road trip

Road Trip: Kimball and Rapid City

Gonna hit mom’s and my road trip artlessly and list-style because it’s easier that way and — and well it’s easier that way.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The walrus en route to Rapid City

The walrus en route to Rapid City

We left Waukesha, WI and hit the road for Rapid City, SD, with a planned overnight stop in Kimball. We arrived around 7 pm to a town overrun with construction crews and a vague aroma of sweetgrass and pee.

Mmm… Sweetgrass…

Dinner that night was at Doo-wah Ditty’s Diner. The food was decent and the service was friendly, but between the cranked up A/C and the crew of tactless, leering construction doodz at the center table, I was only too glad to get the bill and head on back to the hotel.

Unfortunately the Dakota Winds was all booked up so we stayed in the Super Adequate 8 across the street, where we were checked in against a scrap of paper with room numbers written on it showing which rooms were… or weren’t… or did that one get cleaned yet… available, and checked out by an enormous, but quite docile, German Shepard who trotted over to the desk when we rang the bell the next morning.

Tuesday, July 9, 2014



The next stop on our journey was Wall, SD, home of Wall Drug, a drug-store-turned-tourist-mecca about 50 miles east of Rapid City. I’d been looking forward to a slice of their pie and a cup of their nickel coffee for the better part of a year and a half, but one tuna salad sandwich later I only had room for a cookie. Sometimes life’s hard like that.

Mom and I didn’t spend as much time wandering through Wall Drug this time as we did last time, in part because we’d already seen it all, and in part because it’s tourist season so things were pretty busy. Somehow the prospect of getting one’s picture taken atop a giant jackalope is a lot less appealing when you have to wait 10 minutes for it in the summer sun. Who knew?

While in Wall we wandered into a shop that specializes in Harley shirts, dream catchers, and commemorating animal death.


We got into Rapid City around lunch time and met up with my friend Angela who we’d be staying with that night. She took us on a walk through Art Alley

Art Alley

Art Alley

…on our way to the local Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop, where heckyes we bought things, and then on to Who’s Toy House where we got to see their Perplexus, which was particularly cool since apparently there are only three of these in existence.


Okay, so here’s the thing: Right now it’s four days after all that stuff happened and I’m in Colorado Springs and there’s thunder outside and cool dogs in the other room and I’m with friends and I have laundry to fold and a cider calling my name and just — yeah. Blogging about the rest of the trip so far can wait! Back tomorrow – or Sunday – with the rest of the scoop!

Heading West

Leaving in 30... 29...

Leaving in 30… 29…

Up at 6:30 am on an open Monday morning, bags in the trunk, walrus packed and ready to go. This can only mean one thing:

Road Trip!

The pinniped (pictured right) and I will be heading out the door within the hour, mom in tow, headed for parts unknown.

And of course by “parts unknown” I mean “at least as far as Rapid City, SD because I kind of love it there.”

October 2010 South Dakota Road Trip

October 2011 South Dakota/Montana Road Trip

To tag along on this summer’s road trip, tune in here for daily* updates, or follow me on Twitter ( and Instagram ( for the scoop in  real-time.

Anything you think we simply must see during our travels? Tweet me @behnnie or leave a comment here with the details. We’re going to try to hit all the Major Attractions That Responsible Grown-Ups Make Sure To See, but mom and I are more “local flavor” type travelers, so don’t go holding out on us if you have a favorite ice cream place in Kimball that we shouldn’t miss!

Time to throw the stuffed mammal into the car and hit the road. Next stop? Blue Earth, MN


Paraguay Blog #2: Fixin’ to Ride

Cast of Characters
Ken and Christie Hagerman: My hosts. They live in Itaugua on the grounds of Hogar Ganar with their daughters Camille and Caroline
Julie and Norberto Kurrle: A couple homesteading on the outskirts of Obligado with their four year old son Timmy
The R’s: A couple studying Guarani and agriculture in Obligado with their three kids

(Click here for the previous post in the series.)


Arriving at the airport in Asuncion

For the life of me I can’t figure out how to start blogging about my trip to Paraguay. Being here feels so normal I hardly know what would be good to share. Of course half the roads are dirt or cobblestone. Of course the milk comes in bags. Of course you don’t flush the toilet paper.

Is that interesting? Is that news? Is that blog-worthy??

I’ve never traveled anywhere that felt so beautifully underwhelming in spite of its uniqueness, its novelty, its quirks. It’s not that being here feels anything like being at home in Wisconsin. It’s just that with the way it feels so familiar- even after nineteen years’ absence- I almost feel like I’ve simply taken a road trip to Oregon or the Wisconsin Dells; it’s all just different-ish

As I’m writing this I’m at the top of my fourth day here. We’re at the R’s apartment and some time around 11:30 this morning we’ll be heading to the beach in Bella Vista for an extended test of SPF 45, and an asado.

A real asado. It’s been so long. Good Lord I’ve missed this food.

The menu so far this trip has actually been pretty atypical of Paraguayan food. This morning’s breakfast? Grits and oj. Last night’s dinner? Homemade pizza with a wheat crust (“Wheatza,” Ken calls it), salsa, mozzarella, corn, beets, and palm hearts. Breakfast was homemade bagels; lunch was chicken and chorizo jambalaya.

The R’s are Southerners, for all y’all that didn’t pick that up yet from reading that there menu. They’re this awesome couple in their 20s studying Guarani for two years after a year studying Spanish in Costa Rica. I might have some of these details a bit confused, but I think the way things will work for them is that in about a year they’ll be moving farther into the interior and working with the local folks primarily in the areas of agriculture, conservation, and reforestation. (Read up on the destruction of the San Rafael forest some time. Unbelievably tragic, and much of the damage is irreversible.)

Our first day here in their home, Monday the 9th, they stayed up until 4:30 in the morning watching the Alabama v LSU game, to the tune of purple and gold homemade pizza, and LSU logos on all their kids’ clothes. NFL football means so little to me, and college football even less, but I can tell you that from now on whenever I hear LSU is playing a game, you’d better believe I’ll be rooting for them.

Camille and Caroline had been talking back…

Our second day here, Tuesday the 10th, we spent the morning in nearby Trinidad visiting the ruins of a 17th century Jesuit settlement. It had been at least twenty years since I’d seen them last, and while the ruins haven’t changed much (an added support beam here, a roped off staircase there), the surrounding area has changed immensely. The grounds are now blocked by a gate with a guard house. Before that there’s now a tourism building where you pay to get in (pay to get in?!), a restaurant, AND A TOWN. Luckily it was in the low 100s with a warm breeze and a clear sky so that *some* things still felt familiar.

Then it was back to the apartment for the aforementioned, totally non-Paraguayan gumbo, and an afternoon of relaxed conversation in an unlit living room, bodies sprawled out against the cool of the floor tiles, oscillating fans moving the still summer air from room to room. Afterward the R’s (with their youngest little one), Ken, Christie and I piled into the car for a tour of Obligado and Hohenau, and then the outlying settlements and countryside, including a drive down a long dirt road all the way out to the Río Paraná.

We waved at Argentina, then drove back to the apartment for the beet and palm heart pizza.

You wish you were here.

Carol and me at the beach in San Bernardino

I didn’t start out this far south east. When I first arrived late in the evening on Saturday the 7th I landed in the capital city, Asuncion, where I was greeted at the airport by four smiling Hagermans, complete with signs with my name on them just like in the movies. Now that’s all right. :) They drove us back out to their house where I was finally able to give the girls the books and Skittles I’d been stockpiling for them. We stayed up talking and laughing ’til 4 in the morning. What a great way to start a trip!

Sunday the 8th was a relaxing day spent packing for Monday’s drive, and sitting by the pool at my friend Carol’s house. Carol teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and has a home in San Bernardino. I found her through the same place I found Christie back in the day, It was great getting to finally see her home, to cool off in the pool for a bit, and to walk down to the lake. While at the lake we watched a handful of boys ride bikes down a long pier and off a 6′ high ramp into 3′ deep water. Ask me how much you’d have to pay me to do that. Answer? MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER AFFORD.

My family never spent any time in that area- I think we joined friends there once to swim- so there was a bit of culture shock for me when we rolled into town. The outskirts are pretty normal, but around the lake and the city itself? Phew there’s some money in that town!

Walking to the pond next to Julie’s house

Monday the 9th we packed the car and drove the four or five hours southeast to Obligado, a town near Encarnacion, to see Julie and Norberto Kurrle. Julie and her mother made the sweetest chocolate cake with coconut and pecan icing from the States. We took a walk to the lot next door where we watched the dogs play in the pond- some big ol’ teeth on those dogs- then went back to the house for salad, squash, mashed potatos, chicken, and the best cornbread I think I’ve ever had in my entire life.

I wouldn’t say you should buy a ticket to come here just for her cornbread, but I will say that if you come down here and don’t have her cornbread the trip was wasted.

Guarana, chipitas, mandioca, turrón de maní

After dinner we hit the road for the R’s house in time for the start of the LSU game from a few paragraphs up and… well there we go. All caught up I gues. Bit of a round-a-bout way of telling it, but I think I got it all.

Oh! Except the treats! How did I almost miss those? Geez…

So the two food items I’ve been craving the most since moving back to the States were Guarana (a soda) and a particular brand and type of turrón de maní (a candy). I’ve also had a real hankering for ham and cheese empanadas, chipa, chipitas, sopa paraguaya, mandioca, and dulce de leche. Some things you just remember and then always need, you know?

My first full day in-country I got to enjoy both of my top two mega-craves, and a bag of chipitas. What a great way to start a trip! :D

Roads Trip: With A Vengeance

(This is Part 2 of my road trip. Click here to read Part 1.)

Back on Track

After getting my brakes fixed in Kimball, SD on Wednesday, I was ready to hit the road again. It wasn’t what you’d call “fun” authorizing a $91.01 credit card receipt for unexpected towing and repairs, but given that I thought I’d be shelling out upwards of $1,500 for a new transmission it was all I could do not to add hearts and smileys to my signature. Thanks Overweg Repairs for the good news, the quick work, and all your helpfulness!

Following up auto repair costs with a peaceful drive through beautiful country is a pretty good way to cool one’s head, I’ve found. I got to cool mine over the next 174 miles to Wall, SD, home of the famous Wall Drug.

I spent some time wandering through the stores inside the Wall Drug complex, taking particular pleasure in the home decor shop. Not for the decor itself- though there were some pretty sweet hand made clay mugs I wouldn’t have minded taking home- but for this gorgeous, over-sized, hard cover book on Harvey Dunn. Page after page of artist history and full color pictures of all of his work. Beautiful.

Alfred at Angela’s house

I’m not even sure why I enjoy his stuff so much. Western and prairie themed art isn’t generally my thing, and there are a few of his pieces I’m a bit *meh* about. But all in all that fellow’s work really brightens my day. Maybe it’s the Laura Ingalls Wilder fan in me…

After lunch and a cup of their nickel coffee, I hopped back on I-90 for Rapid City to meet up with Angela, an amazing woman I met through my friends Katharine and Haakon at their wedding this summer.

My first stop in town was Prairie Edge, a beautiful store that specializes primarily in Lakota artwork, books, and music. It was all pretty incredible. One of those places I could spend an awful lot of money. You know– if I had an awful lot of money to spend. In the end all I bought after an hour of wandering was a braid of sweet grass. I can’t wait to hang it up in my apartment. Mmm-mm-mm.

After Prairie Edge I was off to catch the end of the salsa class Angela teaches on Wednesdays. We hit up Firehouse Brewing for wine and appetizers after the class, before heading back to her house for blogging and paper grading.

It was all just so incredibly… good. It was… relaxing. It was… homey.

It was one of those times that makes you feel like whatever it is you’re doing it must be the right thing because everything in the air around you is so calm and peaceful and fun.

Hi honeys! *scratch scratch scratch*

Since I was enjoying my time in Rapid City so much, we talked about the possibility of my sticking around for another day or two, an option I seriously considered. In the end, however, I decided to press on toward Missoula, MT by way of Custer State Park so I could complete the trip I’d set up for myself, and see the buffalo and visit with the burros again while doing it.

(Coincidentally, my drive through Custer on 10/20/11 was exactly one year to the day from when I drove through with my mom last year. Good times.)

And there they were, in all their furry, dusty, sunny glory. Mile after mile of herds of buffalo and pronghorn antelope, flocks of wild turkeys, acres of prairie dog burrows, and more long-eared burros than you could possibly scratch and feed and chill with in one day.

But I did try my best. ;)

Official State Dinosaur of Wyoming: Triceratops

Back on the road I tooled along 16W, heading through north eastern Wyoming as I worked my way back to I-90 to get to Billings, MT, my last stop before Missoula.

I wasn’t to reach Billings last night, however. No Billings. No bunking with more new friends from the wedding. No early morning start to Missoula today (Friday). In fact, at this point it looks like I won’t be making it to Missoula at all this trip.



Somewhere between Sheridan, WY and Aberdeen, MT I found myself behind a semi traveling about 60 mph on a 75 mph stretch of road. When it’s Montana Dark at 7pm on a lonely highway I don’t mind driving 60. Fact is I’d prefer it. And after passing a 10 point buck standing alongside the freeway just a few minutes before, I was really looking to go something closer to 25. But there I was, a mere 100 miles from Billings, and wanting so badly to be done driving for the day. So I pulled up next to the semi in an attempt to pass it, when my headlights latched on to a dead deer in the middle of my lane directly in front of me.

Oh no…

With the semi to my right and no shoulder to my left, I had no choice but to center my car over the deer in an effort to clear it and cause as little damage to my vehicle- and myself- as possible, slow down as much as I could before impact, and hope for the best.

It sort of worked?

You would not believe the smell…

After running over Bambi’s mother, I slowed way down and pulled into the right lane, scanning the road for any sign of an exit. The car felt okay, but you never know. A half mile later and there was a scraping sound coming from under my car. A loose splash guard? A loose hose? A loose DEER FACE?

After a couple more miles of nothing, I came upon the Aberdeen exit (with a sign beneath it reading “No Services”) and pulled off the freeway to survey the damage in the damp, 40 degree darkness of an unlit exit under a patch of Big Sky unaware it’s supposed to feature moonlight.

Like you do.

I shut my car off, turned on the headlights, popped the hood, and opened the flashlight app on my phone. (I promise this is the last time I travel without a real flashlight.) After a brief survey of the underside of the car, I determined I could poke off the majority of the entrails with the ice scraping end of the snow brush in my trunk. And as my right splash guard had, in fact, come loose, I decided to thread the rope from my trunk (rope my mom and I made at the Laura Ingalls Wilder house in DeSmet, SD last October) through the guard and out from under the hood.

Scrape scrape scrape, tie tie tie, close the hood, hop in the car, turn the key… turn the key… TURN. THE. KEY… Nothing. The headlights are on, the emergency flashers are still going, the car’s only been off about 15 minutes, and now: tick-tick-tick-tick-dead.

Hoo boy.

I called my brother and had my second “mimicking weird car noises into the phone” conversation of the trip, during which time he gave me the Montana Highway Patrol phone number. I call ’em up and they say they’ll call dispatch to send me a tow truck, and that I should sit tight because I’m pretty far from everything out there on the reservation so it’ll be at least an hour before anyone can get to me.

Hoooooo boy.

And so Alfred and I bundle up with hats, scarves, blankets, and a pillow, and we wait. And it gets colder. And the flashers keep flashing while we shiver, and watch our breath, and wait some more.

Joy Ride #2

An hour later I’m experiencing tow #2 of this trip, Joy bouncing along behind me on the bed of  the big white truck taking us 50 miles north to Hardin, MT, itself only 50 miles shy of the evening’s intended destination of Billings.

Paul, our driver, and I pass the time chatting about life, travel, his kids, the books his wife writes, the locations of some of the reservations in the area (we are on a Crow reservation, “but I am Blackfeet,” he grins), and some of his past hauls. One haul in particular, he says, was very sad. He told me about it when we passed a sign announcing the approach of Little Big Horn.

“Wait. THE Little Big Horn?” I ask. “As in ‘The Battle Of’?”

“That’s the one!” he says. “Folks come here from all over the world asking to see the place where the Indians won. They just can’t believe it. That’s what they call it. “The place where the Indians won.” I haul drivers from Australia, from Spain… They all tell me they came here to see where Custer lost and the Indians won. From Germany… There was a family one time from Germany, and they had just flown in and they were still jet lagged from flying. They rented a car and drove to Little Big Horn, and on the way the person driving fell asleep and drove into the cement divider on the freeway. They all died. Very sad. That’s a very sad message to send back home to Germany.”

I ran over a dead deer and walked away from it. That entire family died and Paul hauled it all away.

The Bad Adds Up Faster…

We reached Hardin, MT and Paul dropped me off at a Super 8. $80.14 for a single night’s stay. Not terrible, but when you thought you’d be sleeping somewhere for free it stings. But what’s one night, right? They’ll look at my car in the morning, jump it, scrape off the deer goo, make sure nothing’s shaken loose or being nudged by bones, and I’ll be back on the road.

How you fix a splash guard. In the dark. Without the right tools. In the middle of nowhere.

Except that morning comes and I learn XYZ Towing and Repair won’t be looking at my car until Monday, three whole days from now. And that’s at the earliest. They also said it usually takes one to two weeks for a AAA insurance claims adjuster to make it out that far. And that it takes at least a week for parts to come in for Toyotas. And that I’ll need to book a room for at least three more nights now to get me to Monday, and perhaps as many as ten or more if the car requires any serious work.

So I cried.

I’d made it through all the other things that came my way on this trip, but for that news? For that news I sat there in the lobby of the Super 8- having just checked out since my reservation was only good until 11 am- and wept.

All day it was like that. Back and forth with the insurance company, with the repair company. No times, no guarantees, no real information. Just me fumbling around with my options and asking XYZ if there’s any way they can take even just a peek at my car before Monday since I’m sure it’s something simple. But no. They’re behind schedule and I’m at the end of the list. And towing it 50 miles to Billings wouldn’t even help, it turned out. It’s a much larger town with more repair shops to choose from, but it would be $275 just to tow my car up there, and I’d still be waiting until Monday to have my vehicle looked at, and all for what I suspected was just a battery in need of a jump, and undercarriage in need of a “thumbs up” from someone with a trained eye.

Weeping like that was the easiest part of the day. I was glad I didn’t still have my hotel room or I knew I’d’ve just crawled back into bed and cried, getting nowhere, accomplishing nothing. Thank you, Super 8 staff, for letting me make calls and cry in your lobby. I don’t know where I’d’ve gone without you.

…But The Good Adds Up Higher

The magazine in my desk drawer is an April 1995 NatGeo, and the owner rescues strays. Stay here.

I approached the on-duty manager at the Super 8, a friendly woman named Carla who wears her eyeliner the same way I wear mine. I told her what happened, said I couldn’t afford to stay there for $80 a night with as long as I’d be in town now, and asked if she knew anywhere I could stay for less.

I’d barely finished my question when she picked up the phone and called her friend Charlotte, the woman who runs the Lariat Motel and who works in animal rescue, primarily picking up stray dogs and cats from the area reservations so she can get them healthy, happy, and adopted. Today I would be one of her rescues.

Not only did she give me a special rate (which I won’t mention here just so folks don’t show up asking for it), but she even closed up shop at the motel so she could drive over to the Super 8 and pick me up so I didn’t have to walk. Then when we arrived she knocked another $5 a day off my rate, and told me she’d call Father Fabian at the local Catholic church and ask him to pay for one of my nights.

“Are you sure? Can I do anything for him? Does he need help? I can help him. I’m pretty good at office stuff. Or I could clean–“

The pink triangle in the foreground is the edge of a double bed, where I’ll sleep to the tune of silence and dogs.

“Naw, don’t worry about it. That’s just what he does. He likes to do that. To help out travelers when they’re in a rough situation. He doesn’t need any help. I just call him when people come through that I think could use a hand.”

I owe somebody a hand.

I get up to my room to unload my bags and almost immediately the room phone rings, and just like back in Kimball, SD it was the motel manager on the line with good news.

“Just wanted to let you know Father Fabian’s going to pay for two nights.”

I owe somebody two hands.

“Oh, and come on down when you’re finished and you can meet today’s rescues.”

In the front office she’d told me about the three puppies she rescued from the Pryor Reservation today. When I expressed an interest in seeing them she said she’d be happy to show them to me. When times are weird, everything gets just a little more sane if you can work in some animal time. So I ran back downstairs to Charlotte, who directed me to go through the garage and said I’d find the puppies out back, and not to worry about their big bellies.

Me-First! is the one climbing onto my lap. Sneak-In-For-Attention is the one on the ground.

“They’re just big because they’re full of worms,” she laughed. “But I fed them some good food and gave them worm meds so they’ll be better real soon.”

And wouldn’t you know they were just the friendliest pups you could ever hope to meet? One was very timid and came out and mrowled for my attention just once, but then backed into their sleeping shed to hide amidst piles of blankets. I tried coaxing him back out, and he let me scratch his belly when I wiggled my way through the tiny shed opening, but he never did more than peek his head around the corner after that.

But the other two? Merciful heavens! They were scrambling all over each other for my attention the entire time I was out there! Both were so eager for time and touch it was all I could do to keep up with the “Pet me first!” demands.

The larger one would wrestle his way in close to me, then put a paw up on my leg and sit very still while I scratched his back and belly and cheeks. No growling, no barking, no scratching. Just licks and paw pats. The smaller one was equally quiet as he attempted to wiggle his way under his buddy to sneak in a few pets and scratches for himself.

They were all absolutely adorable. If I lived around here I think I just might be in danger of adopting a few too many of Charlotte’s Whelps…

Strange When You’re A Stranger

I eventually pried myself away from the little dudes at 5 o’clock and made my way back to my room to start writing this post, when my cell phone rang. It was the repair shop.

“Hi it’s XYZ Repair. You can come pick your car up.”

“I… What?”

“Yeah, we were able to take a look at it. *irritated sigh* You can come get it.”

“I… What?”

“The deer didn’t do any damage. We jumped it and it’s running fine. We close at 6. When can you get here?”

“I… Well I just checked into a motel… Can I pick it up tomorrow?”

“If you can’t get it by 6 tonight then you’ll have to wait until 9am Monday morning and there’s a $25 per day storage fee.”

“Well how far are you from 7th and Center? I would have to walk to go get it and it’s raining now, so maybe I could pay over the phone and you could leave the keys–“

A rescue, with a belly full of worms. But see the blur as the tail wags…

“We can send someone to get you. The total cost for the inspection, jump, truck charge, towing, and for having us look at it today instead of Monday *another irritated sigh* comes to $511.”

“I… What? Five hun–what? I… Yeah, great. I’ll be waiting outside when your guy gets here.”

They sent Paul, the tow truck driver from last night. His friendly face helped soften the $511 blow, which I believe will be reimbursed by my insurance as a “travel interruption” cost? Hopefully? I like Paul. I like that he has a job. He’s the reason I’m not including the name of the place that towed me and looked at my car. They weren’t very helpful, their attitude toward customer service was lousy at best, and their rates were ridiculous. But Paul was alright. After dropping me off at XYZ today he parked the shuttle van and came back inside wearing a paper cone as a hat, and a grin. He’s good people, Paul is.

And so here I am in a motel room I learned about through Carla at Super 8, being paid for by Father Fabian, with Charlotte the Lover of Strays looking out for me. Joy is parked outside. Alfred is snuggled into the bed. And tomorrow I leave for Milwaukee.

Missoula will just have to wait.

And that’s alright too.

Roads Trip

I’m gonna give that walrus some crackers. Walruses love crackers…

(This is Part 1 of my road trip. Click here to read Part 2.)

I’m on a road trip with my walrus Alfred.

I’d say I’m on a road trip with my walrus Alfred “to Missoula, Montana” because that’s how this thing started, but that doesn’t appear to be how it’s ending.

I’ve wanted to visit Missoula for two years now, and have been planning this trip since last winter. But 600 miles into turning that 1,500 mile “want” into a “reality” I find myself a bit off course.

Intrigued? With an intro like that who wouldn’t be!

The good times: Let ’em roll…

A History

One of my favorite things to do when I was little was to ride along with my grandma- we call her Mimi- on her Chicago-to-Michigan treks to visit her family there. Every time before we’d set out, she’d say a little prayer for “angels in front, angels behind, and angels on both sides of the car.”

I always liked that prayer.

I always used it, too. Every time I’ve ever gone on a long car trip I’ve said it. Out loud or in my head, it’s borne repeating before my drives to and from Keturah’s in Michigan; to and from Josh and Liz’s in Ohio; to and from LA; to and from Rapid City last October; to and from… Missoula…

The good times: Let ’em hang tight real quick, eh?

Total Lack of Facial Control

So I said my Mimi Prayer this morning and I hit the road. God it was awesome. The freedom of a full gas tank and nowhere to be – there’s nothing else like it.

Tooling along today I kept realizing I was grinning like an idiot to myself alone in the car, all hopped up on the sight of I-90 stretching to the horizon. I couldn’t help it. My mouth just lifted right on open like my teeth were trying to expand into space.

All those beautiful hills rolling past covered in red and yellow trees, a clear blue sky melting into patient gray, acres of cattle and horses, creeks winding through scrub brush gullies, windmills towering over the landscape like alien bird talons, 75 mph speed limits… There’s just an awful lot to grin at between Milwaukee and White Lake, SD. The real trick is in calming your smile back down!

CHS Farmers’ Alliance, White Lake, SD

White Lake, 1st and Main

Ah White Lake. White Lake, South Dakota. Comfortable home of Ehler’s General Store, the CHS Farmers’ Alliance, and not a whole heck of a lot else you can see from Main Street. How’d I come to find myself in White Lake? Well I’m glad you asked.

Y’see, I needed gas. I knew from where the needle was on the gauge that I still had another 40 miles left in Joy, my 2005 Toyota Matrix, and GasBuddy told me there was a Cenex 4 miles away in White Lake, so I pressed on.

As I drove, I came up behind a slow moving cattle trailer, so I got in the left lane to go around him, then almost immediately saw the sign announcing my exit was coming up in 1 mile. You cover a mile pretty fast doing 80, and when the truck you’re passing opts to speed up so you can’t get back over…


Speed speed speed, zip over close in front of the semi, and phew! I made my exit!

The thrill of escaping death with my sweet driving skills was destined to be short lived, however, as a half a block off the exit I heard Joy make a noise I’ve never heard her make before. It was this scrapey, thuddy “buh-buh-buh-buh-bump” that built in volume as I slowed down, followed by a loud THUD as the car came to a sudden and total stop.

I’m no rocket surgeon, but I knew that was probably a bad sign.

Pleasant Hunter

I had just circled the vehicle for a visual inspection when a car drove past. Idea! Why walk two blocks into town in overcast 40 degree weather when you, a woman traveling alone, can hitch a ride with a total stranger?

I flagged down the next vehicle that passed, a big green truck, belonging to one Mr. Dan The Pheasant Hunter. Rifles filled his back seat, boxes of shells occupied the front. And there in the driver’s seat was Dan, pleased as punch to meet me.

Dan the Pheasant Hunter

He’ll never forget the time, he says, when it was 10 below and his car broke down near where mine had and no one would give him a ride into town. It shouldn’t be that way, he says. Folks should help each other out if they can.

Can’t argue with you there, Dan.

He drove me the two blocks into town, passing the gas station I would’ve tried coasting to, explaining to me that it doesn’t have gas right now. Neither does the one across the street from it, he laughs. But the CHS Farmers’ Alliance with it’s two quad-pumps does, so we pull in there.

I priced gas containers inside so I could fill one up and carry some fuel back to Joy and Alfred where I’d left them just off the exit. But $11.89 for a 1 gallon plastic jug? My gut cringed, but it didn’t phase Dan any. He just walks on in through the shop door, finds the owner in the back, and asks if he can borrow a gas can to help me out.

“Did you tell him about the girl from out of town who let herself run out of gas?” I laugh.

Dan and the owner then proceed to regale me with tales of their own “out of gas” stories as Dan and I hop back in his truck so I don’t have to walk with the filled gas can, which he pours into the tank for me before waiting to make sure my car starts.

You’re alright, South Dakotans. You’re alright.

Except that– the car kind of doesn’t start. I mean, it turns over, but it won’t move. Maybe I’m just stuck in the gravel? I give it a little more gas, all the time wondering if a low tank was really the problem, when Joy finally jumps forward and I buh-buh-buh-buh-bump back to the CHS, popping to a stop in front of the gas pump.

After a quick call to dad, and an onomatopoeiacally descriptive conversation with the shop owner, we decide the problem is most likely the transmission, which can’t be fixed there in town. Closest help is 12 miles forward in Kimball, or 35 miles back in Mitchell of “Corn Palace” fame. The girl inside the CHS tells me she just had her transmission replaced for $1,800.

I mull this over while waiting for Joy’s ride to Kimball to show up. We will move forward, Alfred and I.

Doggone it…

“Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway”

Joy Ride

After a brief tour of town- itself rather brief- a big red tow truck shows up to lug me into Kimball. Duane’s the fellow behind the wheel. Drive’s part time for his son, Dan Overweg of Overweg Repair.

Let me tell you: If you break down in South Dakota, you want to break down as close as possible to these guys.

Nicest most helpful bunch of folks you ever met. Duane’s a semi-retired antique tractor restoration hobbyist with 30 years of towing behind him. (Zing!) Dan and his wife Corinne raised three kids while managing the sharpest business in town. And while Duane is towing Joy and me the 12 miles over to Kimball, Corinne is on the phone trying to find me a room for the night. With all the pheasant hunters in town for the season, apparently, lodging is mighty scarce. Dan says not to worry, though, because if there are no rooms left for rent I’m welcome to stay at his and his wife’s house.

You could hug a family like that. You really could.

But Corinne did end up finding me a room. The last one in town. The room at the end of the row at the Dakota Winds Motel directly across the street from Overweg Repair and for a discounted rate. Perfect! And the best part so far was the 5pm check-out time at the DWM because I’m an Overweg customer.

You could hug a town like that. You really could.

Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner, Kimball, SD

So I haul my bags and my walrus over to the motel and check in with Nathan, the manager. Nice guy. Real friendly. I tell him what happened and where I’d been headed, when he tells me a friend of his just moved here from Missoula about a year ago and ‘too bad she’s not here or you could talk about places to see there when your car gets fixed.’

I head over to my room. Two double beds, TV, microwave, mini fridge, table, strong wifi signal, clean, warm. Score! A quick unpack, then I’m off to Ditty’s Diner across the street for a 9pm dinner of a sandwich and a Diet Coke. It was positively idyllic, except for how the decidedly “Murder, She Wrote” travel-episode-vibe I was experiencing had me wondering if I was about to observe a quaintly bloodless murder I’d get framed for before being bailed out by a retiree in pearls and an argyle sweater.

Fortunately the experience was limited to just the sandwich and the Diet Coke.

I’d just returned to my room when the room’s phone rang. It’s been so long since I heard a land line ring I didn’t realize what was happening at first. And who knows I’m here to call me? I pick up and it’s Nathan, the motel manager, saying his friend from Missoula just showed up with a bottle of wine and they’re going to play Super Mario and do I want to come over?

Heck yeah I do!

He lives on site with his wife, Theresa, and their gorgeous boxer, Baxter, so two minutes later there I was next door, cozied up on the couch with my shoes off and a glass of Moscato in hand, laughing my head off with three strangers at a motel in Kimball, SD.

Roads Trip

I fully accept the fact that tomorrow I may be asked to shell out a pretty penny on some major auto repair work. I fully accept the fact that said repairs may keep me in town a few more days, and that I will no longer be able to continue on toward Missoula as transmission work tends to be a bit of a bank buster. I fully accept the fact that this is still a fantastic trip, better than anything I had planned.

Why? Because this is my trip now. This is my adventure. These are my people I needed to meet. These are the provisions I needed to see God make in big and small things every single step of the way during a difficult situation. Good people are everywhere. Adventure is everywhere. God is everywhere.

My pad at the Winds. Stop by any time.

When anything in an engine is gonna go, it’s gonna go. 10 seconds made all the difference between stopping safely, and grinding to a sudden stop in front of a semi on the freeway going 80 miles per hour. That’s timing I can sure appreciate. Then there was the kindness of Dan the Pheasant Hunter in town for the day; the generosity of the guy from CHS; the gentleness of Duane with a poor kid stranded out of state with an unknown car problem; the above-and-beyond helpfulness of Dan and Corinne Overweg helping me find a room and offering me one in their own home; the hospitality of Nathan the motel manager; the warm welcome from him, Sarah, and Theresa; and the absolutely delightful hominess of ending a long, crazy day with a dog resting its head on your leg. More blessings, big and small, punctuating an unexpectedly eventful day.

I’ll know more in the morning as far as what will happen next with Joy, but I’m thinking this will be as far west as I go on this particular road trip. And that’s okay. Because it was still an adventure. I still saw and did what I needed to see and do. I still had God time. I still had New People time. I still had Writing time. I still had Me time. No matter what the financial cost tomorrow: I have no regrets.

Except for Wall Drug. That I will regret missing. I guess it’s time to plan another trip…


Goodbye for now, good ol’ White Lake

ETA (Edited to Add aka Edited to Awesome)

The next morning has arrived- much as expected- and I’m having one of those moments where I’m incredibly glad I didn’t freak out last night or right now I’d be stuck eating my words.

That’s right! My car? It’s fixed!

It turns out a bolt came loose on one of the brakes and fell off and… and that’s it. It was just a bolt. It was just a bolt! I don’t know what my total costs will be, but I do know they won’t look anything like transmission repair costs because IT WAS JUST A BOLT!!!!!

Wall Drug coffee: Here I come!

And I’m gonna take my time making that drive, drinking that coffee. I’m not going to skip the beautiful Badlands as I’d planned. I’m not going to skip Custer State Park as I’d planned. And I’m keeping handy the resolve I developed yesterday that I just might not see Missoula on this particular trip.

I mean– now I really could get there, but if I’m enjoying myself elsewhere, seeing and doing what I needed to see and do on this here drive, then I don’t mind saving the money that longer leg would cost me. I’m already getting in Kimball what I intended to go to Missoula for.

And anyhow it gives me a reason to plan Trip #3 out West, and maybe next time I can bring along a buddy…

“Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turning our way
And our way is on the road again.
Just can’t wait to get on the road again.”
– On the Road Again, Willie Nelson

Wednesday (Eventually)

The view from our hotel room window (White House Resort, Keystone, SD). Yes, there are people climbing the view.


I have one more day to talk about from my mom’s and my South Dakota road trip, but it is COLD at the library so it looks like the post on the remainder of Tuesday is all I’m going to be able to get to today.

Whenever I get around to posting about Wednesday, it will include:

  • Our drive on Iron Mountain Road (It’s very bendy and full of trees.)
  • Our drive through the Black Hills National Forest (It’s also very bendy and full of trees.)
  • Custer State Park (Buffalos! Donkeys! More trees!)
  • Needles Highway
  • The Corn Palace (Total rip-off. </spoiler>)

You just can’t wait can you?

“Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.” John le Carre

Tuesday v1.0

Today was one of those non-stop-excitement sorts of days with lots of driving and sights and pictures, but it’s oh so late for these weary travelers so I’m afraid I’ll only get to cover about half the day in this blog post. Sorry! Enough yammering. On to the pictures!



Mom and I checked out of our hotel in Kodoka, SD this morning and hit the road for the Badlands. We hadn’t gone far when we heard a loud noise burst from beneath the driver’s side of my car. Uh-oh…

Less than "as planned," but not too bad. :)

We both immediately suspected a flat tire, and as the speed limit on that stretch of freeway is 75 mph we were not traveling at a great speed for wheel protection! I got off on exit 101- an exit that leads to a cattle ranch in one direction, and the Great Beyond in the other- and pulled off the road to survey the damage.

With a prayer and a gulp I got out of the car, but wouldn’t ya’ know the tire was just fine? Turned out my already-loose splash guard had popped out of its makeshift “shove that back in there” quick-fix from a few summers ago. The noise we’d heard must’ve been the sound of the plastic popping loose and then dragging along beneath us on the asphalt. Phew! I popped the guard into place and we were back on track.

Prairie Dogs

Heeeere doggy doggy doggy...

On our way to the Badlands National Park we pulled into the Badlands Ranch Store, famed for its six ton prairie dog, only to discover it was closed for the season. We haven’t encountered too many seasonal closings so far, but this one certainly didn’t set us back any. Just because the people don’t come around to run the attraction doesn’t mean the prairie dogs pack up and move to new burrows, right? And I mean to tell ya’: Those prairie dogs were out in full force this morning. Every other bump in the dirt was one of theirs, and they were digging and chewing and chirping like it was the first day of the world.

Git along little doggie...

Mom and I managed to wrangle a meet-n-greet with a few of the locals, whose burrows appeared to let out in the parking lot itself. I’ll bet the owners just love that. And because these little guys are so used to people approaching them with food, they let us walk right up to them. One even let me touch his paw after he gave my hands a once-over with his wet little sniffer.

The Ranch Store pit stop wouldn’t have been complete without a few shots with Ol’ Six Ton-er out front. Mom was happy to oblige. Say cheese!

Next up: The Badlands, Wall Drug, and Mount Rushmore. But first? Sleep! Goodnight, Moon, from the White House Resort in Keystone, SD.

Homestead on the Range

Lazy road trips are the best road trips.

Mom and I enjoyed a leisurely continental breakfast at the AmericInn in Madison, SD around 9:15 this morning, checked out around 10 am, and ambled on out to DeSmet, SD around lunch time to check out the Laura Ingalls Wilder Visitor Center. The Scheduleless Schedule is the only schedule for us this week, and I’m loving it.

Today’s Tweets

  • @BeyondLitlHouse Heading into De Smet in a half hour with my mom– can’t wait!! :D #LauraIngallsWilder #SouthDakota #roadtrip
  • Greetings from Howard, SD. Population 1156. #roadtrip #SouthDakota
  • South Dakota: Land of enough roadkill to fill Lake Erie, & 80 fafillion windmills. Grabbed a few sweet close-ups for @HankGreen#DFTBA
  • Kadoka, SD: “Is that a road or a driveway? Dinner at the bar or Jiggers? Are these hourly motels?” I take my mom on the best vacations.

Today’s Small Town Spotlight

  • Cavour, SD: Population 141; 60 households; median income $27,750.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

The highlight of our day was definitely our visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead. My mom and I had an absolutely wonderful time there and I would highly recommend a visit for any fans of the Little House on the Prairie books. We spent hours wandering around the grounds and took loads of pictures. More than I could ever post here, at any rate. To see the whole mess of ’em, click here to view the album on Facebook.

Welcome to Super Awesome Nerd Girl Funtime Bookish Prairieland Vacation Mega Hotspot!

The first stop upon reaching the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead (LIWH) is a trip through the Visitor Center to buy books, corncob dolls, and postcards, and to meet Diane. Diane, a 12 year veteran of the LIWH, is awesome, and she knows everything about everything to do with LIW.

If you go here: You will meet Diane.

The front porch of the Visitor Center is where we met our first barn cat of the tour, a skinny, gray little thing we let into the visitor center by mistake. Oops…

Look, Ma! The claim shanty!

Next up? What better way to get around the homestead than by covered wagon? Anchors aweigh!

What’s so great about this place (and I imagine even more so if you’re a little kid– or grown-up– who can’t keep their hands to themselves) is that you’re encouraged to touch stuff, pick stuff up, climb on stuff. There was even a sign on the side of this wagon reminding you it’s okay to get inside it! And you don’t have to ask me twice when it comes to wearing a bright pink bonnet.

Mom and I both took turns on the wagon seat. She’s an awesome sport, my mom is. But then– I knew that going into this trip. It’s the main reason I invited her. ;)

Tickling the ivories of (a replica of?) Mary’s organ.

There’s a reconstructed claim shanty on the property, built to the exact dimensions and descriptions of the one Charles “Pa” Ingalls built there in the Spring of 1880. It was so weird walking around inside it and seeing Ma’s what-not, the sewing machine where she worked on Mary’s college clothes, and even Mary’s organ.

They’re also replicas, but even so– seeing them live, in person, touchable, was an amazing experience for me. I’ve been a fan of the LIW books since I was eight. They shaped so many of my daydreams, so much of the way I viewed my world. Visiting this house was like walking through my own memories. My own memories made flesh. Unbelievable.

Mmm… Boiled stuff…

One of the stops along the self-guided tour of the homestead is a dugout in the side of one of the hills. It’s there to show what the dugout was like where the Ingalls family lived when they were back near Walnut Grove, MN in Laura’s book “On the Banks of Plum Creek.”

It was small, smelled like dirt, and you could see it must leak like a juicy secret when the rain comes. But according to a sign on the wall the total cost of building such a home was somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.50 (wood for the door, nails, a latch, and a pane of window glass), so it could hardly be beat.

Too bad they were prone to collapsing and only lasted six to seven years.

“Mew? Mew? Mew? Mew. Mewmewmewmewmew!”

Another building to visit during the tour is the hay roof barn. While inside the barn we were introduced to five new kittens.

I say “introduced,” but the momma kitty could’ve been saying anything, really. I’m just assuming it was an introduction what with all the coaxing us into the barn, herding us to the manger, and meowing for us to scratch her proud head while she ate canned food beside her wobbling, blinking, mewing babies. I held two of them while she was there, leaning them down by their mama every now and again so nobody set to freaking out. Cutest little balls of downy fluff you ever saw. And they were so young their eyes could barely focus! Wonderful. :)

Okey doke. This temporary resident of the America’s Best Value Inn of Kadoka, SD needs to hit the sack. Continental breakfast ends at 9, and check-out’s at 10 am.

Tomorrow? We see the sights. As in: The big ‘uns. As in: Badlands National Park.

What’s the coolest national park/ monument you’ve ever seen? Was it how you expected it to be?

Pheasant Plucker’s Wife

Alfred climbing aboard at the start of our trip. Sayonara Waukesha!

Mom and I hit the road for Rapid City, SD at 10:30 this morning. We made it as far as Madison, SD, which is a wee bit north of Sioux Falls. ‘Bout a 550 mile drive, all told.

I’d say that’s enough for one day, wouldn’t you?

Today brought us:

  • David and RAM looking after the ferrets. (Thankyouthankyouthankyou!)
  • A visit to the Spam Museum in Austin, MN. (It’s the only thing in Austin, MN.)
  • A late lunch at the McDonald’s in Blue Earth, MN. (Claim to fame: A 55′ tall Jolly Green Giant statue marking the halfway point of I-90, the longest freeway in the US.)
  • An 8-ish pm check in at the AmericInn here in Madison, SD. (They have free wifi, a pool, a hot tub, clean rooms, and are the only hotel you’ll see between here and Sioux Falls.)

Spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon, and spam...

Mom and I hit the pool second thing (first thing: checking our email) after arriving. There were only two other people in the pool room at the time; a married couple in their late 60s. They drove here from Florida by way of Bronson, MO and Nebraska to visit family and check out hubby’s childhood haunts. Now that, my friends, is a road trip.

The husband asked if we were here with our husbands for pheasant hunting season. No. No hunting for us, this trip. Though I did hit a bunny going 75 on the freeway in the pitch blackness of South Dakota at night.

I was going 75, not the bunny.

Actually: For a brief period the bunny was also going 75.

On the docket for tomorrow morning we have a visit to De Smet, SD, home of Laura Ingalls Wilder during the period of time covered in her book Little Town on the Prairie. It’s a real girly-book-nerd kind of day, and Mom and I are both very much looking forward to it. :)

As for the afternoon– oh who knows. We just go where the road takes us. Free spirits, that’s us. Free spirits with an eye on the calendar and the gas gauge.

Sweet dreams, from South Dakota.

Comings and Goings

Believe it or not, this is a bedroom.


This is how it looks after mega-emptying, cleaning, and sorting, and three major furniture moves.


Believe it or not, I am going to have it straightened out by the first week of November.


Some people have junk drawers. Some people have junk closets. Guess which kind I am?


Believe it or not, I am going to be done by the first week of November in spite of taking a week off from working on it starting tomorrow.

That’s right– a whole week away from the activity that has kept me busy the past week and a half: Cleaning My Apartment. Boxes have been emptied, papers have been thrown out, folders have been organized, and plastic bins have been filled and shuttled over to my parents’ basement. This past week and a half? I. Was. Awesome.

As for my week away: ROAD TRIP! My mom and I are leaving tomorrow morning for a drive through South Dakota. What can I say? Some people just really know how to have a good time.

That said: I’ll be away from the internet for most of the week, (save for the times I’m able to do some job searching online at whatever wifi eateries we come across, and hopefully in the evenings at our hotels) so if you need me… Too bad, suckas.

Mom: *looking at a map of South Dakota* Potato Creek? What dork named some of these places? Sorry I just insulted 137 people.

Me: It’s better than Bare Butt (Bear Butte).

Mom: One of their smallest cities is their capital. Why’d you put it there if you don’t even like it?

Do you see now why I cannot wait to spend the week with this woman?