In the following posts, I will chronicle my vacation one day at a time. Not since 2001 have I had such an adventurous vacation. You can read about it here (A Journey Interrupted) if you choose. I will make sure to try and paint a vivid picture of my experiences and observations. I might even through in a few pictures.
I had a decision to make about my vacation this year. I could go with my wife to Fayette, IA for a week long class she was taking on campus at UIU OR I could accompany my daughter on a vast road trip encompassing Portland, OR/Battle Ground, WA and then San Diego and home again. Comparing all the activities in Fayette, population 12, or a 5000 mile road trip with two of my kids, the choice was clear. Plus it would seem prudent to chaperone my 18 year old and 16 year old on a 5000 mile road trip event of the year.
1:30 AM, The alarm sounds and it is time to leave. By leaving at 2:00am we were set on a course of a 27 hour marathon drive rotating between 3 drivers and set to arrive in Portland, OR in the morning one day later. Our route has been pre-determined to take a northerly route on I-94 until hitting I-90 in Montana. The Volvo had been prepared the day before with new tires, an oil check, I fixed the trunk latch so it could actually open, and I pre-loaded the vehicle with our luggage and food.
2:00AM, We depart on time and head west. Our satellite radio was faithfully producing tunes, two iPhones and one Windows Mobile phone approriately were navigating via Google Maps and GPS. Laptop was available to be tethered to my cell phone for complete Internet access when needed. The last thing you want to do when heading out into the vastness of God's incredible creation is to not be properly connected to the internet. My children contentedly sleep.
6:30AM, Our first stop for gas and McMuffins in Hudson, WI just before crossing the Mississippi River into MN. We have killed 1,276,429 bugs with our car. Katie takes the wheel and I ramp up for the sights of MN. I fall asleep before the Mall of America and wake up as Kt exits the highway inside of North Dakota.
9:00AM, It's time for a driver change and Ike takes the wheel. We pull onto the highway but I vow to stay awake a bit more this time as theoretically I'm supposed to be monitoring the young'n as he drives. As we pull back onto the highway an ambulence with lights and sirens comes on behind us and we graciously let it pass us as the custom goes. However here's where I made an alarming discovery about emergency health in North Dakota. If you have an emergency, you may very well die. We followed this Ambulence for 40 miles before it even exited the highway into nowhereville. Even worse is that with the more liberal speed limit in North Dakota is that we had to stay back our 500 feet and slow down so as not to pass the ambulence. I have decided that I could perhaps become a premier Emergency services responder in North Dakota by simply applying my feet to the gas pedal. If I were in that ambulence having a heart attack I swear I'd climb up front and jam that accelerator down. We may as well risk it because I'm likely to die anyway on the 130 mile trip to the hospital...and it's likely that hospital is a veternary hospital.
Finally the ambulence departs the highway and we resume a comfortable North Dakotabahn speed of 85ish. I advise Ike to put a bungee cord on the steering wheel and set the cruise and he could probably nap or read for 3 hours and check in later to see if anything changes. I however want to report to you the awesome beauty of North Dakota. I will illustrate everything here:
Did you catch all that. I believe I covered it all. even if I hadn't fallen asleep again I'm pretty sure I covered everything.
12:00PM, I take over driving again finishing up North Dakota and entering Montana.
12:35PM, See exploded deer on the side of the road.
12:49PM, See exploded deer in the middle of the road.
1:24PM, See exploded deer on the side of the road.
3:30PM, We make a stop at the outlook in Theodore Roosevelt National Park just before the Montana Line. We take some awesome pictures and even see a Bison nearby grazing. How exciting that with 20 miles left in North Dakota there was something to see. We return to the car to depart, but alas, the car has difficulty starting. I turned it over many times and I could hear it starting to lose power. This is not good as the thought of a tow from this location was far worse than the thought of North Dakota emergency services. Also, God had rendered our communications devices moot as we were indeed amongst the 3% of Americans not covered by AT&T at that moment. However after some prayer and very thoughtful staring and goatee stroking at the engine bay it finally started. We will overlook this quirk and return to the Dakotabahn. Kt takes the wheel.
5:30PM, After having fallen asleep again, I woke up to a concerned Kt fretting and pulling over. Oh No! Our car! Nope that was not it at all. This was our opportunity to met the entire State Patrol of Montana. We believe Officer Janus of the Montana State Patrol is perhaps the only officer in Montana, thereby ruining the reputation of the Montanabahn. He apparently did not sympathize with Kt's carefree expression of freedom of driving 87 in a 75mph zone on her 18th birthday. However Officer Wet Blanket, did not lack the communications and technology to swipe in a license, check the license, and print off a receipt for the $40 due immediately for the ticket. I'll assume AT&T was not his communications provider. Despite Kt getting a meaningless speeding ticket on a stretch of highway going nowhere where the only obstacle seems to be exploding deer, I was very envious of his mobile communication and in-car printer. This is very convenient for the speeder who just wants to get on their way. I think a 7 minute traffic stop is commendable as WI police just drag it out for 20 minutes. I attribute this to WI heavy reliance on unions.
7:30PM, We arrive at Billings, MT and decide to stop for a nice dinner at Applebee's to celebrate Kt's 18th Birthday as well as her first speeding ticket (Kt was as celebratory as you'd think). However as we exit the highway the car seems to be displaying a love for the Montanabahn and is keeping its RPM's at 4000 and has a desire to speed up to about 60 on the city streets. The brakes were straining a bit at the intersection from hell where there was an accident and it took 5 minutes to get through as the temperature gauge soared to the red zone. We eventually get through the intersection and into the Applebees lot. I open the hood to the radiator overfow...overflowing....just a bit...not an all out overheat. I'll say the car showed restraint in blowing off steam but I was really not inspired by the list of quirks. I would say that dinner was somewhat muted by the last few minutes and hours events and I was only thinking of what might happen when we return to the car.
8:30PM, We head out to the car. Our sad little puddle of radiator fluid on the ground. Will it start? Will the quirkiness go away? Would simply turning the radio louder make it all go away? It did start. But the high RPM's returned and the temperature gauge started being erratic from the red zone to the cold zone with in 3 miles so we veered back into Billings and stopped at a Conoco to see if there was an auto parts store or I could get a tool or two so I could check for vacuum leaks and such. Please be a loose hose or a replaceable sensor! Alas, Conoco only has a small pliers and It proved worthless. The car refused to start again and again the power was draining. It turns out thee was a Sleep Inn across the street. Thwarted we checked into the motel.
9:00PM, Bonus, This sleep Inn was completely remodeled and had the most amazing bed I've ever slept on. We contemplate taking the mattresses with us but figured strapping mattresses to a car that doesn't start did not seem like smart crime. Another bonus, the clerk at the desk knows a mechanic and vowed to have him call me to perhaps look at the car in the morning. She said he would call me after 11:30PM.
10:30PM, I go to get Ice near the lobby and hear the owner of the hotel, who was on a tour of his properties, yelling and berating the nice helpful clerk for giving too many discounts away and speculating loudly how he is contemplating docking her pay, suspending her, or going to fire her. I'm not sure where his logic was going in explaing his tax bill per year of 1 million dollars and how he gets no bailouts and aid but I had such mixed emotions in sympathy for a low margin business and a western conservative and a clerk who was as far as customer service goes went above and beyond...yet did not give me one of those nice discounts.
11:30PM, The phone rings, silence. No one is there. The clerk is not at the front desk to ask for the number of the mechanic who called but never got transferred and never called back again. Oh well. We will sleep and figure things out in the morning.
Good Night Day 1.