Monday, 23 July 2012

Day 4 & 5: Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, & Illinois

Day Four: Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota

Mom and I had decided that we’d like to at least get into Wyoming by the end of our third day. But after all those close encounters of the potential roadkill kind, we’d reluctantly given up that dream. So imagine our surprise when, not 5 minutes down the road from our campsite, we hit the Welcome to Wyoming! Sign. It figures! We hopped out and took a few pictures (sneakily turning around and getting the welcome to Montana sign as well. At that point we were still hoping to get all the sign’s, but I’m here to tell you, after two long distance road trips (BC to Louisiana and BC to Halifax) its just not possible. They don’t put the welcome to..... signs on the interstates that often, and when they do, its often on a bridge or something. And the interstate is not exactly designed for stopping! Still, its nice to get the signs when you can. So we were welcomed to Wyoming early in the morning and rolled on into South Dakota within half an hour! (We were on highway 12, which only just barely dips down into Wyoming). South Dakota probably felt like the longest day. We had a great morning- we drove through the ‘black hills’, so called for the dark look hordes of pine trees gives the hills around the park (apparently somewhat of a novelty to Americans? I have to say it was a pretty familiar sight to me!), through deadwood, a frontier type town which is beautiful and was and is famous for gambling; and finally, excitingly, to our morning treat: Mt. Rushmore. Here is where our map first failed us. (The remainder of wrong turns include varying levels of human error. The levels and which human erred is debated J) According to our map, Mt Rushmore was a mere 10 km or so off of the road we were on, but it was also important to note that said road splits, and a wrong turn would take us to a cute little town- but away from mt Rushmore. Well, we followed the signs, gleefully eyeing the dwindling numbers on the “to Mt Rushmore” signs, when suddenly- whats this?!? We were in the middle of Hill City, the aforementioned town. Well, after some on-the-road deliberation we decided to turn around. We were reluctant to trace our steps but according to the map it’d take a great deal longer to get back to Mt Rushmore on the road we were going. So, we turned around, re routed, and made it to the mountain!
Mt Rushmore was a bit of a surprise in that there was NO mountain around until you’re pretty much right there. The entire time we spent in South Dakota we were wondering how they carved this mountain monument out of what’s mostly a pretty flat state, but in the right spot in the black hills, there are indeed some mountains. Still, the monument was a lot smaller than expected, and neither the artist or the landscape look anything like how Disney portrays them in Aladdin’s magic carpet ride (ß Sarah’s idea of a professional reference. You can thank my university education, folks!). Still, it was hugely impressive. The detail and look is fantastic; it was a wonderful tiny hike (just nice to get out of the car!); and in spite of the fact we recognized only 2 out of 4 featured men (they have signs up along the way to aid the undereducated and remedy that problem) it was something we enjoyed a lot. I actually particularly enjoyed the walk up to the monument- the very American pillars and flags.

On all of the pillars is carved the name of a state and which number it is, by year of joining- something I actually found pretty cool.

Anyway, we had our half hour walk and hopped back in the boiling car. We trundled on out, admiring the side view of the mountain, and the scattered lakes, contemplated going swimming, and popped back out—wait, What!?! Popped right back out in Hill City, about 2 minutes farther along than when we had turned around. After a few minutes of being flabbergasted at the map, we retraced our steps for the third and final time (thank goodness!) and hit the interstate, getting down to the serious business of getting places.

My notes on driving in South Dakota: Its hot, yo. Way hot. Early on a friend asked us if we had A/C and we kind of smiled and said yes (we did, thank goodness) and she was like good cause you’re going to need it and we were like pheh, (this was back in Canada, where in May it still snows sometimes, like how it did the week I left..) sure we will. Well: You will. You really, really will. You may want 2 or 3 sets of A/C, in fact. Because there is no relief.  At one point, both of us wiped out from a few hot hours on the road, we pulled over at a windy windy rest stop to get some relief. Well, no such luck. It was just as piping hot outside in the wind, which is something, as a northerner, I had a realllllly hard time wrapping my head around.  2) Holy guacamole bugs mania. My poor windshield. 3) yay high interstate speed limit! Highest we saw, in fact, at a reasonable 75 mph (near or around our comfy 120 km/h.)

Other notes: If you happen to drive through rapid city, there is a Mobil gas station, rather large, with animal statues scattered outside. We thought that was rather over the top for a gas station until we went inside. We’d stopped simply because it was a large city and we needed gas cause the interstate sucks it up like nobody’s business; but we ended up spending a half hour or so among what might be the most impressive personal taxidermy collection I have ever seen. The man had everything! Every species of bear, wolf, sheep, cat, alligator! Giraffe! Elephant! That I had ever heard of and even some I hadn’t. And keep in mind, we had already been inside Cabela’s at this point, so the level of taxidermy expectations in mass numbers was high, very high (side note: After our 2 added hours to visit Cabelas on day one, we drove RIGHT PAST no fewer than 4 MORE CABELAS before we had left South Dakota. After SD they thinned out, but still. It was kind of an IN YOUR FACE YOU SILLY 2 HOUR DETOUR TAKERS on Cabela’s part...).  In any case: random gas station is epic, and worth seeing, if you ever go to rapid city and are interested in taxidermy. Pretty sure thats going to be a miniscule portion of my reading population, but hey. I try and put in a little something for you all.

Speaking of something for everyone: once past Rapid City, (and in fact a little before), Mom and I started seeing roadside ads for the most RANDOM things, all pointing to this “Wall Drug”, whatever that was. Sunshine! Free coffee and donuts for veterans! Free ice water (tempting!) Ice cream! Cowboy clothes! Smiles! Really weird yet mesmerizing advertising! And what the hell, we wondered, (trying to stay awake on the boring and hot interstate) is wall drug?? What’s a wall drug? And why does it have so much random and unrelated things!? Ultimately, there was only one way to find out. We decided to take the recommended exit and see for ourselves.

*Spoiler Alert!*

Well, turns out Wall Drug is a drugstore, roughly speaking (more in the older sense of drugstore, as in general store, except its actually a large mall, so it does indeed have a ton of random things inside, like most malls) in the tiny town of Wall. The official name is Wall Drug Store but it’s fondly known, worldwide!! As  Wall Drug. (hyperlink to more info for the curious. Its actually kind of interesting, mostly for the super impressive directly effective advertising, which can be found as far abroad as Paris Metro’s and draws in 2 million foreign visitors a year.) We stopped, stepped outside, regretted that immediately, scurried to the nearest air conditioning, and relaxed. Whew. We wandered around a little, waking up the brain cells overwhelmed by heat, got ice cream cones- delish!! And a sarsaparilla, which I was totally unfamiliar with (for the other undereducated youths, its basically root beer. Apparently a forerunner to root beer. In any case tastes awesome cold out of a bottle!) With these small successes,  we moved on.

South D, overall, was a great state, a bit tainted by how hot it was, but still cool. It is, however, home to my biggest regret about the roadtrip. Which is thus: Leaving wall drug, confounded and lazyfied by the heat (my excuse for everything! Haha), we turned back onto the interstate. What we really meant to do but didn’t discover until 15 min later was turn onto the small side road which travels along the interstate- with the important distinction of giving one the best view of the badlands. On the interstate, we got a cool peek, but it was really only enough to whet the appetite. The formations we saw were incredibly cool and both of us wish that we had taken the road with the view. Alas, we did not; maybe next time, eh, mom? Mom? Anybody?

Kidding, kidding. Maybe someday. Anyways, thats South Dakota in a nutshell. Also, after the black forests, its worth noting there’s no trees to speak of; only wind. So, Minnesota was a pleasant, pleasant surprise. “Let there be Trees!” I like to call it. (Trees do start appearing before the border, guys, its not a line or anything. But it really felt like I blinked, and where there had been desert, now there was trees. I <3 trees... especially compared to wind!) Also, leaving the windy plains behind (although I feel I must point out that Minnesota is also windy, and the trees are pretty evidently planted as windbreaks along the road and surrounding houses) eventually meant running out of the windmills, which were chasing us across the country, much to mums preturbance. Not cute windmills- those tall, white, skyscraping wind turbines. (Our opinions in a nutshell: Sarah: Eh, eco friendly at least.. Mom: Creepy and unnatural and give me nightmares! Its like they slice into my dreams! ß actually fairly accurate rendition of our conversation. As you can see the heat fried mom too).

Minnesota also had less large road kill, comforting to those of us who have recently been traumatized by friendly deer in Montana (really not something I ever thought I’d be traumatized by). So we were comfortable driving into the dark- handy, because while Minnesota has a nice trick of posting camping signs along with gas and food, it has the sad trick of nothing being open until memorial day. And so, Minnesota was home our first hotel. Probably time for a shower anyways; not to mention making our own cup of tea (not that we needed hot drinks.)

Day 5: Minnesota, Wisconsin, & Illinois

Finally, we were into the shorter states. We’d managed to drive through most of Minnesota, so we made it to Wisconsin by the early afternoon. It was still hot, hot enough that we gleefully stopped and dipped toes (and hands and shoes and whatever body parts could be dipped without stripping) into the Missouri river in Minnesota.

It wasn’t until we hit Wisconsin, thought, that we really started seeing water again; I hadn’t realized how much I missed river’s and the greenery that comes with water. It was a joyful moment.

A large part of my joy also focused on the return of recycling! You don’t want to know how many bottles we were hoarding inside the already jam packed car, waiting for a recycling container.

We managed to detach ourselves from the recycling area and mosey on. A few hours later we encountered something new: our first traffic jam, courtesy of roadwork outside Milwaukee. 2 hours of some slow and some speedy movement later, we entered Illinois, and started following signs for Chicago. Exciting!

At around 5 in the afternoon, we officially reached Chicago. It took about an hour to get in, and once in, we followed our couch surfing hosts directions to the Ukranian Village, a little nervous a) about what the place and people would be like and B) about parallel parking (mostly me nervous about that, mom parks like a boss). Thankfully, we were in for the most pleasant kind of surprise: everything working out even better than we could have hoped for.

We were nervous also because moms host was in the midst of moving to London (Look study abroad friends! It can be done!), so she wasn’t sure she’d be able to host for more than a night. When we arrived, Rachel, our host, was still at work; her little sister Gracie was supposed to be home, but had forgotten her keys at work and was furiously speeding across town to get them, apologizing to us profusely (and adorably). So mum and I walked around the neighborhood, and I must tell you, Chicago really impressed me. I hear tell it’s because we were in the North side, and the South side is not a place for one to go by oneself, but if so then I still have to say Chicago’s north side is lovely, lovely, lovely. The Ukrainian village was thoroughly charming, full of gardens and enchanting old brick houses, and people walking their dogs. Parking was free (BONUS!!!) and not really an issue; we ended up leaving Gabby parked in the same spot the whole time. I was hugely relieved; it felt safe and nice, somewhere I’d be comfy dropping off my mom overnight (which is kind of surreal in itself. Sign of adulthood: worrying about the quality of place you leave your parents in?). Also, When the key bearing Gracie appeared, she was charming and effortlessly sweet, a young lady working for a high end eco friendly all natural etc etc daycare (“people pay more per year to have their kids there than my entire education cost!” 0.o) and babysitting her boyfriends dog, the equally charming Apple, a beautifully behaved (those of you who know us and dogs know I don’t say that lightly!!) Rottweiler whom mom bonded with immediately and took photos of before she left. I, however, had a date with a hotel and a group of psych nerds to attend. So, after getting directions with the bus (and obsessively tracking my location with my phone while on the bus, in order to find my stop) I headed off to the Chicago Sheraton, by myself for the first time in ages and already missing my mom :p

The bus ride was uneventful, and I did manage to find my stop, but that was where the smooth ride ended. It was a beautiful night and a beautiful spot; the Sheraton is on the waterfront. However, I could not for the life of me tell which building was the Sheraton, and there weren’t many people walking about at night time to ask.  I headed off in the direction it should have been in- but ended up walking into a giant parking lot, which didn’t seem like it at all. So I aimed off in another direction, walking a block away, hoping to spot the large sign all hotels seem to sport. And after another 10 minutes I did indeed spot it- hovering proudly above the parking lot I’d gotten lost in in the first place. Figures!
So, after a day of adventure, I finally found my hotel, settled into the lobby to wait for my roommates (who held the key cards), and reunited after an hour or so with some beloved BC friends (specifically Sanne; most of the others on the trip I didn’t know.) Then it was off to bed and rest before a day of sightseeing- tomorrow!

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