Road Trippin’ VIII: The Journey Home

Given that the seventh and final leg of our journey involved the longest drive, you might think there would be much to say about it. But just like the first day of our trip, we were on familiar territory and had planned no stops other than for food and fuel, which meant there wouldn’t be much to talk about unless something tragic or unusual occurred. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead, we passed a pleasant day as quickly and efficiently as we could with the goal of spending the night in our own bed.

To be fair, the trip wasn’t entirely unremarkable. For example, on this day, the Jarhead decided not to hog the driver’s seat. It probably helped that he knew I was familiar with the route and was unlikely, therefore, to miss a turn and get us lost. It may also have helped that we were passing some of the flattest and straightest terrain this side of North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Iowa, and would be willing to do the speed limit or better. A more likely explanation, however, is that, having stayed up late watching TV and eating junk, he was less interested in driving than he was sleeping. Whatever the case, we did spend the entire day driving and succeeded in making it back to Chez Diersen before bedtime. To my intense relief, the kids and the cats were all alive and well, and none the worse for having spent the week alone.

Looking back on the previous posts and the comments I’ve received from readers, it occurs to me that I may have given folks the impression that North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota don’t have much to offer the travelers and tourists in their midst. In fact, there is more to see and do in the upper Midwest and south central Canada than can be discussed in eight blog entries, and you could spend a week in each state and every province and still not see and do it all.

For example, in South Dakota alone there are the Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Corn Palace, and the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. These did not receive a mention because we did not visit them this year since, one, we have visited them all once or twice on other trips and, two, our primary goal was to make it from Wisconsin to Idaho by way of the Canadian Rockies within a week. The same is true for Yellowstone National Park, Big Horn National Forest, and a multitude of state parks and cave systems.

That said, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit them as you make your away along I-90. We did so last back in 2011, and here is some of what we saw then:


If you have the time, you especially should not miss the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs where you will see where the remains of various mammoths and other creatures have been found, studied, and preserved. It’s off the interstate by about an hour, but it is well worth a visit not only because it gives you such a sense of what we know about prehistoric North America, but also because it helps you appreciate how much more we still have to learn! For more information about this fun and educational place, visit


Animal lovers, meanwhile, should be sure to check out the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. I have yet to visit this one, but it comes highly recommended by equine enthusiasts like my friend and fellow writer, J.S. McCormick. Founded in 1988 by Dayton O. Hyde, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary offers tours ranging from two hours to three days. They aren’t cheap and reservations are required, but if you love horses, it is not to be missed. To learn more about this amazing place, visit

Well, that about covers it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure and, perhaps, been inspired to make a road trip of your own. Meanwhile, thanks for playing along!



Road Trippin’ VII: Breaking Bad in Rapid City

The journey through eastern Montana and Wyoming was less of an amusement park nightmare than that from Idaho to Helena. It was, however, punctuated with gunfire, as the Jarhead had to point and say, “Pew, pew, pew” at every deer and antelope we saw along the way. Thank goodness you can’t damage your vocal chords by pretending to shoot a gun every twenty seconds or so with stopping to reload or the man would still be hoarse these two months hence.

I can understand his need to amuse himself. Compared to everything we’d seen in the days previous, the scenery here was pretty boring. Add to that the fact that we’d been through these parts during our trip to Yellowstone in 2011, and this leg of the trip was bound to be a bit of a yawn. As the mighty hunter was firing his imaginary weapon, I kept wishing one of the animals would play along and drop to the ground just so I could see the Jarhead’s reaction.

Despite the lack of sheer cliffs, hairpin curves, and other deadly geographical features, the day was not without danger. In fact, as we realized just before lunchtime, we had put ourselves at risk of suffering a great calamity by choosing Rapid City as our next destination. At first blush, that may not sound like a recipe for disaster, but as it was Sunday, September 15th and we were still in the Mountain Time zone, we needed to get to a hotel room and in front of a TV by 7pm, or we were going to miss the 3rd to last episode of Breaking Bad!

With that in mind, we had to step up our game. No more cow-towing to the speed limit. No more non-emergent potty breaks. It was time to combine stops, go hungry, and—if necessary—fashion a relief pitcher from a plastic bottle or paper beverage cup. Meanwhile, there was the matter of lodging, which we had planned to choose upon rolling into town and leisurely comparing the options based on their rewards programs and proximity to eating establishments. Upon realizing the gravity of the situation, however, we ditched that plan and—GULP—turned on mobile data.

Thanks to these measures, we found a hotel almost as soon as we hit the city limits. With nine minutes to spare, the Jarhead let me out at the lobby door so I could get registered while he parked the truck. Excited at our luck, I raced to the front desk only to find a sign stating that the staff person was away assisting another guest and thanking me for my patience! Relax, I told myself over and over. Someone will be along shortly.  

But after three l-o-n-g minutes I started to panic. What if the staff person didn’t get back in time? What if they had no vacancies? And where is the Jarhead?? How long does it take to park a @#%* truck??? Desperate, I pulled out my phone intending to have him swing back by the lobby so we could try the place across the street, but it was too late. He was already walking in the door.

“Where on earth did you park?” I asked him as gently as I could muster. “And where are our bags?”

“In the truck near the back entrance,” he replied. “That door will probably be closer to our room, which will make it easier for me to bring them in during the first commercial.”

“Good thinking,” I admitted. “Assuming we can actually get a room here.”

Just then, the hotel staffer returned to the front desk and, after ascertaining that, in fact, we were there to rent a room—as opposed to, say, buy a car or have our portrait painted—she began to play with her computer. As the seconds ticked by, I became convinced that we were going to miss the opening scene and have to skip the 7pm airing in favor of the 9pm replay.

After what seemed like an eternity, she finally finished typing and stepped over to the printer to retrieve our registration forms. As she went over all the details—room number, check out time, pool and fitness center hours, blah, blah, blah—I  found myself wanting to scream, “In case you couldn’t tell from our Priority Member status, we have done this before! So give me the @#$%* keys and our complimentary, fresh baked, chewy chocolate chunk cookies and let’s get on with it!”

Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to such rudeness. Spotting our keycards on the counter, the Jarhead seized one, handed it to me, and nodded for me to head to the room, where I quickly turned on the TV and cued it up to AMC. With nanoseconds to spare, he arrived at the room and joined me at the foot of the bed. A couple of commercials later we had ordered our pizza, retrieved our bags and cocktail fixins from the truck, and were chilling in our skivvies.

And that’s about where we stayed—until the next morning, when we set off on our seventh and final day of the journey, which would take us home…