Sunday, June 27, 2010


One of the things I started doing on road trips is rating rest stops.  Bathrooms are crucial when traveling by car, and your whole attitude toward a state can change for better or worse based on your experience at a rest stop.  My rating scale is thus:

4 toilet brushes -- amazing.  Immaculately maintained, thoughtful design and decor, free wifi along with a good variety of vending machines and tourist information.  Give me a bed and I'd sleep there.  These are extremely rare; I found one on I-40 in Texas on my first big road trip.

3 toilet brushes -- above average.  Well maintained, more than adequate facilities.  Good vending machines and tourist information.  A good place to stretch for a few minutes before switching drivers.  Iowa ranks high in 3-brush rest areas along I-80.

2 toilet brushes -- average.  Clean, but showing its age.  Not necessarily maintained more than once or twice a day.  Little to no tourist info; probably a pop machine.  This describes most rest areas on the Interstate System.

1 toilet brush -- below average.  Not well maintained, despite heavy traffic.  Bathroom facilities are often dirty and lacking supplies.  To be used only if necessary.

No toilet brushes -- avoid.  Get off the Interstate and find a McDonald's.

Today's rest area in Minnesota rated 2 toilet brushes.  The Blue Earth rest stop is a pretty place with a nice picnic area and dog run.  Of greater interest, it had an historical marker.  Like the spot where the Union and Pacific railroads met and were joined with a  golden spike, two squares of gold-tinted concrete on the shoulder of the highway commemorate the completion of I-90, the longest Interstate in the country, stretching from Boston, MA to Seattle, WA.  It was completed outside of Blue Earth, MN in 1978, 20 years after the project began.  Sadly, I couldn't get a picture of the golden concrete without risking life, limb, and body damage to the car.

TMEDA Day 2: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Sioux Falls, SD

22 June 2010

This morning started warm and humid in Madison.  By 9 a.m., it was 70 degrees.  We pulled out around 9:30 and spent about an hour on US 12.  It tickled us, since US 12 runs about 5 miles south of our house in Michigan.  It was really nice not to start right off on the Interstate, and we got to see some beautiful rolling green Wisconsin farmland.  We thankfully drove right past -- i.e. didn't stop -- the exit for the Wisconsin Dells.  From what I've read, I'm picturing something akin to Niagara Falls, Canada:  a beautiful natural wonder commercialized and carnival-ized into a tourist trap.  Not on this trip, thanks.

We crossed the Mississippi as we drove into our fifth state, Minnesota.  Lunch was a quick stop in Austin, home to Hormel and the Spam Museum.  I briefly considered a visit, but ruled it out since I've never eaten Spam in my life.  Mom continued her flagrant disrespect for law enforcement officials by making fun of the county sheriffs that were eating at the Subway we stopped in, asking me if I thought she should inform them that having the license plate read SHERIFF is redundant on a marked car.  It reminded me of the time in Oklahoma that she wanted to go over to the table of Oklahoma State Police and ask how fast she really could drive on I-40.  I share Mom's sense of humor, but I'm fairly certain that law enforcement officials would not.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Most Excellent Dakotas Adventure

21 June 2010

Today marked the beginning of another of Mom and my epic road trips. This year we're heading for the Dakotas. Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands are the first things that come to mind, but the best thing about any road trip are the things you discover along the way.

We made excellent time to the west coast of Michigan, then time seemed to slow as we hit the toll road in Indiana. I-90 is our main route on this trip, and I was reminded of how spoiled we Michiganders are with no toll roads in our state. I think it even grates on our nerves to have to pay a toll to cross bridges like the Mackinaw and the two international bridges, the Blue Water and Ambassador. It was a relief to cross from Illinois into Wisconsin and leave the toll booths behind. I wonder if we'll encounter more tolls on I-90 as we head west.

Our stopping point today was Madison, and thanks to The Beer Mapping project, dinner was excellent at The Great Dane brew pub in Hilldale.  I sampled the Scotch Ale, the Imperial IPA, and settled on the APA. I liked the Scotch, but was in the mood for something drier. The Imperial was very, VERY hoppy -- even more so than Bell's Hopslam or Stone's Arrogant Bastard -- and felt like I was breathing fire. The APA was very pleasant and cut nicely through the rich, creamy Cheddar Mac I enjoyed for dinner.

Our evening ended with tornado warnings for our area. It was a very impressive storm, and luckily, Madison had no confirmed touch downs. With a glance at tomorrow's forecast for Sioux Falls, SD -- tomorrow's destination -- I'm guessing that tornado warnings will be our evening's entertainment again.