If you look at my profile, you’ll notice an ambiguity in my location. I’ve temporarily located to Washington State. In late July, a high school friend and I set out for a drive from one Washington to another. Other than make it to Seattle by July 31, we had no agenda other than to stop at as many National Park Service sites – historical or otherwise – as possible. Here’s what happened…
Day One: Washington, DC to Indianapolis.
Why Indianapolis? Because I have family there. The first few hours of the drive were familiar to me, as the route took me to the start of the 2008 Ragnar Relay in Cumberland, Maryland. We then made our way into Pennsylvania and our first National Parks-related stop: Fort Necessity. This is where traveling with a history professor makes one (me) realize how little one (I) knows. Having lived the most recent dozen years below the Mason-Dixon Line, my instinct is that every battlefield is Civil War-related. Apparently, there were other wars fought on this turf besides the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Who knew? (My co-pilot, that’s who).
From there, we searched for a tavern on the Historic National Road, aka, Route 40, to have lunch. We found one in Hopwood, PA, but upon closer inspection, we deemed the establishment sketchy. I dunno….closed blinds around 1 pm on a weekday just ain’t right. From there, we crossed the Allegheny Mountains. Gah! The Alleghenies were no joke – is there really no better way across them than to just go up and down and up and down like a yo-yo? Once we got past them, we bombed through West Virginia and Ohio and finally arrived outside of Indy around 10pm. The drive to my cousin’s house took us past fields in which hundreds of fireflies flashed, an amazing sight. Of course, I then navigated us off course, onto a road that took us in between two very tall corn fields – think Children of the Corn. Eek. We turned around and eventually made it into the correct driveway. Five states down, seven more to go.
Day Two: Indianapolis to Waterloo, Iowa
My cousin has two beehives that feature queen bees Freddie Mercury and Cleopatra [edit: my cousin corrected me: Cleo didn’t make it through the winter, so the new queen is Nebuchadnezzar, of The Matrix fame]. I’ve decided that the former is the best.name.ever. for a queen bee. I ventured to the hives to watch the bees get fed, and then it was off to Waterloo.
The most memorable part of this drive was our search for a Starbucks, which we finally found in Champaign, IL. We also stopped at the Best Buy so I could join the 21st century and acquire an iPod adapter for my car stereo. I know. We already discussed how 1990s I am. Other exciting news for the day was crossing the Mississippi and discovering that we were right on the path of an oncoming thunderstorm that may or may not have featured hail and flash floods. And we went to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. Oh yeah, and my co-pilot also had Broasted Chicken for dinner, but neither of us really had a clue what that was until we later Googled it. Broasting is apparently done under license from a private company and refers to a method of preparing fish, chicken and other meats by pressure cooking and deep frying. I’ll let you mull that over.
Day Three: Waterloo, Iowa, to Chamberlain, South Dakota
I thought the most exciting thing we would do today would be either driving through southern Minnesota or visiting the WORLD’S ONLY CORN PALACE!
|The Corn Palace. You’re jealous, I know.|
What actually happened was way more exciting. After we left the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, we watched the sky before us on I-90 develop a strange looking front. My co-pilot and I probably said something like “Look at that rain” half a dozen times to each other. When the NPR channel suddenly cut out, I joked, “I bet a tornado got them.” The next thing we heard was the circa 1993 dialup modem sound. This was not the first time one of my smart-ass comments turned out to be true: the emergency broadcast system rattled off a series of counties for which there was a tornado warning. We learned from the day before that knowing what county you’re currently in and headed toward was sort of important when it comes to weather advisories. In this case, our hotel was located in one of the counties in which there was a tornado warning.
Super. We pulled into our hotel in Chamberlain. Our itinerary said we’d be across the river in Oacoma because the prices of hotels seemed cheaper, but my co-pilot was enamored with the faux rustic cabin-esque façade of the Chamberlain hotel, so I booked it the night before. This turned out to be a brilliant decision, as the hotel was right off the interstate, and the tornado sirens started wailing about seven minutes after we arrived. We checked in, brought our bags to the room, and then promptly went outside to check out the storm because, you know, that’s what we storm chasers do. Then we went inside and turned on the news. Yeah, there was a big red splotch on top of Chamberlain…
|Checking out the weather on TV…
The hotel employees, two people who couldn’t have been more than 20 years old knocked on our (and everyone else’s) door and ordered an evacuation to the first floor hallways. I was finally using my tornado safety skills I had learned in the one and only drill my school did when I was a kid! I pulled out some post cards, and on one, I scribbled, “We’re in the hallway of our hotel with all the other guests, waiting out a tornado. Oh. The power just went out…”
We were able to leave after about 20 minutes, and anyone who’s seen a storm like this knows that behind the front often lies gorgeous weather. This was not an exception. My co-pilot and I drove into the sunset and had dinner at a family restaurant on the bluffs of Chamberlain. We also discovered that it would have been treacherous at best to get across the river to Oacoma in the storm.
The rest of the night was pretty nondescript. Electric power returned to the hotel as we pulled into the driveway, and we watched the news, which featured some guy from Vivien, South Dakota, holding a softball-sized hail. A week later, we learned that the piece of hail was the largest ever recorded in the US.
To be continued…