Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Art of Bigness

Savage suicidal bugs chased me out of the campground this morning. One of them died trying to find the Northwest Passage between my eyelashes, several had nesting designs on my hair, and one became my first protein intake for the day. I jammed everything into the car, got breakfast at an all night diner, and rolled west.

Shortly before I found the restaurant and its bleary eyed service manager, I crossed the Mississippi on a low bridge. The river’s headwaters are not too far from here at Lake Itasca, and it passes by Monticello before turning south at Minneapolis-Saint Paul.  So, three times across ol’ Miss in two days ... once would have been enough, wouldn't it?

Instructions from Google Maps: Stay on Interstate 94 for 574 miles, then turn right.  Okay!

In the night sky to the west, cloud tower anvils threw off horizon-spanning bolts to light up land and sky beyond day bright. Who needs that lazy sun, anyway? The Ion and a few trucks bravely headed in the same direction through buffeting winds and the hiss of small ice shards hurled from the heights. When the winds started to pull it off course, though, the Ion’s owner took it aside for a time out until the big kids had moved on.

Four hours later, the land of the butterburger fell behind and the North Dakota plains spread out under clear (promising hot) skies. I checked the gauge as the last gas station in Fargo went by -- quarter tank, still doing a solid 34 mpg despite running with traffic near 80 mph, enough to reach for the next gas station, surely. No internet connection to confirm, off the grid again, but not a problem. Interstates always have enough gas stations. 

Except in some parts of North Dakota, that is, where the exits all have “No Service” signs confirming the lack of anything to be seen from the road but farm buildings and water towers.  Not panicking, I had my towel ready, I know the Ultimate Answer, and I've got my Thumb.

Cruising range estimates and fallback plans quickly made were as quickly discarded when the sign for a very busy gas station came over the horizon (whew). First time I’ve seen pumps set up to provide different percentages of methanol additive! I stayed with boring old ten percent. 

Back onto the highway, rushing past miles and miles of almost-as-boring-as-Kansas. Air conditioning on, pedal down near to the floor and flying in the low 80's, musing about the Ion's ability to keep up with reportedly faster traffic in Montana. Better not, perhaps.

The locals seem to deal with their image problem in some of the same ways that they do in Kansas. To rival the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas, North Dakota has Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein, with her own ballad.

On a grander scale, one enthusiast’s animal sculptures built from the remains of discarded farm machinery add variety to the hours of prairie rolling by. They all advertise the Enchanted Highway, a sculpture garden somewhat farther off the beaten path than I was willing to go.

Geese in Flight

Who knew? The scale of the Geese in Flight sculpture makes it astonishing folk art, sure, but my favorite was the Sandhill Crane. Yup, parts of an old hauling rig welded up in the shape of a bird … sitting on a silica summit, surely? Sorry, no snapshot.

The hot shower in this Montana lodge this evening felt great after the last two days. Not exactly four star accommodations -- ground floor external door, no deadbolt, thin walls, and gravel parking space just outside, but the staff is friendly, the AC and WiFi work, and the linens are clean.

No more tenting until Oregon, in any case. The path to Strawberry Lake leads by Yellowstone National Park and other popular vacation areas where available budget-conscious and reasonably priced options are hard to find at this time of the year.

Two time zones, eight states, 1633 miles. Rolling!

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