Richard and Suzanne and Duncan's Big 2007 Road Trip #2
Stage 3 - Homeward Into The Wind
Trout Creek, MI to Phoenix, AZ

Day 24 - Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007
Trout Creek, MI to Rosemount, MN
333 miles

A journey of two thousand miles begins with a single headache (or maybe multiple ones).

Although most of the thingies that we think are leaving with us are packed, boxed, or otherwise ready, it's just like they say - it's the little things that count. The problem is, there seem to be just too many little things still strewn about that need to be rounded up and either issued a boarding pass or put away for a future fate. So this morning was spent finishing the truck-and-trailer loading process, making final go/no go determinations (there's just no room for the electric La-Z-Boy, darn it), and making sure the house was ready for a long winter and its current residents ready for a long road trip. Meanwhile, Duncan was staying very busy (and out of our way, fortunately) making a few more orbits 'round the property on the tricycle, happily scooting thru the fallen forest leaves (no, you can't do spins on the septic tank, kid...)

OK, now it's mid-afternoon Eastern Time, and it is Long Past Time To Leave. One final pass through the house (all stuff out? storm windows closed? anti-rodent system activated? all toothbrushes accounted for? {oops}) Then a final grunt and shove to close and lock the trailer, make sure everyone's strapped in their assigned seats, engage main engine start, and begin rolling this load down the highway.

The original plan was to head south through Wisconsin into Illinois and then curve west, but we found out that Suzanne's brother's family was expecting us to stop by and say hi at their place in the Twin Cities area. So prior plans and plotted courses were thrown out and rejiggered, a new travel plan was developed, and we waved bye-bye to the old family abode and set off westward toward home.

Other than a quick check to try to find some Yoopenirs in Bruce Crossing, we rolled nonstop across the western Upper Peninsula, re-entered Wisconsin thru the twin towns of Ironwood and Hurley (hey! there's where we hit the deer last year!) and continued across the near-Superior territory of far north WI. We cruised by the ore docks and park fields of Ashland, and stopped for a leg-stretch at a WisDOT wayside on the banks of a pond near Iron River so that the family could just a bit more northwoods scenery.

We chose to bypass the busy bustle of Superior and Duluth on some county backroads, which worked out well (for the most part, except for that incident where we found out our braking distances have increased significantly, but that's not important right now :). We rolled into Minnesota on the bottom level of a double-decker bridge also carrying one of the busy rail lines stringing into the Duluperior area, and made our way through the south Supeluth suburbs as we continued onward.

We said toodeloo to Duluth and turned southwestward on Minnesota route 23, watching the sun settle down behind the pines, the trains rumble along on the parallel trackways, and keeping a sharp eye out for any deer that might also be enjoying an evening stroll. Then onto I-35 south toward the Twin Cities, where we figured it would be a good idea to steer clear of the mess created by the Minneapolis bridge collapse. So we veered onto 35E at the split, and zigged and zagged our way into the maze of roadways in downtown St. Paul as the trailer faithfully followed. We popped out on US 52 southbound, zipped down to the south MSP suburbs, then a few miles on county & local streets brought us to a halt in front of Suzanne's brother's cozy home among the freshly-planted subdivisions in the town of Rosemount.

Ready to roll through the north woods

Day 25 - Thursday, October 4th, 2007
Rosemount, MN to Audubon, IA
300 miles

This morning was our first real chance in a long while to relax & unwind as Suz's sister-in-law Joan cooked us breakfast and nieces & their friends popped in and out. However, the open road called again (and wouldn't take "we'll get back to you later" for an answer) and so we loaded up, said farewell, and turned our truck and trailer south on trunk highway 3 toward our next destinations. Speaking of southbound migrations, it should be noted at this time that the skies above us have been quite busy with gaggles of geese V-ing their way to their winter timeshares, and we saw many of these happy honkers as we tilted and whirled through Faribault. We had a blissful brief stop in Elysian, where the Sakatah Trail runs through town, and then skated through Mankato as a beautiful Minnesota fall day continued and 225,000 miles rolled by on the mighty Truckasaurus' odometer.

Where US 169 crosses I-90 in the town of Blue Earth, there stands an old buddy of ours, that enormous mascot of cylindrical vegetables, the one and only Jolly Green Giant! It's been 10 years since we last said hi to the big green guy (back in the '97 Trip), and so we thought it might be a fine time to introduce our little sprout to our verdant friend. However, Duncan was a bit dozy at the time coming off one of his car-borne cat-naps, and so much of his visit was spent gazing at our chlorophyll-enhanced acquaintance from a horizontal view.

South of Blue Earth, we left Minnesota behind and entered the green hills of Iowa. We zigged and zagged on the highways gridding this state, dodged Fort Dodge, and cruised through Lake City (motto: Everything But A Lake). Two things were definitely in season here: grain harvesting and pavement work. The combines and other scary-looking implements of vegetative devastation worked all day and on into the night in order to get the grain in before the weather got bad, but fortunately the paving work shut down at sundown, so the reign of flaggers was suspended as the sun set redly across the rolling western horizon. From there, it was just a short drive south on US 71 to Audubon, where we took a break for the evening in our spacious 2-bedroom lodgings at the Holiday Motel.

Look at the new big green souvenir we got!

Day 26 - Friday, October 5th, 2007
Audubon, IA to Cawker City, KS
347 miles

The first inkling that the clear starry skies above us at bedtime might have changed a bit was the lightning strike just outside our motel window. We loaded up the truck in a drenching Iowa downpour, and started south on a very wet US 71 to our first destination - less than a mile down the road.

The town of Audubon has its own king-size claim to fame - Big Albert The Bull, a humongous tribute to the bovine traditions of the state of Iowa. The rain let up just in time for our visit to our new beefy friend, and so we said hi to the big concrete moo as the skies cleared slightly. We then turned our own tails south on 71 and over I-80, where we again traveled ol' US 6 thru Atlantic and Oakland, and the proliferation of pro-life billboards we've been seeing since Minnesota (and would continue on 'til Kansas) extolled the wonders of small human lives.

A piece further south on US 59 sits Emerson, a small farm town with a big playground, where Duncan gleefully cavorted for a long fun time on the colorful equipment as the BNSF coal trains thundered right behind us. Then back on 59 thru the southwest corner of Iowa, as Richard scanned the road alertly, Suzanne began work on a latch hook project that should hopefully resemble a Sesame Street character when finished, and Duncan went "mooo!" at the Iowacows outside the windows. We finally departed Iowa and cut into the far northwest corner of Missouri, where we made our poky way behind the farm machinery bumbling their way slowly up the hills. After less than an hour in Missouri and a turn in Tarkio, we crossed the wide river of the same name on the US 136 bridge and into the Land of The Big Red N.

By the time we reached Tecumseh, we were ready for lunchin', and so we began our standard restaurant search pattern. We've found that in your typical Midwestern town many of the best mom n' pop eateries are congregated around the downtown, or even better, the courthouse square. Tecumseh confounded us, though, as several orbits of the brick-paved streets revealed no eateries. A friendly resident seeing our predicament solved our problem by telling us to get out of town - where on the outskirts we found heaping portions of good chow at Frazier's restaurant.

We toodled out of Tecumseh and bobbled thru Beatrice as we followed US 136 across the southeast end on Nebraska. We turned off 136 in the fair town of Fairbury (great old rocketship in the playground - too bad Duncan's asleep), and in a few miles the trapezoidal markers of Nebraska highway 15 transmogrified into the big yellow sunflower signs of Kansas highway 15, which also marked our fourth state of the day.

There's a song by the band Kansas titled "People of the South Wind". Today the south wind was definitely kickin' across the Kansas prairies - we estimated that on our southward legs we were experiencing airspeeds of over 100 MPH, even when our ground speeds were barely half that. The result, other than not being able to hear much because of the noise, was an abysmal fuel burn rate - only about 9.5 miles per gallon with the combination of hills and wind, even at well-under-speed-limit velocities.

Weary of the wind, we pulled into the beguiling town of Belleville, parked across from the 30s-era facade of the Republic County Courthouse, and strolled into the Purple Splash Soda Fountain for an afternoon snack amid the colorful paraphernalia of the local and state sports teams. Then across the grassy lawn to Tuxie's Secondhand Store for some low-cost pre-loved playwear for Duncan, and then a pop-in at the auto parts store yielded one of the best values of the trip - the parts man (also a Chevy truck owner) explained how we could fix ourselves some the persistent gauge problems we've been having with our very experienced vehicle - at no charge (we bought something anyway). Then a few more miles south on busy US 81 as the sun set off the truck's right side (and the wind kept a-blowin'), then west at Concordia and on through Beloit as the stars came out above us.

Oh, and one more thing: We Touched Twine Tonight! Lots of it, in fact. Remember back on day 5 when we missed the turnoff for Cawker City, Kansas? Well, this time we snuck up from the east, and caught the World's Largest Ball of Twine while it was sleeping under the lights of US 24. A block away from the big twiny sphere sits the Lakeside Lodge (but the lake's nowhere in sight), and we spent the evening in a most spacious 60s-era singlewide (room enough for everyone!) complete with kitchen & washer & dryer (Duncan wasn't misbehaving too much, so we didn't throw him in there ;).

Forget the green guy - we got an even bigger souvenir!

Day 27 - Saturday, October 6th, 2007
Cawker City, KS to Ordway, CO
352 miles

This Kansas day began with Richard & Duncan poking around Cawker City on bike & trike, watching the morning sun scoot around the water tower and chatting with the locals under the shingle-and-brick canopy of the local gas station (winter wheat's going in soon). After packing out of the not-very-mobile home at the Lakeside Lodge, we all drove over to take one more look at the World's Largest Twine Ball. As we were hugging the stringy thingy farewell, the town's Keeper of the Twine (a very nice lady) drove up, presented a big spool of sisal string, and invited us to have the honor of making the world's biggest ball even bigger! We figured that a small child would add even more impressively to the ball's bulkiness, so we busily ran round and round the sphere while Duncan giggled as he became ever more entwined. However, after adding about 250 feet of new string to the nearly 8 million feet already spun there, we realized that someone back home might notice the absence of one small child, and so Duncan reluctantly gave up his chance to be part of a world's largest landmark, disentwined himself, and we tied up loose ends and departed (with happy twine-enhanced kid) westward to our next fun stop.

About an hour's drive west on US 24 is the town of Stockton, Kansas, where we spied the canopied storefront of the End of the Line Hobby Shop and pulled aside to see what wonders lay within. These days, Duncan really enjoys playing with wooden toy trains, and we figured this might be a good place to pick up a piece or two. Turns out there was much more inside indeed - the place was filled with wonderful model railroad layouts. Any one of them would have been the pride of any decent shop, but this place had over half a dozen amazingly detailed scale model railroad lines. We watched for quite a while as the trains made their rounds, and then Duncan discovered the wooden rail line upstairs (just right for small fingers) and the owners graciously let our little guy play for a spell while we chatted with them about some of the hobbies that we so much enjoyed when we were younger. Now we don't want to say that it was difficult to get Duncan to leave such a fun place, but we hope the claw marks in the concrete sidewalk outside eventually wear away...

After we were about 25 miles out of Stockton, it was finally safe to remove our ear protection and figure out what additional fun could be had in this chunk of Kansas. We had time to figure, alas, since that danged headwind was even worse than yesterday, and we were having trouble maintaining even 55 MPH without dropping into single-digit fuel economy. The truck and trailer bucked and wiggled as the gusts slapped us around, and watched the "tumblecorn" (uh oh - there go more ears) swoosh across US 24 at high velocities. One way to drown out the whistling of the wind was to turn on the radio, and so we tuned to the offerings of the local stations. We followed the hard-fought Kansas - Kansas State football game on 2 different stations (who do we root for - the red & blue team, or the Wildcat team?), and when that game was thrillingly concluded we scanned over to the appropriately-named KFRM to follow up with some Gun Talk ("call 866-TALK-GUNS!"). Then a munchin' lunch with the friendly folks at the Indian Country Cafe in Hoxie for a refreshing break from the road, and off again across the prairie.

In Colby, we cut south for a while to join US 40 as it makes its near-transcontinental journey (used to go coast to coast from San Fran to Atlantic City, but lost a few miles in the west a while ago). About this point in west Kansas, the towns get smaller and farther apart, and the corn and wheatfields give way to grazing grass as we enter the arid lands of the West (and get another hour back). We rolled into eastern Colorado in midafternoon, made our way south and west while still fightin' that ornery wind, and finally took a break in the small east Colorado town of Eads, where the local shops invited us in for a bit to escape the breezes. Eads has a playground (under the water tower by the grain elevators, naturally), and Duncan & his parents had a bit of fun on the very interesting circular swing and other fun items, as several hunters flocked across the street to compare bird-hunting exploits in their orange-garbed glory.

As we cleared our heads from the spinning swing while heading westward on state route 96, we watched the sun set behind the now-barely-visible crags of the Rocky Mountains while pondering our lodging options for the evening. As noted earlier, the towns in this end of the country can be a bit small and far apart, and we didn't want to end up left out under the stars. We pulled into the quiet town of Ordway alongside the rusty tracks of a former UP rail line, and discovered an unforeseen lodging treat - the Hotel Ordway. This over-a-century-old establishment offers very friendly service, nice rooms, interesting fellow residents to meet & greet in the lobby, and a sliding rate scale apparently based on mode of transportation. We arrived on 4 (er, 6) wheels, and paid full price, but those arriving on 2 wheels get to enjoy the amenities at a much-reduced rate. This establishment was also honored by Bikecentennial (now Adventure Cycling Association) as one of the key stops along the original transcontinental bicycle route established back in '76, and could possibly become a waypoint along a newly expanded network of US Bike Routes in the future (if Richard can ever get back to the office and get that task force meeting scheduled, that is). In fact, the discussion in the lobby that evening centered on the possibilities of a national network of designated bicycle routes, and what opportunities such a network would give to Ordway and many other similar towns across the United States. Then into the big beds for a restful sleep, and hopes for less-blustery days in the near future.

Having a ball in Kansas and Colorado

Day 28 - Sunday, October 7th, 2007
Ordway, CO to Las Vegas, NM
229 miles

Richard began the morning by snagging a bike-delivered breakfast for the family back in the hotel from the Bits 'n Spurs Cafe, where the headlines on the local paper were celebrating the Colorado Rockies advancing to the National League Championship Series (against the Diamondbacks!) He also met up with a recumbent-riding cyclist who was heading out from the Hotel Ordway on the way to California from Maine, and we chatted about the wind and the roads, and wished him well on his way thru Arizona and on to the coast.

Then after a very relaxing time in the Ordway, we were back into the truck (much later than planned, but no regrets), and after a bit of rompin' at the park across the street we were again heading southwestward across the open plains of southeast Colorado, as the mountains began sneaking up off our right front side. We met the mountains in Trinidad, where a playground between the historic brick buildings of downtown and the trail beside the river offered a most pleasant diversion from a day of driving, and then a very slow slog over the summit of Raton Pass on I-25 (first Interstate since I-35E in St. Paul) brought us into New Mexico and that much closer to home.

When we started off back in Ordway, the winds had quieted, and for the first couple hours we made good time at good speeds. In the afternoon, though, fat chance, buddy - the winds were roaring again. The one good thing, though, is that it was a much cooler breeze than yesterday (about 30 degrees cooler, in fact), which made the bluster that much more tolerable. Our trip down through northeast New Mexico was spent wobbling in the wind, while the abundant herds of antelope watched in amusement as our multi-wheeled contraption rumbled by. Stopped for fuel at a small store in Springer (ouch - shoulda topped off in Kansas), and continued on across the golden grasslands while skirting the peaks of the Rockies and Sangres. We kept busy in the truck in our own ways - Duncan rolling his cars over all the interesting back seat surfaces, Suzanne finishing her Elmo latch hook and waving to the antelope, and Richard letting Duncan's bunny do the driving for a while.

As we rolled into Las Vegas (New Mexico), we noticed it was just a bit different from the same-named town over Nevada way. We found a nice room (complete with friendly kittycat) at the aptly-named Hotel Palomino, and then made a chilly evening stroll down Las Vegas' main drag (with just the right amount of neon) to the Hillcrest Restaurant for our evening meal. Then back to the room for a few more cuddles with the cat, and under the blankets to rest up for our final couple days on the road.

Fun folks and fun times on the open highway

Day 29 - Monday, October 8th, 2007
Las Vegas, NM to Show Low, AZ
407 miles

There was frost on the water bottle as Richard rolled the Bike Friday out for the morning's foraging down the streets of Las Vegas. Food was found behind the stucco facade of Charlie's Spic & Span Cafe & bakery in the downtown district, and a breakfast burrito and some donuts were obtained for the family. Overheard at one of the tables: "And today (Columbus Day) we celebrate the discovery of a great land... that was here already?"

Then back to the room to load up, go by Charlie's again in the truck for a remarkably large and luscious cream-stuffed eclair to go (that was a bit too big to carry on the bike earlier), and off we went down I-25 out of Vegas and on to this day's travels. After several miles of freeway flying, we veered off the Interstate to travel south on the very scenic (and very slow-driving) state highway 3, winding alongside and over the also-winding Pecos River and through the villages with their mission churches and festive plazas.

We turned right on I-40, drove for a while amid the speeding semis and SUVs while adding a bunch of license plates to our state list, and stopped again at Clines Corners (of course!) for a few more things for Duncan's friends back home. We exited I-40 onto old route 66 in Moriarty, traveling off the superhighway and onto a more relaxing road that still evokes an earlier time of travel. Through Zuzax and Tijeras we trekked while seeing the signs for New Mexico bike route 66 and some rather elaborate deer crossing arrangements (only thing missing was a crosswalk and a antlered crossing guard) and then ended up on Central Avenue rolling downhill past signs and sights old and new toward the heart of Albuquerque. Stopped at Surplus City on the east side of town to try to find some odds and ends, and then continued through the city without incident, except for that minor episode at the Allsup's station where it looked like the trailer might not fit (it did, but it was... cozy).

We headed out of ABQ southward on another (1920s-30s) alignment of 66 (also old US 85) south as the planes landing at the Sunport swooshed above us. We continued through the towns of the Rio Grande Valley on an alternately shady & scenic and then bustling and busy byway. About this time, a late lunch sounded like an appealing idea, and we ended up replenishing our bellies at Blake's Lotaburger, another traditional New Mexican foodstuff.

All that scenic sightseeing along the backroads of New Mexico had resulted in us being a bit (well, maybe more than a bit) behind our projected schedule as we turned west on US 60 and climbed out of the Rio Grande valley with our faces directly into the late afternoon sun (it's sunglasses time!) After a brief stop in Magdalena for ice cream, we watched the sun finally disappear over the mountains ringing the Plains of San Augustin and the Very Large (and we mean large) Array radio telescope situated on these plains. On this evening the Array, with its three 13-mile-long arms each sporting nine 80-foot diameter dish antennae (those dishes would hold a lot of ice cream! ;) was deployed seeking tiny signals from across the universe and far back in time.

The last time we'd met elk up close and personal was at Exotic Animal Paradise in Missouri back on last year's Big Trip #2. NMDOT has thoughtfully provided warning signs along US 60 in western New Mexico to advise travelers that these big creatures are dwelling nearby, but they don't really prepare you for that unique feeling you get when a quarter-ton of inattentive ungulate wanders out of the darkness toward your vehicle's travel path. For those not familiar with elk, it should be noted that although they resemble deer, there's a lot more body mass set on much taller legs, so that any unplanned meeting often ends up as an unpleasant (and often fatal) through-the-windshield encounter for all involved. We were relieved that those big dark-colored bull and cow elk we saw chose not to wander past the edge line while we were rolling by, and so the tranquility of the starry evening remained relatively undisturbed.

We waved to the welcome sign as we re-entered our home state of Arizona, got back our final hour (we need it tonight!), and continued through the clear and moonless night into Springerville for a brief rest break beside the Madonna of the Trail statue in the middle of town. Then on for the final miles of a long day along 60 into Show Low, where our reserved room awaited us at the KC Motel, conveniently next to the ADOT yard and offering many travel amenities. Only one minor issue here - the trailer didn't really fit in the steeply sloped parking lot, but with some backing and grunting we got the contraption turned 'round and parked, and we trudged inside to rest up for our final day of cross-country cruising.

But what about that disturbing pool of transmission fluid accumulating under the vehicle...?

Almost done, but still having fun

Day 30 - Tuesday, October 9th, 2007
Show Low, AZ to Phoenix, AZ
166 miles

Tried to sleep in after yesterday's long day, but the lingering effects of Central Time meant we were up and bustling well before 7. Richard spent the morning preparing for his scheduled traffic engineering meeting at the ADOT office, strolled through the brisk morning air over to the yard, sat down in the conference room, flipped open the computer, and got the just-sent e-mail stating the meeting had been cancelled...

One side benefit was that this now allowed for more family time, and so we made our final pack-up of this trip (even after so many motel rooms, we've managed to leave behind very few things) and cruised over to Archibeque Park for a most amusing round of Duncan-cavorting. This worked up an appetite perfect for the White Mountain Restaurant on Deuce Of Clubs Road, where the waitresses have the perfect mix of service and sassiness and the food was most satisfying.

As for that puddle of fluid that shouldn't have been there under the truck? We called our mechanic back in Phoenix, who said that as long as we keep the tranny filled it should be happy for the last few hundred miles home, and so before we left Show Low we made sure that Truckasaurus was again topped off with fluid of automatic transmission.

After filling truck with all its liquids and making sure the family wasn't, we headed out west along AZ 260 through the rolling forests, still recovering slowly from the disastrous fires five years ago. We showed regard for the speed limits in Overgaard (the nice DPS officer in the rear view mirror had nothing to do with it, of course ;) and continued on through the cool mountain breezes, as our "iDunc" in the back seat entertained us with surreal songs as we merrily rolled past the pines. At the turnoff for Woods Canyon Lake, our big green Scoopie ball was deployed amid the green pines, and Duncan and his entourage bounced and bounded around and about to celebrate the fact that you're never too old to have a happy childhood ('specially with a 2-year-old around to teach you).

After that bouncin' break, we carefully descended the ruddy cliff faces of the Mogollon Rim on a steep stretch of 260, diverted through the recently bypassed burg of Christopher Creek, and wended our way downhill. We stopped for dinner and dollar stores in Payson, turned south on route 87 (called the Beeline Highway, although the alignment seems to indicate the bee might have had a few), and made ample use of low gears as we tackled this humpy hilly segment of roadway. We've tried to avoid mountains because of our most burdened condition; however, there's just no convenient way to get into Phoenix from the north or northeast without having to encounter a bad grade or two. The last rays of waning daylight were vanishing as we summited near Sunflower, and we shifted down and kept a steady hand as the truck and all its stuff plummeted past the cactuses into the Sonoran Desert and that much closer to home.

One last stop for frozen treats in Fountain Hills to ready us for many miles of city driving, and then across the stretches of Scottsdale on Shea, up to Cactus, over one last hill, through the neighborhood (still looks relatively intact), a careful backing of the trailer into the driveway (we think that crunching noise means the hitch is a bit low), and engine off a few minutes after 8 and everybody out after thirty days of memorable fun.

Hope you enjoyed the trip - see you next time, and make sure you collect all your personal belongings before departing...

Small kid + tall pines + green ball = happiness!

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