Thursday, May 9th
Yesterday we covered 366 fairly leisurely miles in mostly fair weather – our shortest driving day so far. Somewhere between Waterloo, IA and the Minnesota border, Bill got animated about our progress. Maybe me fussing over General Grant in Galena or dawdling in Dubuque was the catalyst but whatever we decided to kick it today, run through Minnesota and across South Dakota and make Rapid City by dinnertime. Accordingly we got a relatively early start (after obligatory exercise and breakfast) and hit I-90 West out of Albert Lea, MN around 9:30 this morning. It rained on and off through Minnesota but started to clear up around Sioux Falls.
We did make a couple of little detours. We stopped and bought some buffalo jerky (made on premises) just over the South Dakota line at a ramshackle country store off the highway. There we also got a free, twenty minute lecture on everything from fireworks to free market capitalism to gun control from a tobacco spitting octogenarian in a filthy easy chair. He actually made sense, which was the most remarkable part of that encounter. And the buffalo tasted like pot roast.
There are very long stretches of this Interstate where it looks like President Eisenhower snapped a chalkline. Some of the straightest stretches of road I’ve ever seen. Driving it is actually kind of cool. We took turns experimenting with this car’s finger tip cruise control mechanism to adjust for the very occasional traffic without touching the pedals. A boy thing I guess. Then, as we approached, and then crossed, the Missouri river, the terrain changed entirely from flat and straight to rolling hills and curves. But the speed limit stayed the same – 75mph. Which means the rental car company doesn’t want to know what we’re up to. For the record, Bill drives faster than I do. We don’t normally get passed when he’s at the helm.
Crossing the Mississippi yesterday was a big deal. Crossing the Missouri today was a big deal. The Badlands were an entirely new deal altogether. On the advice of our friend James Birmingham, we jumped off I-90 and took a 30 mile detour through Badlands National Park. I won’t even try to describe it except to say that we ran out of new ways to express our astonishment to each other after the first five minutes. And after the first half hour, we stopped taking pictures, realizing we were never going to do justice to that place. I’ll leave it at this; go there. Prairie dogs!
Thus exhilarated, we joyfully humped the last 50 miles into Rapid City at warp speed, cresting the ridge outside of town with the Black Hills rising in the distance. Wow. We covered 550 miles today and it felt like a roll around the block. What a drive. Tomorrow, Mt. Rushmore and our turn South.
Random notes for today: proliferation of billboards, epic speeding, strange wildlife, strange radio, Mountain Time. And we need to clean the car out tomorrow – it looks like Apollo 13.