Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

Okay folks, fasten your seatbelts, for this Thursday was the day that I finally had to set foot and tire in…North Dakota! I’ve made so many derogatory references to it in the past, most of them involving selling the state to Canada or merging it with South Dakota to make one state with a combined population still less than Dallas city proper called Dakota. My favorite comedian’s joke about North Dakota: “I was trying to drive through North Dakota one time, but they stopped me at the border and said ‘in order to cross our state, you gotta buy something here’. I only had a $10 bill on me, so I bought…200 acres!”
This day was even longer than the day before, if you can picture that. There’s not much to say about the scenery in North Dakota, at least about the part along I-94. I started the day in Miles City, which is only a couple thousand people, so it was just a place to stop and sleep for the night. That morning, I got a call from Esther Tepait, a good friend who told me she had just moved to Chicago, and was wondering if I’d need a place to stay once I got there, to which the answer was yes please. We agreed to connect once I got to Chicago on Saturday. I had found out recently that my friend R.D. in Madison would only be able to host me one night there instead of the whole weekend, so that allowed for three full days in Chicago, which turned out to be totally awesome! That was the only real deviation from my original schedule on the trip.

The first thing I did after checking out of the hotel at 11:15 Mountain time, besides Top Gun anthem of course, was to cross the highway and get some gas and a hearty breakfast at McDonald’s. I had plenty of doubleshots in the car and trunk to keep me going on this marathon day. The opening segment of the day was a long one, 270 miles from Miles City to bustling Bismarck, North Dakota. The speed limit along that entire stretch was 75, which is exactly what I needed, I sure didn’t want to stop and marvel at the countryside. North Dakota is apparently 350 miles across, and I-94 makes a straight line west to east across the whole thing. Somewhere west of Bismarck the time zone changes from Mountain to Central, so after 4 hours of nonstop driving, I got to Bismarck around 4:30pm local time.

Bismarck’s not a large city, 60,000 total, and yet, as I desperately needed a pit stop at the Starbucks by the highway, I managed to land in a traffic jam on I-94. We might’ve sat there for 15 minutes, and I was about to lose my mind! Finally, the cars started to move again, and I drove the whopping 1 mile further down the highway to the exit where the Starbucks was. Ah! Frustrations.

Refreshed from the stop, I pressed on through the rest of North Dakota, 200 miles from Bismarck to the largest city in the state, Fargo:

There was a nice Subway there. By now it was about 6:30pm, and I’d been driving 6.5 hours. My eventual destination was in the Saint Paul area in southeastern Minnesota, which was another 230 miles away. What made it easier to stay psyched from basically Bismarck to Saint Paul that day was to have the laptop open in the passenger’s seat, playing Harry Potter 7 part 1 or 2 over the car speakers. It took way longer to get through the 2+ hours of movie because I couldn’t charge the laptop through the car and play the movie at the same time, the car speakers would get all staticky. I had to do one or the other for alternating stretches of time. Having the movie was particularly helpful when it got dark once I’d reached Minnesota:


Blurry as heck picture, I know. I saw the sunset over the green fields, and there was some rain and an ensuing rainbow in Minnesota: 

The funny thing this day was that I’d texted my friend Charlie earlier as I was leaving Miles City, and then again maybe 9-10 hours later in Minnesota, driving the whole time in between of course. Charlie is pretty energetic and impulsive, but even he was kinda verbally shaking his head at the distance and time I had covered that day. I thought that was somewhat of an accomplishment to get a response like that out of someone like Charlie. I had plenty of time to get the camera settings right to take a picture of the odometer crossing 6,000 total miles on the trip so far, here’s the final calibration 25 miles beforehand:

And the moment it happened:

I had talked to Jeff Erickson, my host that Thursday night, earlier and had arranged to get to his apartment after 10 pm. I took one of the outer loop highways around Minneapolis to get to the northeastern segment of the Twin Cities area, kind of like taking 635 in Dallas to get up to Richardson and the northern suburbs. I was heading for a town called White Bear Lake, and it was a blessing after driving all day to easily be able to find the apartment. I took a picture in the parking lot before getting all my stuff out to take up the stairs to Jeff’s pad:

It’s interesting that even though I’d driven 700 miles for a second straight day, this one also only took less than 11 hours of total driving time, not including time change. Thank God, that’s still plenty of time to be on the road.

Jeff and Leah welcomed me warmly into their home, and we went over some of the basics of the trip like where I’d been, where I was going, and how I felt after driving 1,400 miles in two days. I had mostly good things to say about all that, and I think they gave me some ice cream to eat and a really thick aerobed to sleep on that night. I stayed up a little longer till midnight or so, and Jeff and Leah went to bed slightly earlier, as Jeff had to be out of the house by 7:30 to head to his teaching job. Good night from White Bear Lake, Minnesota!