Highway Distractions

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Wisconsin
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Howdy folks,

Steffie and I were undisturbed last night camping for free. Its a bit unusual to roll out of the tent in a field and see a main road nearby and nobody else around. It's a pity that we aren't allowed to camp at rest stops. In the US, there are always rest stops along the highway where people can pull over, go to the toilet, have a picnic then get back on the road. It would be perfect and free, but sadly illegal. Perhaps I'm slowly descending into the madness of my nomadic, hobo lifestyle?

We can't forgo our comforts, so we headed into Maccas for a coffee and wifi before setting out to drive the wonderful Interstate 90 to Sioux falls some 561kms away. We did have a few stops planned along the way to distract us, motivate us and break up the trip. The first stop was in a town called Wall, an hour down the road. Wall is a popular highway distraction that dates back to 1931 when Ted Hustead purchased the local drug store and set about making it the biggest thing around. He first advertised free ice water (the only cold water available for a thousand years) by erecting hundreds of highway billboards. People of course would stop by for free water, buy something and made the guy rich and famous. These days the billboards are plentiful along the highway ensuring that every tourist stops and gets their piece of crappy gift store merchandise. When we pulled off the highway and first laid eyes on Wall Drug, we really didn't know how big it was. It has 5 separate entrances (he bought the surrounding stores) plus there is a backyard area. You can pan for gold, watch an animatronics T-Rex, ride a giant Jackalope (a jack rabbit with antlers stuck on it), eat a meal, buy gifts, local products, hell anything you damn want! Some may call it an eyesore, others may call it a wonder. I think it is just the product of a very successful business family!

Continuing on there wasn't much to see on the barren South Dakoda plains, but we did change time zones to central standard time from mountain time! It was another 2.5 hours until we crossed the big Missouri River at Chamberlain and stopped to have lunch. It was damn hot and we weren't keen to stay out in the sun anymore than we were keen to sit in the hot car. But we swapped drivers and kept going. 70 miles later we rolled into Mitchell which was the next highway distraction and it was 100 degrees F or 38 degrees C. Too hot for disc golf or anything else and time to get inside. Luckily the Mitchell Corn Palace was air conditioned. This highway distraction is older than Wall Drug with the original structure being built in 1892 and updated in 1921 and finally 1937. It was originally an expo to showcase the town's agriculture and grew into a huge attraction with marching bands and now houses the local basketball team. We watched an old movie about the different structures and each year houses a different design. It was truly a great highway distraction.

With no couch surfing in Sioux Falls, we drove the last 75 miles to Tower Campground just outside the ring road that circles the town. It was the best campground that we have ever stayed in! The toilet blocks were new, clean and airconditioned and the tent site came with wifi for only $16! We weren't keen to cook so we just had a salad for dinner and relaxed in the shade. Unfortunately we found out that our air mattress has a slow leak so we didn't have such a great sleep. When we got up and checked couch surfing, we found that Travis had offered to put us up for the night. We didn't have to camp again which was great.

We had the whole day in Sioux Falls, which we found out really wasn't necessary. Our first stop was to play disc golf at South Dakoda Tech, but the course was old and not well marked so it wasn't great. With the sun warming up the skies, we drove into downtown to checkout the river for with Sioux Falls is named. The information centre had a tower which we climbed to see the falls, but they were almost dried up with the hot summer. They have a nightly light show, but we didn't think it would be worth it and the only other thing in the park was an old mill that was in ruins.

Nevertheless, we caught the free shuttle into downtown hoping that it would keep us distracted from the head. Unfortunately downtown proved to be empty! There was nobody around, half the shops weren't open and it seemed to be lifeless except for the numerous street sculptures adorning the footpaths. It wasn't worth hanging around and we didn't even want to go to the museum so we headed back to the car. The only thing left was to find the biggest shopping mall and escape the heat so we drove to The Empire Mall where we spent the next 4 hours.

We arranged to meet Travis at his apartment downtown at 6pm and found him home on his work break. He had to go back to work, but graceously allowed us to stay at his home while he was out. We ended up just watching TV and going for a walk down by the river, but the city was stil dead. I think it has to be worse than Calgary and that is saying something! Travis eventually came back at 10:30pm and we had a beer before hitting the sack.

In the morning, the sun was warming things up already at 9am. Travis came back from his bike ride and we said goodbye to him. He seemed like a really nice guy, very accommodating and it was unfortunate that we couldn't hang out more. We had some more driving to do so we left Sioux Falls with a heavy heart and continued along our way. It was another 300 miles or 5 hours driving to La Crosse and we soon left South Dakoda to drive through the bottom of Minnesota. Our first stop of the day was unplanned as we were pulled over by highway patrol for having an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror! The cop was nice enough and gave us a written warning. We quickly dispensed of the pesky smelly tree and continued along our way.

Three hours after we departed Sioux Falls we arrived in Austin which is where SPAM comes from! That's right folks, we were in SPAM country and the only thing one must do is visit the SPAM museum! The museum is quite indescibable as it is a homage or shrine to the spiced ham product. The building was located next to the company headquarters and was a shiny, new immaculately presented piece of corporate advertising. Inside we found the wall of SPAM, a movie on SPAM, a SPAM gift shop, the history of SPAM, a DIY production line for SPAM and many other useless SPAM facts and displays. We had a bit of fun, but I'm not really a huge fan of it. There was of course a small section on Monty Python's contribution to SPAM as well. We loaded up on SPAM related merchandise and headed back out into the heat.

Before we left Austin, Steffie insisted on stopping at an ALDI supermarket that we had seen on the highway. Apparently it is a German supermarket and she was pleased that it was exactly like the ones from back home. The prices were pretty cheap so we bought some food, got some gas then hit the road again.

There are only so many ways to entertain yourself on a boring highway without reverting to childhood games like I Spy. More often we listen to music, tell stories, update ourselves on the next destination or very occasionally learn German. Two hours later we crossed over the Mississippi River into Wisconsin and our destination of La Crosse. We checked into our hotel which was very cheap and included a pool, wifi, breakfast plus a complementary social function with two free drinks! We put them all to good use and the lady gave me a very large portion of gin in my drink so we were set for the night!

Time to relax.
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