From SleepyEye, Minnesota...
Trip Start May 28, 2007
7Trip End Sep 10, 2007
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I was in such a rush to write that first entry that I neglected to give any setup for the trip, so here goes: As my job at Highpoint was ending, I knew that I wanted to travel again, but I wasn't really up for (or prepared to pay for) another long-range trip like the last one. I decided that a roadtrip would be the perfect (and affordable) alternative, but then I realized I would need someone to go with - everybody knows that a roadtrip is no fun alone! My first thought was to invite my brother, Bob, but I wasn't sure he'd be up for it. Eventually he decided to join me, and with my usual limited planning we left on May 28, the Monday after Memorial Day.
The general idea was to travel west along the northern part of the country - I had only seen the east coast in my previous travels in America, and the Great North is something I'd always wanted to see firsthand - and then return through the middle states. The first goal was to make it to Chicago - it seemed like a good place start - and then head north and west. Along the way, we looked at the map and decided there was nothing that drew us toward Ohio or Indiana, so we skipped them, and then we decided that Michigan is probably about the same as Wisconsin, so we skipped Michigan, too!
One general rule of thumb for the trip is to avoid the interstate as much as possible. You don't see anything on the interstate that you don't see at home - it's the same repetition of strip-malls, WalMarts and Home Depots from one side of the country to the other. I generally use the road atlas' scenic routes for the majority of our route planning, and only take non-scenic routes or interstates if we really just need to get from point A to point B and don't care see anything in between. Ohio/Indiana was just such a case - we just barreled right on through from northern Pennsylvania to Chicago in an all-day marathon of bland interstate driving. By the time we arrived, I was too tired to even try to find a bargain motel, so we ended up staying at a Courtyard Marriot for $100 a night (our travel budget is $250 a week for gas, food, lodging and attractions, so that was a real splurge!).
That should bring you up to speed since the last entry, and since then we've stayed a few more days in Wisconsin - I think we were there around 10 days total - and we're now in Minnesota enroute to South Dakota. Wisconsin has been the most beautiful place we've seen so far - I had heard as much before arriving there, and it lived up to my expectations (something few places actually do!). We stayed at what I thought at the time was the prettiest campsite ever - Laura Lake in the Nicolet National Forest - as well as a couple of nice state parks. (More on the truly prettiest campsite a bit later).
Just a side note here about driving - I've always considered the people of New Jersey to be the worst drivers anywhere in the country, and so far I haven't been proven wrong. And I have to say that the people of Wisconsin may be the best drivers anywhere - they are truly a pleasure to drive with. There were several occasions when we were driving along on multi-lane highways, and everyone drove in the right-hand lane, never more than five miles over the speed limit, never under the speed limit, and people only used the left lane for passing! For the first hour or so of this I was amazed, and after half a day I began to appreciate just how nice it is to drive without being cut-off or honked at or tailgated. A real surprise for a guy from NJ.
In Minnesota, we traveled mostly through farmland on two-lane roads, and every single car that approached us from behind as I was driving 60 in a 55 MPH zone hauled past us and took off going at least 70 - and all this passing went on with huge trucks barreling along in the oncoming traffic lanes. Quite a disappointment after Wisconsin...
Our last stop in WI was Pattison State Park, and on the first night there (a Tuesday) a guy strolled into our campsite around 7:00 and introduced himself as "Jim, the Naturalist". He announced that he would be leading a no-lights night-hike starting at 9:30 that night, and I was hooked right away! We had our dinner and got ourselves together for the hike. The hike started at the edge of the lake and then moved into the forest as the night grew darker. Every few minutes, Jim the Naturalist would stop the small group (there were six or eight of us) and have us use our non-sight senses to experience the forest around us. The experience was a unique and interesting one, and he made sure we got the most out of it. We tasted the air coming off the lake, smelled the forest around us, let our feet tell us about the ground cover we were moving over, and listened for the wildlife around us. His entire presentation was great, even though he seemed a bit awkward about being the leader of our little pack, and by the end I was pleasantly surprised by the 45 minute adventure...
We left WI the next morning and headed for MN. We drove north along the coast of Lake Superior - a gorgeous, rocky coastline covered in pine, birch and cedar trees. Our intention was to head into Superior National Forest for some free rustic camping, but 20 miles in on a rough dirt road had me thinking we needed to head closer to civilization - it wasn't worth the potential car trouble to keep heading even deeper into the woods! We settled on the $12 a night campsite at Ninemile Lake, and it turned out to be the prettiest campsite ever. We were right on the lake, with a little staircase that lead to the water and a thick cover of trees between us and the campers on either side. We arrived on Thursday to avoid the crowds, and all but 2 of the 8 lakeside sites were already taken. By the next morning the rest were occupied, and we seemed to be the only ones without a boat (a common scenario in both WI & MN). We stayed for three nights and made daytrips (when it wasn't raining) to the state parks in the area, which had waterfalls and rocky lakeshores and a lovely little lighthouse on a high cliff over the lake.
In an effort to get a move on (it's already been three weeks and we've only gone about 3,000 miles) we headed all the way across the state to the southeast corner. After a ten-hour drive we settled on Fort Ridgeley State Park and a nice little site beside a creek. The weather has held out so far (there was a threat of rain yesterday, though) and we'll be heading out today for South Dakota. Our goal is to get to Mt. Rushmore in the middle of next week in a (probably vain) attempt to avoid huge crowds. I find that after so much time camping in the company of just one other person, any more than ten people in one place makes me a little antsy!
One last thing in closing - ever since my last travel log, people have been telling me that I ought to have these writings published and maybe make some money off this stuff. Well, this web-site has a handy little donation feature - at the top of the page is a link to make a contribution to me and Bob,
Contribute as much as you think it's worth to you - whatever that is will be worth a lot to us...