Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Summer 2014- Part 1: Washington to Wisconsin

We did it!! We successfully took that much-anticipated road trip to Wisconsin and back. It took us 5 days drive-time in total, 2.5 days each way, with exactly 2 night halts each way, and it was simply great! This summer was action-packed, with guests, camps, and that beautiful road trip I just mentioned.

The Road Trip:

We packed our things, filled up the trunk, packed up a ton of snacks for my junk-loving kids (OK, and us), as well as a whole carton of bottled water, filled up the gas tank, and started off after lunch on Friday, August 15. We had booked our hotels a couple days in advance.

The Logistics:

Route: Sammamish WA to Waunakee WI.
Total Distance to Brother's house:  1940 miles.
Estimated drive time: 30 hours
Main Interstate: I90 E
States: WA--ID--MT--SD--MN--WI

Stretch 1: 

Sammamish, WA to Missoula, MT (Pacific Standard Time to Mountain Time)
Approximate distance: Under 500 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 7 hours

We have taken enough road trips to and from eastern WA (Pullman and Spokane) in the past, and so the first 4-5 hours went by like a breeze. I drove the first stretch crossing Snoqualmie Pass, entering Idaho, driving past Coeur d'Alene, and entering beautiful MT. Thereafter we switched, and hubby drove all the way to our hotel in Missoula. While he drove, I was busy enjoying the beautiful scenery all around us. The undulating mountains, the greenery, the beautiful water reflecting off the color of the beautiful big blue sky was a grand treat to the eyes. In fact, that part is called Big Sky Country (see picture below). We reached the hotel right around dinner time. We found a Qdoba very close to the hotel. So dinner was decent enough. Stretch 1 was over. And we slept.

Stretch 2: 

Missoula, MT to Rapid City, SD
Approximate Distance: 660 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 11 hours

The plan was to leave next morning "as early as possible, preferably before 8am." Of course, it was well beyond 8 am, but we left Missoula, off toward Rapid City, South Dakota. Again, I drove the first chunk of hours, after which hubby took over. Montana is HUGE!! It seemed like it took forever to cross MT! I mean the name Big Sky indeed is very apt. The idea was to stop at Billings for lunch, and so we drove and drove.....and drove! We saw exits for Yellowstone National Park, and we talked about how we must go there perhaps next year. We crossed Butte, grabbed lunch near Billings, and drove some 230 miles towards Sheridan. Then we took US-212 toward Broadus. We saw signs for the historic Little Bighorn Battlefield, and the kids started off a discussion on Native Americans, US history, the battle, etc. And then, I forget exactly where, but at some point, hubby took over, while I dozed off in the passenger seat. Our butts had begun to hurt from all that sitting, and we couldn't wait to get to the hotel and stretch our bodies. The winding road was pretty scenic, and the vegetation looked like evergreen trees, but different from what we see here in the pacific northwest, and shrubs of some kind. There was a sign showing grizzly bears at one point- and I think we spotted some bears too- albeit in cages. So I guess it was some sort of a zoo. We wanted to go and see, but then we decided to just keep going, and not make any halts.

Finally we entered SD, and suddenly the mountains disappeared, the road just went straight, and the land was wide and open. We started seeing signs for the very famous Mt Rushmore and the Borglum (the sculptor) story. We decided that we have got to at least get a glimpse of this (man-made) wonder of the world. But we were on a time crunch, and so we decided to do it on our trip back. We were doing really well with keeping up time. Finally we reached the hotel right around dinner time. The area actually looked very nice. There was a lovely cool breeze, and it felt so good to get out of the van and stretch! After checking in, we went looking for dinner. The little downtown was pleasantly pretty, all lit up, and bustling with people, mostly tourists. We got food from this "highly rated" Chinese restaurant. That was a mistake! We should have got pizza. Oh well! Then we went back to the hotel, took showers, and plopped into bed, in preparation for our last stretch the next day.

The Final Stretch: 

Rapid City, SD to Waunakee, WI, via MN (Mountain Time to Central Time)
Approximate Distance: 780 miles
Approximate Drive Time: 12 hours

This was the longest stretch of our trip. We started off at a good time from Rapid City. Again, I drove first, and this time around, I got a little freaked out. A storm was brewing, and the sky turned dark, with menacing looking dark clouds all around- no, I am not dramatizing this- it actually looked scary to me! I am used to driving in a much more closed-in kind of area, with mountains all around, and really, I AM used to the rain. But that place is completely wide open, and those dark clouds seemed to be ready to attack us with a heavy downpour! I was literally racing, with the hope of escaping the storm. The kids were fast asleep, and so was the hubby, and all I could do was to keep going. As expected, it did start pouring, and here I was, accelerating away; to add to the excitement, all of a sudden I saw this giant life-size dinosaur to my left, and I shrieked!! Well, that dinosaur happened to be a statue of course, but believe you me, it was scary at that moment!! By then hubby was wide awake, and was very amused to see me driving with my sunglasses on, when it was dark and pouring outside. Well, the idea was for me to avoid unnecessary distraction by loitering dinosaurs and what-not! Finally we crossed that storm, and it was a joy to see the bright sun, and clear sky all over again.

P.S.: Later we found out that there is in fact a dinosaur park off of I90E, exit 57, with life-size dinosaur statues made of concrete. So there, I wasn't imagining after all!

We soon entered Minnesota, "Land of 10,000 lakes," and hubby took over. I must mention that the rest-stop there was unbelievably clean, and smelled nice! Wonder if all that extra water they have had anything to do with it! We started seeing more variety of cars, indicating diversity. Else, all through SD we mostly saw pick-up trucks, Fords, and Chevys......  after a few more hours of driving, we saw the sign saying "Welcome to Wisconsin." It was exciting to see that, since that meant we were almost there! Unfortunately we zipped by that sign, and I wasn't ready with my camera to take a picture. The funny thing is that we noticed more water bodies/lakes in WI than what we saw while crossing MN. I found a blog post on this topic. And soon enough, we saw signs for Madison, and all of a sudden, the kids, who had become rather quiet for some time, got very excited, and got all chatty again. I started texting my brother and sister in law telling them what exit we were at, and yeah, we just couldn't wait to reach our destination!!

YAY! Madison, finally! 

And we arrive: 

We finally arrived at Waunakee supposedly "the only Waunakee in the world!" on Sunday, August 17, at around 8:45 pm. The road we took had farmland on either side, and we noticed what seemed like glitter everywhere- fireflies!!!! What a beautiful sight that was! I saw fireflies after ages, and it was simply marvelous! The kids had never seen fireflies before (yeah!), and they were amazed. We took that one last left turn into my bro and sis in law's neighborhood, and our two and a half day road travel came to an end.

Family Reunion:

We rushed out of the van to go see the new baby of the family- my little now-almost-6-month-old nephew!  Oh, it is hard to describe the feeling...... but it was simply wonderful to reunite with family after an entire year.

Stay tuned in for Part 2...... 

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