Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day

Missouri River campsite with laundry

At noon, I was still waiting for my clothes to dry; not a brilliant idea to wash them last night! The stuff sack for my air mattress disappeared overnight. Wind? Animals? Who knows.

Spent much of the day on state highway 44, a popular motorcycle route to the Black Hills. Near 90° this afternoon, with a brisk northwest crosswind, which over time proved fatiguing. The ammonia smell I first noticed in Montana keeps popping up; it is related in some way to grasslands.

In Platte, one of the few businesses open was "Boom’s Burgers". Stopped there for lunch. The fast-food restaurant was doing a "booming" business, and it was not difficult to see why. The young (and attractive) staff is enthusiastic, competent and appear to have a genuine team spirit. This reflects excellent management. Very impressive. The food was also quite good compared to the fast-food chains.

Highway 44 is a pretty straight east-west shot. I fought drowsiness constantly; the mind wanders, then the eyes stop seeing. Dangerous. Saw a curious gas price structure in South Dakota. 89 octane fuel, with 10% ethanol, selling for less than 87 octane regular gasoline at the same station. I wonder if the alcohol-laced fuel is being subsidized to promote the use of corn-based fuel?

Gradually the landscape changed, as huge ranches yielded to lush farms. Skirted around Sioux Falls and crossed into Minnesota. Was it my imagination, or did the landscape once again change? Everything seems so PERFECT in Minnesota; manicured farms, brilliantly-clean houses, barns and silos. Very German in its feel. Amused by all the Scandinavian names, sister cities and Lutheran churches. All I could think of was Garrison Keillor's portrayal of "Lake Wobegon" Minnesotans.

Minnesota landscape

The first Minnesotans to greet me

So cute. I had better stop eating beef jerky.

What hams

A face only a mother could love

What a face!

Tracking northeast on highway 23, I kept an eye on the northwest. It had been clear all day, but creeping over the horizon, a line of cumulonimbus clouds was building higher and moving closer. By the time I reached Granite Falls, they were bearing down and very threatening; it didn't look like I could outrun them. Sheets of rain were falling along the leading edge, and a strange cigar-shaped cloud was rolling under the front. I feared that this was the type of violent storm that spawns tornadoes.

Kept my head down and eyes focused on the road. If this highway wouldn't carry me away from the storm fast enough, I was prepared to take off on side roads that vectored directly east, and might speed my escape. Highway 23 cooperated and straightened out, and after thirty minutes running along the storm's edge, I broke through to the other side.

Progress slowed as night fell, and towns along U.S. Highway 12 gradually blended to become the Minneapolis suburbs. I started looking for campgrounds, but was struck by their absence in this region. Do they have some ordinance against camping? I began to accept that I'd probably have to take a motel in the city. Entered Minneapolis just as the fireworks display commenced over downtown. Fell into line, following cars that were obviously trying to reach the show.

Ran into a traffic-jam downtown, but a festive one. Pedestrians wandered among the stopped cars, fireworks boomed above, echoing off the tall buildings. It was a wall-to-wall party. I expected to see all blue-eyed blonds in Minneapolis, but there’s quite a diverse population here. The Mississippi River bridge offered one of the best vantage points, as the fireworks were being launched from an island in the river. Vehicles that made it onto the bridge simply stopped. Police had their hands full, trying to keep traffic moving.

I had no intention of paying for a downtown motel, so I left the area driving north on the interstate, until I came to a business park in Roseville containing a cluster of motels.

Landed in a "Fairfield Inn by Marriott" (one of 3 Marriotts within a half-mile of each other.) I first went to the "Courtyard", but the $90 “lowest price” was not good enough. The Fairfield was nearly empty tonight since the business park was "dead", July 4th being a time even business professionals are with family. They gave me the $79 rate.

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