was looking down at miles of craggy, hellish rock. It didn't seem earthly. It didn't seem friendly. It didn't seem real. The rock itself resembled mud and clay, bubbly and only slightly hardened.

I expected to look down into the abyss and find a glowing, gurgling, gaseous cauldron of liquid rock and minerals, evidence of Satan himself belching up a meal of the last visitor who dared to look down. Shouldn't it smell foul?

It looked like misshapen and mongoloid creatures would dwell here. It looked like I should get the heck out of there. But I couldn't. I was mesmerized.

At the beginning of the park I saw a mule deer, which was interesting to see with such an inhospitable backdrop. Wildlife? Here?

A plaque explained that the Indians (mainly the Lakota Sioux) cherished these lands as great hunting grounds, and when the white men came along, they dubbed them The Badlands, and soon the Indians were calling them the same. Badlands exist on every continent, much to my surprise. Is this further proof that the moon and the earth were one at one point? Could be.

I paid a visit to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, where I was greeted on the walkway by a local rabbit (or was it a hare?), and inside I learned that wildlife abounded in the park. Shocking! The girls told me that they were busier that day than expected, but I'd only seen two other carloads of visitor so far. The lack of other tourists made the experience all the more alien, and I was free to stop in the middle of the road for extended periods of time to take in the view. Having a crowd of people in mid-summer would probably be a whole different experience, and not nearly as interesting because it would kill the sensation that you're in an episode of the "Twilight Zone", the lone survivor of the apocalypse. To take in the most wildlife spotting opportunities, one of the staff recommended I take a gravel road called Sage Creek Rim Road, where I'd surely see some bighorn sheep and the buffalo, just after the mountain goats and prairie dog towns. Woo!

If the terrain hadn't been such a huge distraction, I likely would've had a full on anxiety attack over the heights. My height phobia is so severe, I found myself talking out loud, begging the roads to stop going up.

I whined, "No more up! There IS no more up! We are the uppest there is -- no more up!" Yet, there was more up. And you know what goes up must come down. What a grueling drive! It was awesome, yet exhausting and stressful.

It seemed, however, that once I discovered the prairie dogs, all my stress left me. They were so adorable!

I talked to one of them until it approached my car and I had to hang out my window to continue to see him. The temptation to open the door and invite him on the trip with me was intense, but then, all of a sudden, another car came by in the opposite direction and he scurried off to the safety of his hole. I spent quite a while admiring the cute critters, listening to them make their high-pitched cries and wiggle their tails, and then I had to move on.

As I reached the end of the Badlands, I was so high up that I almost couldn't bear to look anymore, and this was where I found Sage Creek Rim Road. I should've known. Rim Road. People with a fear of heights as bad as mine cannot drive on roads called Rim Road. Particularly dirt roads. Particularly dirt roads that edge a canyon carved out by erosion, still eroding everyday. Rim Road? What was I thinking?

But something distracted me again. She was a bighorn sheep, and she took an interest in me and my car, first running down the cliff away from me, then sneaking up behind my car and finally circling completely around it, watching me the entire time.

Her herd was off in the distance grazing, but she was totally checking me out, as I was her. I could see a park ranger in her truck about 50 yards away and I worried I'd get in trouble for being so close to the wildlife (200 foot distance, the rules say), but she just seemed to smile and let me have my close encounter with a bighorn sheep. Eventually the sheep trotted off down the hill to the rest of her family and I drove off. I stopped by the ranger and proudly declared that a way-cool experience, which she laughed at. She pointed out that there were three rams down in the field there, two adults and one youngster, and once she'd pointed them out, I could recognize the difference between the males and females by their horns. Fascinating.

Further down the road I saw buffalo in the far distance.

How do you call a buffalo to you? I had not yet figured that out, so I continued on down Rim Road.

I found another prairie dog town, and at first I thought these guys were a little paranoid, hadn't seen many people and were overreacting to my presence because they were screaming bloody murder. Then I spied the real threat: a coyote.

This coyote was sticking his nose down the holes of the mounds trying to catch some lunch. Ew. I didn't want to see that, so I quickly drove off again.

More buffalo were far away, and I didn't even stop for them as I made my way out of Badlands National Park. The experience was unlike anything I've ever known, and unlike anything I can truly describe. It's one of those places you have to see to believe.

12:30 pm:
It was 62º as I left the Badlands. I'd had my windows rolled down, my moonroof open, and was enjoying the gorgeous weather that no one thought I'd experience here, so close to the Rocky Mountains. So much for winter in South Dakota.

I arrived in Wall shortly thereafter, looking for the Wounded Knee Museum. The signs seemed to indicate I was close, but I never managed to spot it. Instead I decided to pay a visit to Wall Drugs, which was a waste of time. Quite ridiculous and not even unique among tourist traps, this place seemed to invest in every cheap, gaudy souvenir item to sell. I chatted briefly with a clerk at a register when I bought a shot glass from SD for Gretchen's collection, and she was saying that they were quite dead today due to all the sales and shopping going on in Rapid City. Oh yeah, it's Black Friday. Yikes. Good to be in Wall, then, I suppose.

There is a small mall of stores along the side of Wall Drug, with more to offer with local connections, and the rear housed an area of historic pictures, but I was too busy rolling my eyes to enjoy it much. I made a quick exit and decided to head to Rapid City a little earlier than anticipated, still unable to find the Wounded Knee Museum on my way out of town.

As I was driving on 90, west of Wall, I noticed in the distance that there were these large lumps on the horizon. Hmm. Curious. Those look like mountains.

Could it be? Is Rapid City that near the mountains? How naive I was. Of course it is.

3:00 pm, 933.3 miles:
I arrived in Rapid City, which is the closest thing to a real city I'd seen since I left, and immediately regretted coming here early, instead of driving back through the Badlands one more time. It was Black Friday and it was teeming with people, all the shopping areas packed to the max, and I felt my stress level rising again. Despite the crowds and traffic, I drove all around town to take it in. It's not bad, but not a place to vacation.

I checked in at the Super 8 in Rapid City, dragged my luggage up to my room, and decided it was finally time to eat. My hot plate was brand new and I was excited to use it, so I opened a can of chicken and wild rice Progresso soup and heated it up while making an avocado and cheese sandwich. Either the hot plate or my pans made a very bad, burnt, chemically smell and I had to open the windows and turn on the fan so as not to set off any alarms. I did my dishes and settled in to watch the marathon of episodes of "Band of Brothers" being played back-to-back on television. I took a break to visit the public computer and sent everyone an email letting them know I was alive, returned to my TV, showered and fell asleep around 10:30 that night. What a day!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

6:30 am: Early wake-up means hitting the road nice and early. I was done eating breakfast by 7, a meal that consisted of yet another English muffin from the hotel and a bowl of yogurt and granola from my personal supply.

7:45 am, 933.3 miles:
Gassed up at the Phillips 66 in front of the hotel. 5.5 gallons = 32 miles per gallon, traveling on the highway at 75 and through the Badlands at a snail's pace. Much better numbers. Headed straight for Mt. Rushmore.

Following 16 south out of Rapid City is scary enough, but when I got into the actual mountains, I was gripping my steering wheel so tightly that I lost feeling in my fingers. It's so high up! And you can see the heads from very far away because though you're twisting around mountains, the sculpture itself towers way above everything else. It's over 5,700 feet above sea level! Over a mile in the air! It's crazy! Once I turned onto 244, it was a quick drive at a slower pace and I was able to quit panicking trying to navigate the frightening roads at high speeds. I paid at the parking lot and was pleased to find that my $10 gave me a pass that was good for the remainder of the year, so I wouldn't have to pay again if I came back later in the trip.

8:45 am: Parked and made my way to the heads.

First I stopped at the information center, which was empty of tourists, so I tried to talk up the two uniformed staff members (rangers?), but they weren't very talkative. Friendly, yes. Talkative, no. I asked where the goats usually are, and the answer was vague, that they're everywhere. I asked advice on where or when to best spot them, and there was no advice they could give. I made a few jokes, they smiled or chuckled lightly, said very little, and I left. Sheesh.

The Avenue of Flags was cool, but walking to the end of the viewing area left me a bit in awe of this massive sculpture in the side of the top of a mountain. It's really awesome. I stood there for about a half-hour just staring at it, marveling at the intricacies of the carving, done largely with dynamite. The rubble beneath is a little sad, but still fascinating.

I was overcome with the question of Why here? As I stood shivering in the early morning chill, deciding to return later for an evening visit, I turned around to head back to the parking lot and I think I discovered the answer. South Dakota was chosen for the sculpture to bring in tourism, but this particular location has such a divine view of the rest of the area, it's as if these four presidents are looking over us.

I think I could see my house from there.

As I made my way out, I stopped briefly in the gift shop and had a funny conversation with a teenage girl working there. She wore a tiara (seriously) and I could hear her talking wildly and loudly to her coworker from the second I was within earshot. You could tell it was all about her, and I initially tried to avoid her, but found myself being sucked in. She was bragging about not contracting H1N1 from her mother, who had a confirmed case, and she attributed her resistance to all the dirt she ate as a child. I couldn't help but laugh, and this only encouraged her. She admitted to eating a worm, a fish, bugs, and loads of dirt and mud, mostly on dares but sometimes out of curiosity, and this created an iron-like immune system, she said. I told her that when she had her own kids, she must encourage them to also eat dirt. This was when we bonded. She scoffed and said she didn't plan to have kids, that she tired of people always assuming she would be a mother someday, and she had other plans, thank you very much. I very nearly high-fived her. Sometimes I think I'm the only woman in her mid-30s who is childless and happy being childless, and I wished her luck with her life, suggesting she have dogs instead. She agreed. There, an instant kinship was forged between two complete strangers who had nothing at all in common other than a desire to be selfish and not give birth. She was the first person I connected with on this trip. One I never saw coming.

On my way out the door, I got a Mt. Rushmore smooshed penny for my collection, which made me very happy.

10:00 am: Left Mt. Rushmore for Custer State Park, along Norbeck Scenic Byway. I thought 16 to Mt. Rushmore was scary, but this was beyond scary. My hands were swollen for days afterward, from the ferocious gripping of the steering wheel. There were some highlights, and I was absolutely glad I'd done it, but it was terrifying as I was doing it. Some highlights were the pigtail bridges, which were quite fun, and the tunnels, which somehow had a clear view of Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

Norbeck leads right into Custer State Park, and as I drove past the welcome sign, I saw a wild turkey, as if it was an omen of good wildlife sightings to come. Signs also warned that I was going to see wildlife, which was a promise I was going to hold this park to.

Specific wildlife was addressed frequently.

A few minutes after the turkey, I saw a pair of pronghorn antelope. ANTELOPE! Antelope in the Midwest! It seemed impossible.

I drove to the Norbeck Visitor Center, which was closed, though the website said it would be open. However, it was quite a sight. Clearly this was a buffalo hangout.

Poop was everywhere! What I noticed about the buffalo poop was that they don't pick an area and designate it the poop spot. Nope, they seem to spread it out in a pattern, to maximize the area they bomb. Strategic things, they are.

Everyone said to get off the pavement and get onto the dirt roads, which was good advice, but I felt funny about not trying the paved roads too. Sitting in my car at a fork, I decided to take the Wildlife Loop first to see what was there, and then I'd go back on the dirt roads. This proved to be a great choice because just beyond the fork I spotted my first herd of buffalo. They were far enough away that I pulled over to the side of the road and watched them through my camera lens, zoomed way out to 300mm.

Suddenly I realized they were no longer lounging. They were on the move, and they were heading right for me.

There was a moment when I wondered if I should leave or stay, and something told me that if I could brave the twists and turns along Norbeck Byway, I could handle a close encounter with buffalo. Stupid? Perhaps.

My best estimate is that there were 50 of them, but I stopped counting at 40 and there were more coming, so that number could be much higher. They surrounded my car and pretended like I didn't exist, or pretended like I didn't matter. Probably the latter considering they looked me straight in the eye and then went about their business.

There were many calves, and it seemed that amongst the adults, most of them were females, though I can't claim to be a sexing expert of buffalo.

It's the end of mating season, too, and a pair of bulls went a few rounds right in front of me.

Honestly, the whole experience was so moving, I found myself wiping tears from my cheeks, staring at these magnificent animals we almost exterminated, who were such a huge part of our history and symbols of the majestic country and the greed that could have easily ruined it. How could we do this to them? This was their land long before it was ours. Eminent domain: it's sickening. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and I was thinking so much about this country's history, fraught with genocide and extinction. It broke my heart. And here I was, sitting in my car, 130 years after they were almost annihilated, looking at a herd roaming relatively freely on land as timeless as they were, and aside from the road and my car, I felt like I was privileged to be there, witnessing this trip back in time, witnessing this gift back to Nature, a reestablishment of what should have been, what we owe the earth, what we owe the buffalo, and it just about brought me to my knees. Like wild horses, there are some things you're just not going to see in this country anymore unless you go looking in the very special pockets set aside solely for that purpose, and I was in one of these pockets. It was a tremendously emotional experience. It was my homage to a legacy, both good and bad, that I inherited as an American. On this weekend vacation running away from the things I couldn't find in my heart to be thankful for, I was sitting in front of a herd of buffalo and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to be near them, thankful for their continued existence and this wonderful place for them to live their lives much as their ancestors did. I think I sat there for nearly an hour, staring in awe, lip quivering and tears flowing, hoping that this moment would stay with me forever.

They made their way down the street ahead of me and off to the sides, so I decided to drive on and seek out other wildlife experiences, perhaps more buffalo farther on. It's said that they're not very intelligent creatures, and I don't know that I saw any glimmer of comprehension in their eyes as I drove through the herd, but those big brown eyes felt completely nonthreatening despite the enormity of the rest of their body, and I wished for a moment that I too was a buffalo. Maybe my reverence came across as omega behavior because a few walked out into the road and intentionally stood in front of my car and denied me passage. It made me laugh. This is their land and they wanted me to know. I respected that. Eventually they let me by. Buffalo games: I played them.

A bit further down the road, I saw a herd of a different color coming at me, but these animals would elicit a far different reaction from me.

Begging burros are famous in Custer State Park, and they even have their own Wikipedia entry, but I never imagined I'd fall so head-over-heels in love with them. At first I was tentative about rolling down my windows, afraid they'd gnaw on me or my car innards, but I decided to give them some faith and lowered my windows.

They licked my car, the mirrors, the windows, anything they could, and my car was slimed with burro slobber. It was great!

With the windows open, the licking subsided and large burro noses came immediately into my car, sniffing at me, lips flapping, trying to find a snack.

I started giggling and could not stop. Their long faces came closer, and I was able to stroke the soft fur on their noses, rub their heads, and pet their big ears. My giggles were so ridiculously out of control that I worried I was scaring them, but they kept coming. Some would wander around my car while others approached the window to see what was inside. All but the little ones paid me a visit, and I think I was able to stroke each one of their rough fur coats.

One burro in particular found a special place in my heart. I named him Javier and told him I would love him forever. He let me rub his neck, his chest, his mane, his ears, his face, his shoulders, anywhere I could reach.
I scratched him with my nails and he closed his eyes and craned his neck, enjoying the scratching. I climbed out the window of my car to get both arms around him, and he let me hug him between scratches. He was my burro. The other burros had wandered off to the field. Some had found other cars to harass, but my burro, my Javier, stayed with me for a good, long time.

Another burro wandered over and for a while I was scratching them both, but the second one left fairly soon and it was just Javier and me again. Having his fill, he trotted off with the rest of the herd, who had left him behind, and I bid him farewell.

My hands were so filthy, I can't recall another time when I was that dirty. Burros, who roll in dirt, are not so concerned with staying clean. I didn't care. I still loved my Javier.

I found the buffalo corral where some corralled buffalo were lounging about, and groups of wild buffalo were nervously standing at the fence surrounding the imprisoned ones. I don't know what the point of the corral was or why these particular buffalo were segregated, but it seemed to upset the others. I left quickly, feeling somewhat uneasy with the visibly disturbed buffalo all around me.

Looking at the map, I decided that since I'd already seen buffalo, burros and pronghorn, I'd leave the pavement and head down a dirt road to see what the inner park had to offer, and I turned onto Oak Draw Road, then took North Lame Johnny Road to 87.

The dirt roads wound through some cool but frightening places, but once back out on 87, I was then on Needles Pkwy and things got even scarier. At one point, by Heddy Draw, I was rounding corners at 10 mph, trembling from head to toe, looking over the edge and then screaming my head off, inching my way along the road. The map revealed I was over 6,000 feet up, and the previous high spots were roughly 5,000 feet, so that extra 1,000 feet up was the difference between me being petrified and me being nearly frozen in terror. I managed to do it, but I swore I wouldn't do it again. Unfortunately, Needles Pkwy was closed for the winter farther up, which was supported with the presence of snow and ice on the road, even though it was 50º in the lower elevations throughout the park. I had to turn around and go back to a main intersection to get out of the park another way.

The drive was cool, without a doubt, with unbelievable views, but next time I do this, someone else will have to drive.

Once back on 16, I exited the park and found myself in the town of Custer, which wasn't much to speak of. I stopped at a gas station to pee, nearly not making it, and had to use a blade of my Trim Trio to dig all the dirt out from under my nails from the burro scratching. Back on the road, the temperature was dropping quickly and ominous clouds were approaching from the west. I decided to head back to Mt. Rushmore before calling it a day.

On the way to Mt. Rushmore, I was driving past the Crazy Horse Memorial and at the very last second, decided to pay it a visit. The sculpture is moving along slowly, but there's not much to see.

Fortunately the museum is interesting, but I didn't want to take the time to really examine what was there.

I did, however, meet the cat who runs the place. His name is Thunder and he's a whopping 23 years old. Impressive old guy.

As I stood outside snapping shots of Crazy Horse's progress, it began snowing. Lovely. Did I really want to drive out to Mt. Rushmore in the snow to see it a second time today? Did I really want to stand out there in the freezing cold taking more pictures of Crazy Horse? The answer was no to both. I left promptly and headed straight for Hill City, where I'd be spending the night.

3:30 pm, 1051.8 miles: Arrived in Hill City, which was far more interesting than the towns of Custer or Keystone in my opinion. The lady who runs the Super 8 in Hill City is the Guinness World Record holder for having the largest collection of toy bears, which she offered to show me later that evening. Wow, a local celebrity!

She recommended the Slate Creek Grille for dinner, which I heeded, and I then ordered a buffalo burger. Does that seem wrong? I can't quite explain it but it felt appropriate, as if patronizing this form of food, deeming these special creatures livestock, helped to perpetuate their vitality and value in our modern society. Having seen how they lived, where they lived, I could honestly say that I felt okay about the end of one buffalo's life being my dinner, which was no better or worse than a pack of wolves bringing it down. It's natural. This buffalo was lucky to have lived, likely had a decent buffalo life, and I was at peace with it all. Unfortunately, it was a shitty burger, clearly cooked from frozen, overdone and flat tasting. Not at all like the delicious buffalo burgers I make at home from the meat I buy from my vendor, Ron Lester, in Wisconsin, whose buffalo come from Custer State Park. Funny how that all comes around.

I gassed up that night instead of the next morning. 4.82 gallons = 24.5 miles per gallon. Still a fair rate.

After eating, I watched 300 on television, followed by Gladiator, and then showered and slept a fitful night of sleep. My hands were still swollen and painful from the steering wheel gripping all day, and I just couldn't get comfortable in that bed, particularly with all the hunters getting up at 3 am and slamming doors all night long. Oh well. It was a grand enough day that the sleepless night couldn't take away from how awesome the experience was.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

7:30 am: Woke up exhausted and still in pain, but grabbed the usual breakfast of an English muffin to accompany my yogurt and granola. As I was packing to leave, I realized I could not find my sunglasses and panic ensued. They were nowhere to be found.

8:45 am, 32º: Got directions to Wind Cave from the hotel clerk which sent me down through Custer and to Pringle instead of back through Custer State Park, and it turns out this route was not only quick, but there were no scary heights to freak me out. Excellent!

When I reached Custer, I stopped at a gas station to buy ice for my cooler and new sunglasses, which I ended up hating because they were crooked and I couldn't get them to sit evenly on the bridge of my nose without the arm over my left ear digging into my head. Very frustrating, but I was all the way to Pringle by the time I'd discovered they were improperly designed or constructed. This would be a thorn in my side for the remainder of the trip.

9:50: Arrived in Wind Cave National Park and the first thing I saw was a pair of eagles on a hill. Another sign of good things to come!

The cave tour started at 10 am, and I made it just in time to get my ticket. There was a group of 13 of us, including a family of five with three young children. The boys, who were about six and eight, were fine, but the little girl, who was about four, cried and whined incessantly for the entire one-hour tour. I very nearly asked them to take her out, I was so aggravated.

Josh was our tour guide, and like his name sounds, this guy seemed far too young to be doing this job. He took us down 110 feet in an elevator, deep into Wind Cave, and explained the history of the cave's exposure to the human race. Over 130 miles of Wind Cave have been discovered, and there is no end in sight. It's a special cave, the first to be made a National Park due to its enormous amount of boxwork. Boxwork is a rare cave formation, and Wind Cave has 95% of the world's known boxwork, so it is a huge draw for cave enthusiasts. This is an interesting formation because it is preexisting material that cannot be regrown or replicated like other formations. What happens is sandstone and limestone are sedimentary rocks that compress, but still have small veins running through them, which water will fill up. The water that filled these veins and cracks brought calcite with it, and the calcite hardened into a material far stronger than the sandstone itself. When water later brought carbonic acid, the sandstone eroded away, leaving behind this intricate and fragile calcite, shaped somewhat like boxes. Josh explained that it was like the mortar left behind after the bricks had been removed. And because the sandstone is gone, once you remove the boxwork or it breaks off, it will never regrow or be replaced, so it's a precious, irreplaceable cave gem. We were all impressed.

At one point, Josh turned out the lights in the cave and we were plunged into a darkness I'd never experienced before. He left the lights off and continued talking about the history of the cave, but our eyes never adjusted to the dark. It was just as dark 5 minutes later and it started to become unsettling. He asked us to raise our hand if we wanted the lights back on. Haha, Josh, very funny. He also showed us how early cave explorers lit the way with candles in buckets, which shed little light on anything. Also, it's called Wind Cave for a reason, and relying on candles for light was a very bad idea.

After the tour, I drove through Wind Cave's rolling grassy hills, which looked just like Custer State Park.

Ran into more bison, pronghorns, and mule deer along the way. Prairie dogs were in ample supply, as were chipmunks.

The road out of Wind Cave leads right into Custer State Park, so I followed 87 up to Wildlife Loop and made my way back through the park. There were many buffalo to be seen again, but no burros.

At one point, I'd pulled my car over to watch a herd of buffalo on my left, and suddenly I noticed buffalo between my car and the hill to my right. They were popping up at the top of the hill and coming down toward me, crossing the street in front of my car.

A few rolled in the dirt at the bottom of the hill and a few calves chased one another around. It was great to see them comfortable enough to act like buffalo in my presence.

I came out on 39 and took that instead of Iron Mountain Road, which goes back down Norbeck and the scary parts. This worked out well for me. Not scary at all, and the farms along the way were quite charming.

About halfway to Rapid City, I cut across on an intersecting road to make my way back to 16 because I had one more destination that day: Bear Country USA.

2:30 pm: Arrived at Bear Country USA, paid my entry fee, and started through a unique animal viewing experience. There are multiple enclosures with animals roaming freely within the electrified fences, but the kicker is that the area where you drive in is completely open. You drove over cattle grating with electrified wires between the grates, and cars can safely pass, but the animals cannot. I was given the map and told to keep my windows and doors closed at all times. The literature she handed me had a half-page warning about what to do if you're in trouble, which consists of honking your horn and waiting for someone to rescue you. There is a raised viewing platform where a staff member is stationed (though not that day) and they keep their eyes on everything going on.

The first enclosure I drove through had elk. Big, gorgeous, hulking beasts, with veritable trees growing out of their heads.

I drove around a circle in the enclosure and then out to the caribou. Twice I've driven around Lake Superior and anxiously hoped to see caribou in their most southern habitat, and never have I been blessed with the sighting. Here they slept far off in a corner under the shade of a tree, and I barely got a glimpse.

After that were the Arctic wolves, who were waiting at the gate for me, pacing.

I inched forward and found them to be just like any other dogs, sniffing around, suspiciously curious, and then they wandered off to their rock to either relax or dig for something interesting.

I drove through enclosures with bighorn sheep and found the enclosure with mountain goats to be closed off. They were only visible through the heavy gates and looked lonely. There was also an enclosure with mountain lions, which did not have a drive-through, but was adjacent to the bear/timber wolf enclosure. They were quite charming.

As I drove into the bear area, one was sleepily glanced at me from his natural bed.
Others wandered around, forging for food.
Still others slept obliviously.
The timber wolves were constantly on the move, digging, sniffing, investigating, checking me out.

As I left the bears/wolves, I drove into the buffalo area, and I felt, amazingly, like this encounter wouldn't be so special since I'd already been surrounded by multiple herds at various parks in the area. But I was wrong. Here we had a white buffalo. A real, live, white buffalo. Whether it was white in color or an albino, I couldn't tell. I think I saw blue eyes, but I can't say for certain.

There is an outdoor walk-through area called Babyland, where one can see two grizzly bears, badgers, bobcats, foxes, porcupines, coyotes, and a handful of bear cubs, who were hilarious.

When I made it through, I visited the gift shop, which was gorgeous, and spoke with the young lady who manned the register. I asked why the mountain goats were cut off from the rest of the drive-through, and she informed me that they figured a way out of their enclosures. This amused me and I said, "Funny that they were the cleverest ones of all the other animals here." She nodded and that was the end of that.

4:00 pm, 1167 miles: Arrived back at the Super 8 in Rapid City, temperature 42º, checked in and got the room next to the one I'd had two nights before, and I again whipped out the hot plate and made lunch. This time I tried grilled cheese, which did not cook so well, but I ate it anyway and it was very good. I sliced some avocado to have with it and found myself feeling quite like I was enjoying a gourmet meal in my hotel room. Exciting!

Utilizing the public computer again, I shot off another email to friends and family to let them know I was still alive, then settled in watching episodes of "Criminal Minds" all night until my sleepy eyes could take no more and I fell asleep.

Monday, November 30, 2009

7:30 am: Woke up late and rushed to get out. Had the usual for breakfast, except that I grabbed a sweet roll with my English muffin, but when I tasted it, I gagged and threw it away, which caused me to lose my appetite completely and I didn't bother with the yogurt and granola. Don't know why it was so unappealing, but going without protein was not a smart idea.

9:00 am, 1167 miles, 46º: Gassed up again at the Phillips 66 in front of the hotel. 5.20 gallons = 22 miles per gallon. Down again. Bummer.

As I drove to Wall, I listened to the local rock station's DJs talking about a protest they organized in protest of a PETA protest somewhere nearby. They called it the Black Dairy Protest and asked for any available listener to show up wearing Elmer Fudd hats at the cattle farm where the PETA girl was going to be, and support the local agricultural industry. They replayed the interviews aired on the news and made brutal fun of the PETA girl, who they suggested might one day develop a personality so she has a single redeeming quality. She was saying that if you knew the kind of abuse cows suffer, you'd start chucking all your dairy products and become a vegetarian. They laughed quite hard about this and suggested that people would not become vegetarians so quickly. They also cheered on the objective veterinarian brought down to the scene, who verified that the animals were not abused in any way and seemed to have good lives. Eventually, a listener was interviewed, which was cheered on the most, and the interviewee said he was just there to support eating beef, drinking milk, and wearing fur. It was that simple.

Yeah. For the first time in my life, I agreed. I'd been looking at cows dotting the landscape for days, having miles and miles of grass to feed on, basically free to roam as far as their hooves could take them, and I felt much like these cows were quite lucky. They were cared for, given veterinary care, given land to roam on as far as their eyes could see, and they would contribute to the livestock industry in some way. There was a peaceful balance here that I respected and understood. I don't know what happened to my borderline-vegetarian beliefs, but they were gone now that I was wandering around the agricultural belt of the country. I, too, supported eating beef, drinking milk, and wearing fur.

What had happened to me on this trip?

10:00 am: Arrived in Wall and paid a visit to the Black Hills Gold store called Gold Diggers, where I bought a pair of sterling earrings with a mystic topaz heart and BHG leaves, and listened to the clerk complaining about how tourists will spend obscene amounts of money across the street (and she gestured with her head toward Wall Drugs) on garbage, fake jewelry, and useless plastic things that will break or never be used, when if they just bought a piece of BHG jewelry, they'd have precious metal as a souvenir from their trip. I agreed. She was preaching to the choir, but she seemed to just want to be heard. She was nice, though she was much nicer to the man who was in the store spending hundreds of dollars compared with my meager $50. I didn't mind. I'd still prefer to give money to them than the place across the street.

10:30 am, 58º: Holy cow, it seemed to get gorgeous out every time I visited the Badlands! This time I entered from the west side, hoping to get a different perspective and clinging to the hope that I'd spot mountain goats this time. No such luck on the goats, but the view was awesome.

With my nerves a little less sensitive, I was able to pull over for every dramatic view, take pictures, and even step out of the safety of my car to look down. That's a miracle, folks.

There was a sign that seemed a little alarmist and made me cringe.

Plague? Sheesh. Good thing I didn't bring that first prairie dog with me on the first stop.

Saw bighorn sheep again, and a ram made it crystal clear that he was not enjoying my presence as I was enjoying his.
He butted all the sheep around, sending them into the fields far away from my car, and he stared me down like he might just butt my car too. Okay, I get the point. I'll go.

Buffalo were also wandering around in sight, but not as friendly as the ones in Custer and Wind Cave.

I stopped at the visitor center again, thinking I might be able to get a Badlands smooshed penny, but they did not have a machine for it and I left disappointed.

There was some construction going on and for a moment I wondered if these unbelievable formations were in fact man-made in the off season, but it turns out they were working on road improvements. Still, I have to wonder. It's just too strange there.

12:30 pm: Said goodbye to the Badlands and began the long drive toward Mitchell. Took many pictures while driving along the way from the road to document the view.

This is the Missouri River, that I thought was spectacular.
It's very hard to shoot these things well while driving 75 mph, through windows covered in burro slobber.

I wasn't feeling so great, partly because of the wimpy breakfast and partly because of my swollen hands and feet. I blasted music and sang along trying hard to keep as alert and focused as possible but I felt quite tired and weak. I could not get to Mitchell soon enough.

In my eagerness to get to my hotel room, I took the wrong exit and ended up getting a little lost in Mitchell, which was quite a bit larger than I thought it would be. I finally found my hotel and checked in.

5:30 pm (CST), 1464.7 miles, 42º: Checked into the Super 8 in Mitchell and found myself in a basement room with a decommissioned air conditioner. How was I going to sleep without a cold fan blowing, and having my window at exhaust pipe level so clearly I couldn't open it? Grrrrrrr.

I drove quickly to the gas station in the adjacent parking lot where I fueled up. 9.88 gallons = 30 miles per gallon! FINALLY! Don't know what I did right, but I did it.

I also got dinner at the Chicken Coupe, which consisted of two pieces of broasted chicken, baked beans and cole slaw. This was actually the tastiest meal I'd purchased on the entire trip. Gas station food beats the restaurants. Or maybe I was just that desperate for some iron and protein.

Ate in my hotel room and relaxed watching the Food Network for most of the night, enjoying Guy talk about how "money" this diner or that dive was. Visited the public computer to check on the rest of the world, sent an email, wandered back toward my room and was drawn to the vending machine room, where a rack of tourist pamphlets caught my eye. As I stood there eying them, trying to figure out if there was something I wanted to do in Mitchell before leaving, two men walked in the door looking ragged, filthy and worn out. They both had camo pants on and matching green turtlenecks, heavy-duty boots and were carrying their coats and bags. I got out of their way as the second guy spoke to me.

Hunter: Hi there.

Me: Hello.

Hunter: How you doin'?

Me: Fine, thanks. How are you guys?

Hunter: 'Bout dead.

Me (chuckling): Oh no!

They stomped down the hall to their rooms and I heard one shout to the other that they'd meet for breakfast at 7.

I stood there thinking they were good guys, working hard for something they were hunting, and I hoped they got what they were looking for. I liked them, and I didn't know why. Maybe it was because they saw me there, this outsider, alone, and they actually acknowledged me. Maybe it was because I didn't have an internal repulsion for hunters anymore. Maybe it was something bigger. Maybe I'm different. Maybe I've changed. Maybe I see things in a whole new way.

For most of the night I thought about that. Who am I now and how different am I from who I was 6 days ago?

Perhaps the Thanksgiving spirit was upon me. Perhaps I was lost myself, feeling homeless and disconnected from both mankind and my country. But something did happen out there.

I have equated what happened with finding my patriotism, and by that I mean I have discovered a part of myself that is proud of being in America.

This is not the kind of patriotism you see everyday, with red, white and blue, ad nauseum, on apparel, bumper stickers, signs, etc. My dander gets up when I see Support Our Troops magnets on cars because it infuriates me that you'd feel like you have to remind us to care that people are endangering and giving their lives for a war we hate. I don't like that kind of patriotism. I don't want to see your flag waving and hear your political views. That's not patriotism to me.

Thanks to my job, I've seen pride in being American. Someone who has recently become a citizen, coming in to use the library or register to vote, and they get teary-eyed with these new privileges, what they understand being an American is all about. I get that. I never question that. Also, writing a blog for so many years is a right I don't take for granted. It has never escaped me what my citizenship in this country means, but I've never felt connected to the country itself. Citizenship I get -- what America is made of, I do not.

My world is a box, a tiny little box of my thoughts and opinions, and I live largely in an environment made of aluminum siding and asphalt, where every tree I see was specially chosen and planted intentionally, and though I've lived in this house for 20 years, the sod originally laid down you can still pull up and roll like a carpet. It's a groomed, fake world. I am an environmentalist, a science lover, eating organic foods, fighting toxins, defending animal rights, and I staunchly and passionately make sure to recycle every possible thing I can. Yet, my feet so rarely even touch ground that is natural, and my hands never get dirty with actual dirt from the earth. I bark at people who don't make the choices I do, look down on them for being a consumer and not more of a re-user, harshly judging hunters who kill for sport (and food), shaking my head at rural America for being out-of-touch with worldly issues, and it's me who has this narrow-vision of everything. I am the hypocrite here. I am not one with the earth. I do not co-exist with nature. I live upon the stuff we put upon the crust of this planet.

I have seen so many beautiful miles of prairie, so many acres and acres and acres of farms, such beauty in a landscape that is similar in appearance and makeup to what it was before my ancestors even came to this country. (Mine are deep roots, too, going back to the 1600s.) My America is roads and buildings, which is not the land at all. What I saw of the land on my trip changed my view of America itself. What I saw of farms and nature opened my eyes to people I had thought of as simple and stubborn. How wrong I was. They know the land far better than I do, as their lives depend on it, and of the environmentalists in this world, the farmers are among them. What I saw of hunters opened my eyes to people who I thought of as murderers, and again I was wrong. They are a part of the food chain, a food chain as vital as anything else, and it's far more natural to kill and eat than it is to buy packaged chicken at the store.

I stood and looked at Mount Rushmore, a massive sculpture carved into a mountain of four of our country's great leaders, a piece of work that is a wonder itself, but the meaning, the tribute, the homage to four people who helped make this a better place to live, it was inspiring. I witnessed the process of creating a monument like Crazy Horse, honoring another hero, a different facet of our great history. Maybe I'll live long enough to return one day and see it finished. What a thrill that would be! I've seen buffalo roaming, eagles soaring, amber fields, and majestic mountains, all in one trip! I have seen what all those songs I sang as a child were about, songs that were utterly meaningless to me then, but bring tears to my eyes now. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have seen America, seen a part of history, and it's glorious and deeply stirring to have been lucky enough to do this.

Not many of my accomplishments make me proud. Have any of them made me a better person? Maybe, but slowly over time so as not to be visible. This trip I am proud of. These were six of the most important days of my life, and I would recommend to anyone and everyone to try something like this, to find yourself in an alien environment only to discover that you've been the alien all along, and when you can open up and embrace your surroundings, you are not alienated anymore.

Before I left, everyone was concerned for my physical safety. I received advice on how to conduct myself, which was mostly keeping to myself, telling no one I was traveling alone, not making eye contact, not talking to anyone, particularly men, and if anyone paid attention me, do something offensive so they'll go away. And I did heed much of this advice in the first half of the trip, stayed closed off, remained cynical and judgmental, leery of strangers, suspicious of friendly people, and it wasn't until I was surrounded by buffalo that my mind opened up to how ill-equipped I am for life, no matter how much mental armor I wear. Once I understood that I couldn't live my life in the safe confines of my tiny little box, the whole world, literally, opened up to me, and I to it. And I find myself less afraid, okay with being less sure of my staunch beliefs, capable of so much more than I ever dreamed, and welcoming change.

I'm a patriot, after all.

And so, with thoughts of my new self discovery, I drifted off to sleep, my last night in South Dakota, the place where I found myself. The most meaningful Thanksgiving weekend of my life. Thank you, South Dakota.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

7:30 am: Woke up, dressed, packed, and wandered down to grab breakfast with the hunters. The fellows from the previous night were sitting at a table as I walked in. Neither of them looked at me. They will never know what that simple conversation from the previous night precipitated. The rest of the room was filled with a whole different bunch of hunters. They were Natives. How unusual and interesting to see 20 Indians, beautiful dark features, hair down their back, decked out in camouflage and boots, eating waffles and donuts for breakfast before a big hunt. No one said a word to me; no one even made eye contact with me. I debated making a waffle on the iron, but went for the usual English muffin. However, it was frozen solid. I spent probably five minutes trying to separate the two halves, sawing away with my plastic knife, which bent threateningly each time I applied pressure. It actually made me laugh, but it was starting to wear on my patience so I threw it in the microwave and nuked it for a few seconds to thaw it, then was able to separate and toast it. What I noticed was that I didn't have a tantrum. I didn't panic and feel stupid and alone in the world, unable to split my muffin. I didn't throw it in the garbage and stomp off to find something else to eat. I didn't helplessly and pathetically walk over to the cleaning lady and complain about my frozen muffin. Nope. I did something out of character: I laughed it off, fixed it, and moved on. Someone was giving me free food every morning and frozen or not, I appreciated it. This was not something I couldn't handle. Hell, I'd just driven 1,000 miles away from home, alone, fended for myself, battled my phobias, seen unbelievable sights, felt comfortable in my own skin, found out why they call this The Heartland, and explored my own soul. A frozen English muffin wasn't going to derail me anymore.

8:42 am, 42º: Got in my car and decided to drive around Mitchell for a while, found the Corn Palace and chuckled at the strange things tourists will visit, and made my way out of town for good.

As I drove through eastern South Dakota, I took in the landscape, so golden and bright. South Dakota is golden to me. Not the sepia, antiquated, photograph I saw it as when I first encountered it, but golden. Truly.

The tourist traps were starting to become less frequent. Roadside attractions advertising the resurrection of an Old West town made me giggle. Why is this interesting to people? It's quite easy to make a display of all the things that have changed since the late 1800s. So what? Things change in a decade that astonish us when reminded, so why would I pay money to see your collection of old tools and memorabilia? Do you know what would really impress me as a roadside attraction? Show me an Old West town that didn't point out the differences between then and now, but one that points out how little we've changed. THAT I'd pay to see. Show me the top of a mountain from 100 years ago and what it looks like today. Pretty much the same? We didn't ruin it? Awesome! Show me what a prairie looked like 200 years ago. Same again? That's fucking brilliant! That makes me feel good! That is worth stopping to appreciate. Be creative and show me an original pair of Levi's jeans and how it's freakishly similar now still. Show me the machines we have that are built on the same premise that gigantic cattle-pulled tools have done. Show me the recipes they made that we still make today. Wow me with how many good things in this world have survived the test of time. Impress me with a collection of things with longevity. Let me look into the past and feel like I can identify with it, not like I'm watching a movie I can't relate to. I want to be a part of it. I want to feel it. I want to be it. I don't want to feel removed from it. I think these Old West towns get it all wrong.

It took about an hour to get to Minnesota, which was somewhat disappointing. I knew as I crossed the border that I'd miss South Dakota, and I did. Immediately.

My cruise across Minnesota was fun. I blasted music (all three Shinedown albums, two Seether, one Breaking Benjamin), and enjoyed the freedom.

12:15 pm, 1709.7 miles: Stopped in Albert Lea, MN for gas and caved in to my ferocious hunger for Funions. I swear, I do not eat these things except when I go on road trips, just like I don't eat Animal Crackers or Kit Kats, but a road trip makes me want them. Badly. And I resisted the Funions for as long as I could. While at the Hy Vee gassing up, I went looking for Funions. Sadly, there were none in the store. Does MN have something against Funions like Canada seemed to? Why can I only get them in certain places? Strange.

8.67 gallons = 28 miles per gallon. Not bad at all!

I grabbed lunch at McDonalds off the highway, ordered a Big & Tasty because David Zinczenko recommended it in Eat This, Not That!, and was back on the road going home.

The windmills were just as charming from this direction.

And when the hills started rising higher and higher, I knew I was nearing the Mississippi River, and my excitement grew.
Get this: I shot this picture as one of a series of just holding my camera and snapping shots of the Mississippi as I drove over it, unable to even see what I was shooting. I noticed later that I snapped this one and captured the small break in the concrete barriers, through which you can see a boat in the water below.
Further proof that I have very little talent and a whole lot of luck.

Once in Wisconsin, I realized how nice WI is as well. It's always been this enormous state that gets in the way of me going somewhere I actually want to go, and it's the butt of many jokes, but suddenly I was noticing how pretty the hills were on this side as well. It was greener than SD, no doubt about that, and the hills were more spread out, but quite nice in its own way.

Clearly something had come over me if I was appreciating WI.

Driving through the town of Sparta, WI, I had to snap this picture because I'm amazed no one has written on the sign, "THIS IS..." and allowing the "Sparta" to complete the quote.
Do people in Sparta go around kicking others in the gut and yelling that? I would. I'd be quoting 300 all over the place there. But that's just me.

Once 94 and 90 merged back together, traffic became an issue and I realized I was getting closer to home than I wanted to be. The sun was setting and I'd run out of CDs I wanted to listen to, so I just turned off the tunes and listened to the road and my car, completely comfortable with the silence of my own thoughts keeping me company.

4:45 pm, 50º, 2006.1 miles: Stopped in a BP in Delavan, WI for the last tank of gas and found my precious Funions inside. Hallelujah! All was right in the world again.

10.03 gallons = 29.5 miles per gallon. WOOHOO!

6:30 pm, 2085.5 miles:

Where to next?


Dan Searing said... came up on a Google Alert I have for the Dells quoting your observation that you wouldn't want to visit (I love the Dells from visiting g-parents there)so decided to check your blog and got sucked in to your excellent adventure..great reporting, nice writing, wonderful record of your trip...not to mention I feel the same about the buffalo, ever since I saw them as a kid doing much the same trip you describe...great memories, thanks...and hey, give the Dells a Dan Searing

Tez said...


Anonymous said...

I want a Javier too!

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful travelogue. One of these days I'm going to follow your lead and just get in my car and go. You've impressed the hell out of me with this one, hon.

VA sends.

Amanda said...