Richard and Suzanne and Duncan's Big 2009 Road Trip
Stage 1 - Whatever Happens In Vegas, Blows Up in Utah
Phoenix, AZ to Trout Creek, MI

Day 1 - Thursday, September 24th, 2009
Phoenix, AZ to Las Vegas, NV
319 miles

And so another Big Road Trip is set to begin!

The primary purpose of this year's trip is to complete the cleanout of Suzanne's childhood home in the woods of Trout Creek, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. We'll be towing our cargo trailer to carry stuff home, which gives us a bit of extra packing space on the way up there (as long as we don't abuse it - things will likely be very full on the way back!)

We started preparing weeks in advance, knowing that an on-time departure was critical to not being late for our pre-scheduled activities for the evening. Unfortunately, this morning we weren't as ready as we needed to be, so we threw Duncan onto the preschool bus at 7 am, packed like crazy for the next 3 hours, and when the bus dropped him off and he excitedly ran in saying, "Daddy, let's go!"... well, we still weren't ready yet. We finally hitched up the trailer, checked the final few items off the packlists, said "meow meow" (bye bye) to the kittycats, and rolled out the driveway (is Duncan back there? oh good!) and we were on the road - amazingly, only one hour late. :)

We turned off I-17 west on Arizona route 74 as Gordon Lightfoot's "Carefree Highway" played most appropriately on the iPod. Several miles later, we spun the brand new roundabouts and whipped around Wickenburg on the bypass, and continued non-stop for over two hours, until we wandered into Wikieup for a quick break and a Moon Pie. Then back in the seats, up US 93 to Kingman for $2.43 fuel, and then remembered that our trailer-enhanced state would create much consternation if we tried to cross Hoover Dam. So we instead exited on SR 68 and blazed our way to Bullhead City, and crossed the blue Colorado River in the shadows of the high-rise casinos of Laughlin, Nevada.

"What's that smell?" suddenly became the topic of conversation as the truck was laboring its way up the steep grade of Nevada state route 163 under a very hot desert sun. A quick glance at the coolant gauge indicated that it was hot times indeed inside the engine and transmission. So we turned off the A/C, slowed down significantly, and plodded our way to the top of the hill as the transmission shifted, shufted, and clunked. Later when we stopped in Searchlight for pizza and...stretching, a scan of the back of the truck and the front of the trailer revealed a most dismaying sight - splatters of fresh transmission fluid were everywhere on the tailgate, bumper, underbelly, and trailer. Uh. Oh. Richard checked under the hood to assess the damage - but everything seemed OK there, with all the dipsticks seeming to still say "don't worry - everything's full & fine". So we consulted via cellphone with our automotive experts back in Phoenix, who advised us that given the circumstances, "just drive it easy and see if something breaks" - and so we turned back out on US 95 and hoped for the best.

Fortunately, nothing was broke yet (not even us) as we crested Railroad Pass and descended into Sin City. We slithered down Sahara and the Strip, and parked under the menacing visage of the giant clown guarding the entry of Circus Circus Las Vegas. We checked in, made our way out the 1/4 mile from the registration desk to our room out in the way back of the property (which actually suited us better because it offered easier parking), hosed off and freshened up, and arrived for our dinner meeting at the Sahara Buffet perfectly on schedule - only to find our fellow dining companions already devouring the delectables served up at the steam tables. No problem - we said hi, sat down, and dug in too, as the conversation ranged from bike & traffic stuff to... more bike & traffic stuff. Undeterred, Suzanne and Duncan, along with the college-age son of one of Richard's colleagues, devised an alternate plan that actually involved fun - and Duncan flipped for that idea (literally), while Richard and the others droned on about the technical minutiae of traffic control devices for motorized & nonmotorized travel.

After that extended dining experience, we thought it might be a fun idea to show our son the colorful lights and amazing sights of Las Vegas Boulevard, and we turned south from the glowing spidery dome of the Sahara's entryway to cruise the Strip for a bit. However, we guess our little architecture critic wasn't all that impressed, as he conked out fast asleep only a short way down the street (the late hour just might have had something to do with that as well). So we veered back to the room and shut out the lights on a busy first day.

Day 1 pix!
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Day 2 - Friday, September 25th, 2009
in Las Vegas, NV
15 miles

Very first thing this morning, Richard again checked the Truckasaurus for any additional evidence of impending mechanical doom, and was very relieved to see absolutely no drips, dribbles, puddles, or leaks, and a transmission fluid reading of "quite full, thank you." So, he headed past the high-rise hotels and construction cranes to his morning meetings, where he was most pleased that everyone's schedules aligned immaculately so he could get many important meetings with important people accomplished most effectively. Much is afoot in the field of traffic control as it affects bicyclists & other users, and as the chair of the committee in the middle of all this, it's important to see people face to face and get everyone's insights, viewpoints, and plans for the future. After the meetings were wrapped up, there was a little bit of time left to peek into the Interbike trade show, and see all the cool new (and usually unaffordable) items now available to improve bicycling enjoyment.

Meanwhile, Suzanne & Duncan were having some big-toppin' fun back at the Circus Circus, clowning around with the games on the midway and watching the impressive feats of the acrobats and jugglers. Duncan did well in Vegas this time, raking in a plethora of plush new stuffed friends, including a pair 'o bears, three turtles, a rockin' lobster, and a fuzzy spotted leopard. Then over to the Adventuredome amusement park to look around at all the rides and other fun, and then back to the room for some rest.

After evening fell (whump!) and the lights began to sparkle out on the streets, we drove down to have dinner at the place where we were wed ten years ago. However, the hotel has undergone a bit of a transmogrification from the understated and tasteful Hotel San Remo to the rather boo, er, boisterous Hooters Hotel, where a very filling meal was had while Duncan tried to comprehend why his parents would have a wedding in such a strange place (kid, it wasn't like this back then - really). Then back to the room to attempt some sleep for the travels to come.

Day 2 pix!
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Day 3 - Saturday, September 26th, 2009
Las Vegas, NV to Ferron, UT
369 miles in truck, 1 mile on bike

Richard rolled the bike out well before sunrise to try to get a few more photos of the buzzing neon and garish lights of Vegastown, and then hitched up the trailer and greeted the other hotel guests just making their way back to their rooms after some all-night partying as the rest of the family readied themselves in the Circus Circus rooms for another big day.

Once everything was again stowed away, we left Las Vegas behind and followed I-15 northbound across the Mojave Desert to get a good start on some long miles. Our first break was in the town of Mesquite, tucked against the Arizona border and very familiar to us from numerous prior expeditions to this corner of the 3-state area. We entered the Eureka casino, strolled past the curving glass wall of the impressive aquarium, and settled in for some serious brunchin' action on the multiple $3.99 specials at the cafe (including the ham steak the size of the plate!) Although it would have been nice (for one adult, anyway) to try our luck at the numerous gaming opportunities, we felt fortunate enough to get the good food, and wandered back out into the sunshine for more travel action.

Next thing ya know, we're back into Arizona (briefly) curving up I-15 as it swoops and swerves through the Virgin River Gorge. As noted in previous Road Trips, Richard managed the recent sign project on this highway, and is very familiar with nearly every twist and turn of this impressive route. But next next thing you know, we're in our third state of the day, losing an hour, and heading into the higher red-rock country of Utah.

We cruised up to Cedar City, where the tank was refilled and we obtained some of Utah's most notable food product - good soft-serve ice cream. After the dairy products were devoured, we continued up I-15 until veering onto I-70, where the mountainous terrain gave the truck & its transmission another workout, which to our relief was handled just fine. Several miles later, we took a break at a rather scenic rest area along the freeway, where the family re-enacted some classic Sesame Street scenes and enjoyed the cool mountain breezes.

The sun's rays were getting low across the mountains and scrublands of east-central Utah as we entered the picturesque small town of Ferron. Although the original plan was to put in some additional miles before settling down, the row of log cabins setting behind the dino-bedecked pumps of Gilly's Service Station lured us off the road and into their cozy confines. But we hadn't had dinner yet, so we crossed the street to the Grub Box Drive Inn in anticipation of some small-town cooking - until Duncan fumbled the handoff on his fruit punch, and that part of the evening, like the drink, started going downhill from there. But at least the surviving food was good, and the cabin's comfort welcomed us to recover and settle in for a relatively quiet evening.

Day 3 pix!
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Day 4 - Sunday, September 27th, 2009
Ferron, UT to Vernal, UT
226 miles in truck, plus 32 "bonus" miles, & 2 miles on bike

After our genyooine log cabin sleepsperience, we awoke refreshed for another day's adventures. These began early as Duncan bounded out of bed, out the door, and over to the adjacent playground in the town park (followed by Dad, of course). Apparently some irrigation had been done overnight, which just increased Duncan's enjoyment that much more as he splashed and splooshed around the swings and slides.

Once the playtime was done, we rolled northeast on route 10 (was that a US 10 sign? oops) until we reached the town of Price, which serves as the regional base for east and southeast Utah all the way out to Colorado & Arizona. We grabbed a quick to-go lunch at Burger King (Hail the newly-crowned Emperor Duncan!) and appreciated the friendly & quick-witted service staff. Then up a piece of US 6, and a right onto US 191, and more mountains... so we slowed down, shifted as appropriate, and had no difficulties as we rose & fell along the ridges of this wrinkly state.

After a brief pit stop and Duncan-advisory session ("son, we'd suggest you behave") outside of Roosevelt, we rolled into the town of Vernal, where happy dinosaurs greet travelers arriving from east or west on US 40. Vernal is notable for many things, not the least for being adjacent to some stony strata that have yielded some of the world's finest specimens of ancient dino-life. In fact, just a few miles east of town is Dinosaur National Monument, and so we diverted a few miles to go see for ourselves the place where so many old reptiles have become stars of science. Unfortunately, the main quarry area can't be visited now due to some slightly unstable building foundations, but the interim visitors center was most informative, with exhibits and rangers describing the paleo-rific discoveries made here. Duncan even earned his "Junior Paleontologist" certification by completing several educational tasks, and proudly wore his new badge (remember to put it on your resume!) as we visited the displays and gift shops.

And then it was time to wave buh-bye to Dinah the big pink dinosaur smiling over Vernal's streets and make our way toward Wyoming. The climb out on northbound US 191 takes travelers through many layers of rocks and millions of years of geologic history. There's also a fair bit of steep upgrade, complete with ten switchbacks and impressive views. We approached this climb conservatively, managing the engine revs and coolant temperature well within reasonable limits as the panorama of the Green River valley unfurled behind us. As the altitude passed 8000 feet and the crest of the grade was in sight, we breathed a sigh of relief knowing we'd successfully surmounted yet another challenge.

And that's when the transmission failed.

Before we lost all forward momentum, we were able to coast to a wide spot off the road - and most fortunately, had a good cell signal (which saved us from having to dig out the ARRL repeater directory). AAA was called, and although having to suffer through giving the calltaker back in Phoenix our location in no less than three different ways (exact milepost via DMI, GPS coordinates, and distance to nearest junction), a tow truck was summoned, and got there right as soon as we'd finished dropping the trailer and rearranging our belongings for this unscheduled stop. The no-longer-mighty Truckasaurus was hooked up, we climbed into the cab of the tow truck, and watched the poor (but very locked-up) trailer disappear out of sight as we made our way back down the switchbacks for an unscheduled return to Vernal.

We were dropped off in a clean and friendly room at the Sage Motel downtown, while the truck was sent off to the transmission shop. However, after unpacking what we'd remembered to salvage, we still hadn't had dinner, and were now bereft of motorized mobility. Fortunately, Richard had retrieved his bicycle, and used it heroically to seek out and hunt down edibles which were transported to the hungry and grateful bellies back in the room. Then out with the lights, an attempt at sleep, and to wonder what events the next day would bring.

Day 4 pix!
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Day 5 - Monday, September 28th, 2009
in Vernal, UT
2 miles on bike, 1 mile on foot

Ya know, for being stranded 700 miles from home & 1600 miles from da UP, with no immediate hope of relief, Vernal, Utah in the early fall is a darn nice place to be trapped.

We began our morning with a call to the transmission shop, who confirmed our suspicions - the 700R4 four-speed automatic transmission under the Truckasaurus was 700-R-done, and the nearest suitable replacement drivetrain was way over in Salt Lake City. But we were assured that a finely remanufactured tranny would be ordered and shipped expeditiously over the mountains - but apparently under armed guard, based on the price quoted to us.

Richard biked out to McDonalds to retrieve an affordable breakfast for the family, and then we busied ourselves with phone calls & e-mails as our contingency plans were activated. But the Moeur family can only stand being cooped up for so long, and we ventured forth on foot onto the flower-lined streets of this fair city to see what enjoyable things could be found to take our minds off our predicament.

First stop was the local hobby shop on Main Street, where the planes, trains, and games on the shelves reminded Richard of many hours and dollars that disappeared in his younger days. Although Dunc is a bit too young for most of the items, it gave us some inspiration for future family activities (though I think we'll hold off on the E-series rocket engines for a few years). Then a stroll down the street to the 7-11 Ranch Restaurant for some lunchtime grub, and then on down to casually window-shop at the car dealer - and feel much better about our current investment after seeing that a brand-new truck comparably equipped to our experienced old friend goes for about $48,000, plus accessories.

How do you pronounce "Diplodocus"? Richard was saying "diplodakus", while Suz was saying "diplo-dokus". Turns out it's really "die-plod-uh-kus". This was just one of the many useful dino-facts we learned at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum (say that three times!), where the exhibits were as expansive as the name. A plethora of life-size models of dino-skeletons and fully-built megareptiles are attractively displayed both indoors and out, along with very informative hands-on exhibits on paleontology, geology, and an ology or two we're forgetting to mention here. This occupied most of the afternoon, until we made our way back to the room, distracted here and there by the occasional shopping opportunity at the numerous gift and craft stores, including the obtaining of some Christmas presents for the family (no, we're not telling!)

After all that walking, we were bushed and in no mood to head out again, and so supper consisted of a rather good pizza delivered by the local Pizza Hut gang. Then bath and beddy-bye time, with dreams of being back on the open road again soon.

Day 5 pix!
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Day 6 - Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
Vernal, UT to Casper, WY
365 miles in truck, 2 miles on bike

Most of the morning was spent in the motel room awaiting word on the status of our four-wheeled friend. We spent the time catching up on e-mail, trip logs & photos, and repacking, At a bit after 11, the news came: Truckasaurus lives again! Richard jumped on the bike and pedaled the 2 miles out of town (downhill :) to retrieve the truck & sign over a large portion of our net worth, and we were back in business! To the room to load up & apologize for the late checkout (the Sage Motel folks were great about it), and we left Vernal with fond memories and turned northward to retrace Sunday's ill-fated route.

As we crested the hill, we were most relieved to see our trailer still sitting intact beside the highway, unmolested and ready to rejoin us. We hitched up as the mountain breezes cooled us, and then began our descent out of the Uintas, letting our new tranny take a load off the brakes. We cruised under the arch of the graceful bridge over an arm of the reservoir and then rumbled across the curving roadway atop the crest of Flaming Gorge Dam, an impressive chunk o' concrete standing over 400 feet above the Green River, and serving as an important part in the water storage system of the western US. We paused to take in the impressive structure, and then continued over the undulating Utah hills until we crossed the border and (finally after 3+ days) made to another state - Wyoming.

We trundled across the tablelands of southern Wyoming along US 191 until we rolled into Rock Springs, where we filled on food & $2.41 fuel to prepare for many miles ahead. Instead of hanging a right on a very familiar I-80, we decided to take a more scenic route up 191 to Wyoming highway 28, which retraces the route of the Oregon / California / Mormon / Pony Express trails that many pioneers traveled on their way to explore and settle the western lands (only in the opposite direction). We crossed the Continental Divide in the shadow of the Wind River range, and then continued on around and through the folded and rumpled geology of this large rectilinear state as the sun disappeared behind us. A couple hours of night driving were still needed to bring us to a town big enough to have an open motel, but Duncan remained amused with his variety of light-up toys, as the parents scanned the roadway bathed in the illumination of the GPS & DMI.

Then the lights of Casper appeared on the horizon, and we rolled to a stop at the Sage & Sand Motel on old Yellowstone Highway, where the proprietor assured us he ran the finest independent lodgings in town. The nautical-themed room (an "oar house", perhaps? ;) lived up to the billing, and we rested peacefully, happy to be on the road again toward our destination.

Day 6 pix!
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Day 7 - Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
Casper, WY to Terry, MT
354 miles in truck, 2 miles on bike

Richard jumped on the bicycle bright & early this morning to cruise the streets of downtown Casper to check out the city, and to see if any yummy breakfast items could be located. Found they were at the First Street Bakers, and so we all feasted on cream-filled goodness as we packed and prepared for another day.

When Richard was on his morning bike ride, the temperature was 70 degrees. That would change. A cold front was sweeping down from the Arctic, and the skies soon looked ominous as the high plains breezes turned notably chilly (we definitely aren't in Phoenix anymore!) Of course, given the fact we've been baking for months back home in 100+ heat, we're not complaining about a bit of coolness, and Duncan happily cavorted in the Sage & Sand's playground amid the bluster, and even made friends with a fuzzy brown bunny rabbit also residing at the motel (but likely paying a lower rate). Duncan even made a little playground for the bunny, too!

Once the playing and packing was done, we headed out of the motel and drove through Casper's streets, passing the resolute facade of the Dick Cheney Federal Building and filling up on $2.22 fuel (10 cents off with the Fry's card!). Then north on I-25 for a while to get outta this definitely-not-a-ghost-town, and then a veer onto some quieter highways for a relaxing drive, as we passed the numerous oilwells & antelope pumping and frolicking respectively along the hills and valleys.

We were a bit puzzled when the signs said "Midwest" was coming up in a few miles, especially when the map & GPS still had us squarely in Wyoming. The mystery was resolved when we pulled into the town with a region's name, and blew into the Tumbleweed Cafe for some big ol' sandwiches and friendly service. Then east with the wind and then north across the path of the blowing blasts for many miles, watching the giant storage towers of the titanigigantohumongous coal mines appear and recede.

We took a break from the mega-mileage in the town of Gillette ("America's Energy Capital!"), and Duncan bounced on the giant bugs as his parents pondered the monuments and memorials at Lasting Legacy Park. And then Gillette gave a very close shave indeed - as we were driving along US 14 thru town, a traffic signal suddenly turned greenyellowRED right in front of us, with no time for our six wheeled hinged in the middle contraption to even apply the brakes (although some skidding noises were heard). And wouldn't you know that there would be a most vigilant officer from the local police department just sitting right there watching the whole thing. We were definitely able to bring the vehicle to a stop when the red and blue lights appeared in the rear view mirror. Licenses and registrations were produced, Duncan was quietly admonished not to start making up any vivid stories, and we were very relieved when the patrolman, after chatting with us about our ongoing adventures, agreed that the signal might have caught us a bit by surprise, and ordered us to have a nice day without any further financial damage. And so we carefully(!) rolled north out of town on highway 59 in a most law-abiding manner and went on our way.

It was still many miles to Montana, and so we spent the time giving a big "moooo" to the herds of cattle darkly studding the grasslands and making up fun games while the wind bumped us back and forth. We stopped at the Montana state line to slap a brand-new sticker on the tailgate map (our second US map, by the way - but this one tracks the states that's Duncan has been in, and is rapidly filling), and then many miles on through Broadus and Volborg up to Miles City, where the restrooms were welcoming and the fuel was much more expensive (but at least wasn't $4.19 like some places last year).

As we pulled out from under the lights of the Cenex station, the skies were definitely dark, and the thermometers were reading in the lower 40s as a cold rain began to fall. We turned east on I-94 for the final miles of the day, and when we saw the signs for the small town of Terry, we though it might be a good idea to find some dinner for our bellies and a roof over our heads. Terry treated us well on both counts, as the Diamond Motel had a nice clean 2-room suite for a very affordable price, and the Dizzy Diner fed us a good round meal of cheesy steaming pizza, with ice cream to finish off. Then into the room and out of the rain, and time to be rocked to sleep by the trains passing by the rear window as the chilly winds blew against the windows and doors.

Day 7 pix!
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Day 8 - Thursday, October 1st, 2009
Terry, MT to McClusky, ND
307 miles

The morning began with Richard walking over to the Dizzy Diner next door to fetch some breakfast for the gang, as the gray clouds above held off their drizzle just long enough for him to make the brief trip. Once breakfast was done, Duncan resumed his exciting football game with his pet elephant in the spacious motel room. Fortunately, this elephant can be multiplied by the square root of -1, so he doesn't take up much space in the truck in between overnight stops (and is very understanding about having to sit in the back seat).

After the imaginary elephant and everything & everyone else was repacked, we toodled out of Terry on old US 10, watching the windshield wipers zoop and zorp over the windshield as a cold light steady rain bathed the countryside. Once old 10 dead-ended near the Yellowstone River, we merged onto I-94, passing the interestingly named exits of eastern Montana, such as Bad Route Road, Cracker Box Road, and Whoopup Creek Road. A few more miles of driving brought us into North Dakota, and the alternating rugged badlands and rolling plains welcomed us to this state.

Several miles east of the state line, near the touristy town of Medora, is Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a bifurcated expanse of NoDak scenery devoted to the experiences and legacy of our 26th President (the fact he raised cattle here is a bonus). Although it was a bit too wet & foggy to go bison-sighting, we enjoyed the visitor center, where Suzanne & Duncan acquired another stamp for their National Parks Passports, we viewed the displays on frontier living, the abundance of area wildlife, and TR's world-spanning exploits, and Duncan really liked the hands-on exhibits of buffalo pelt, elk horn, and prairie dog fur.

After this Theo-nificent experience, we again turned eastbound - which on this day was a Very Good Idea, as a gale-force wind pushed us from behind (but doesn't seem to be helping our fuel economy much). When we turned north on US 85 for a while, it became a wicked facing crosswind, doing its best to try to push the truck and trailer sideways across the road. Fortunately, Richard was able to (mostly) anticipate the gusts & blusts, and we soon turned east again on highway 200 and get the wind back to our behinds.

With all the previous delays, we were trying to put in many miles, and so we dodged through Dodge, zipped around Zap, and bypassed other burgs. However, eventually we would need to stop somewhere (until we get that atomic-powered motorhome, anyway), and so we bumped to a stop in Beulah, where the local Pamida store welcomed us into its warm interior. However, Mr. Crabby from the back seat, just awakened from his afternoon nap, made it clear he didn't share the joy, and proceeded to loudly stalk his parental prey with snow shovels and other sturdy implements. Fortunately, we were able to thwart the little predator (much to the amusement of the other customers), and obtained items of use for Michigan, Arizona, and elsewhere (but we're still looking for a extra set of ice cube trays). This stop also gave us the opportunity to affix the North Dakota sticker to our current tailgate map (showing our second set of states visited), now fully filling in much of the US from Idaho to Georgia.

Once our Pamidaing was done, we drove out past the expansive fields of sunflowers awaiting harvest and continued our tailwind-assisted drive on ND 200. After a while, we came upon yet another "dam" thing for us to drive over - Garrison Dam, a truly gigantic hunk o' finely engineered dirt blocking the Missouri River. It's 60 feet wide at the top, 2500 ft thick at the bottom, and a full 2 1/2 miles long at the crest, with the giant surge tanks for the powerhouse looming above the valley below. We rumbled across the dam and lost yet another hour as we entered the Central Time Zone and the skies grew even darker due to the late hour and another round of rain.

The GPS read 47 degrees, 30 minutes, 13 seconds north latitude at the junction of state 200 & US 83 - the northernmost point on this epic journey. Then a fuel stop at a very friendly service station in Underwood, and eastward again on route 200 across this rather wide state. As the last light was disappearing, a consultation with the mom n' pop motel list showed relatively few lodging opportunities ahead, so we figured it might be wise to find what we could instead of continuing on and possibly ending up without a place to sleep. And so we entered the town of McClusky, where the nice couple running the R&H Motel welcomed us to their interesting assortment of rooms, including one with a bunk bed - which Duncan immediately converted into a fort & lookout tower, and burned off a lot of energy climbing up & jumping down & climbing up & jumping down & climbing up & jumping down... but we eventually got the youngun' corralled & into his fort somewhat early to get a hopefully fast start on the next day.

Day 8 pix!
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Day 9 - Friday, October 2nd, 2009
McClusky, ND to Remer, MN
362 miles, plus 3 more "bonus" miles

The operations plan today was to get a good start by putting in some serious miles right at the beginning. So we loaded out of the many-bedded room at the R&H and set course eastward on ND 200 for a long first leg, with Duncan drawing pictures on the fogged-up windows as the rainy miles rolled under the tires. We passed the small towns of the North Dakota prairie (including Goodrich, home of Miss Basketball North Dakota 2006!) and continued on nonstop to make up some lost time.

We were only 3 miles from our planned first meal stop when events began to occur that were not encompassed in that original operations plan. As we were hurtling along at 65 MPH with all systems reading nominally, the engine suddenly experienced a complete and uncommanded shutdown, with all the primary gauges on the dashboard saying "uh oh" in unison. With no power steering, power brakes, or power anything else, we coasted to a complete stop on the narrow shoulder.

Richard began contingency operations. Starter: cranks OK, sounds normal. Fuel flow: negative. Spark: negative. Not disastrous, but definitely not good.

We again made our conversational acquaintance with the folks at AAA Emergency Road Service, and after three or so handoffs (and a 15 minute delay) were finally advised that a tow truck would be coming from nearby Cooperstown. While we were waiting, we obtained ample empirical evidence of the friendliness of your typical North Dakotan, as several folks saw our blue hood yawning open and stopped to see if they could help a bit. One of them (a nice man named Jeff Kapelle) even stayed and waited with us and to help corral little Duncan as he ran from shoulder edge to the drainage ditch while his parents rearranged items and disconnected trailers.

The also-blue, also-Chevy tow truck arrived (after calling ahead to see if parts were available in town), and hooked up our stricken vehicle. Richard rode with the tow, while Mr. Kapelle followed along carrying Dunc & Suz in better-than-tow-truck comfort (after sliding the shotgun over a bit). The mighty Truckasaurus again found itself helplessly rolling backwards enroute to a strange town, and a few minutes later was up on a lift as the local NAPA garage folks tried to track down the problem (and commented on how shiny & nice that brand-new transmission looked).

A thorough bit of experience-based diagnosis by the Cooperstown NAPAchanics turned up the culprit - not an expensive fuel pump or ignition system repair, but... a simple blown fuse in an obscure location - a little red 10 amp fuse that just happened to control all critical ECM/fuel/ignition functions - that so messed up our morning's plans. The total cost was $20 (including the 50 cent fuse) - and the 2 1/2 hours spent between breakdown & resurrection.

Relieved that we wouldn't be trapped involuntarily in yet another nice friendly town, we happily reloaded, as Duncan escaped for a few seconds and did some celebratory cavorting in the garage area, which unfortunately left him in a greasy-faced mess. But once Dunc was washed up and the trailer was retrieved, we were ready for a relaxing lunch to decompress from all that had transpired, and found a good one under the red awning of the Coachman Inn in downtown Cooperstown.

After this nourishment, we targeted a new destination about four miles north of town - a small, quiet, unassuming white house-style building surrounded by a barbed-wire fence in the middle of some farmland - which just happens to be the visible part of the Oscar Zero underground Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile launch control center. Decommissioned in 1997 as part of the START II treaty, and now maintained by the State of North Dakota as a historical site, this was one of several launch control centers in eastern North Dakota operated by the US Air Force as part of the nation's strategic nuclear deterrence, with the missiles and launch centers for this SMW alone stretching all the way from the Canadian border 2/3 down the length of the state. We toured the aboveground support facilities, saw photos of the original construction (in fact, our tour guide had helped build the super-thick concrete and steel structures back in the early 60s), and then were locked into the cage-like elevator for the trip underground. Deep under the prairie earth, we viewed the mechanical equipment designed to keep the center functioning even in case of an unfriendly atomic blast or even a North Dakota blizzard, and walked past the meter-thick blast doors which locked the crews in the capsule for their 24-hour shifts. We saw the giant shock absorbers meant to keep things inside the concrete enclosures on the level in case of nearby big booms, and examined intently the pair of consoles, along with their accompanying decryption and super-EMP-shielded radio equipment, which controlled the powerful missiles. We looked into the red box that once contained the secret launch codes, and were able to touch the simple brass keys (do not duplicate!) that had the ability to unleash such unimaginable destructive power - don't turn that, son... oops! Then up to the surface for a bit more chatting with the friendly staff, and back into our vehicle to resume our trip.

We launched from Oscar Zero and set course back through Cooperstown, stopping again a few miles east to view what was left of one of the Minuteman missile silos controlled by launch centers similar to the one we just toured. Duncan clambered up the sides of the giant blast door that once protected silo November 33, and then dad & son performed a rescue mission for a small wiggly earthworm stranded in a pool of water atop the giant silo site. And then back into truck and eastward again, as Mom assisted our little guy in hunting out the vehicle windows for the elusive North Dakota Yeti (its call: "yetiyetiyetiyetiyetiyetiiiii!")

Several miles and some shortcut-enabling turns later, the smiling pair of water towers gazing benignly over the town of Hope watched our truck roll up to the whitewashed front of the Farmers Union Oil station for fueling, and then our stroll past the historic buildings to RJ's Eatery for some tasty late-season ice cream goodness. Then once we were beyond all Hope, we noticed off in the distance what seemed to be a somewhat tall tower. Consulting the map, we learned that it was no ordinary tower - it was actually more than 15 miles away, and stood as the tallest structure made by man anywhere on the Earth (well, make that the second-tallest), standing well over two thousand feet from slender base to cloud-grazing tip. Nearby stands the second, er, third tallest tower on the planet, with the both of them broadcasting competing TV signals along the breadth of the Red River Valley.

Speaking of the Red River, we crossed this interesting waterway, which unlike most American rivers flows north into the frozen Arctic, and crossed the state line into Minnesota. Then more miles of driving, interrupted by turns and curves as the highway (still carrying number 200) followed the section lines of the fertile farmland, and we even surprised a bald eagle which was helping itself to a vehicularly-terminated snack by the side of the road. Then another stop for our own on-the-go dinner and remarkably inexpensive fuel at a reservation town, as Duncan burned off some pent-up energy chasing and being chased by a playful spaniel puppy on the green lawns.

Darkness is starting to fall earlier and earlier in these northern latitudes, and a full Minnesota moon shone down through gaps in the clouds as we drove over the very short bridge (a culvert, really) spanning the soon-to-be-mighty Mississippi River as it leaves its source at Lake Itasca. Then a zig and a zag to continue following 200 through the north woods, driving well below the speed limit to avoid any unpleasant encounters with the deer that heavily populate the area. Fortunately, no four-legged encounters were made, and we kept going long into the night to make up for the delays that stymied us earlier in the day (well, except when Duncan said he needed a potty break with nothing open anywhere in sight, and we were rescued by the nice lady at the service station in Kabekona who let us in even though she'd been closed for hours - thanks!!!)

And 13 hours after we left the R&H, we rolled into the north woods town of Remer (population 372), where we finally bedded down in a very nice room in the Remer Motel amid all the duck hunters preparing for tomorrow's season opening. Then quickly to bed, except for Duncan's insistence on building a Lego missile silo, which he accomplished within budget and on schedule, which led a good sleep in our last motel room of the outbound journey(?).

Day 9 pix!
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Day 10 - Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
Remer, MN to Trout Creek, MI
269 miles

Are we there yet?

According to our original schedule, we should already be into our second or third day of the Yooperistic part of our adventure - but instead we're tumbling out of bed in a motel 2 states away long before sunrise to try to put a finish on the outbound leg of the trip. We left the comfy beds of the Remer Motel behind us, and continued our third day of navigating route 200 as it wound through the predawn gloom approaching its inevitable end at US 2 near the shores of Lake Superior. We dawdled in Duluth only long enough to get a to-go breakfast, and then followed US 53 from the heights down to the trussed-up arch of the Blatnik Bridge spanning the harbor. Duluth is the western terminus of the St Lawrence Seaway linking the Midwest with the Atlantic Ocean, and we saw several seaworthy ships (including the most interestingly named "Beluga Fascination") loading and unloading at the docks.

The Blatnik Bridge also marks our transition into the state of Wisconsin (only one more to go), and we made our way through a town with a "Superior" attitude as we watched the participants in the CASDA Walk to End Abuse sprint and stroll along the shoreline path. Then back onto US 2 and through the northernmost reaches of this cheesy state, as the rain again decided to wet our way.

Despite the weather, Duncan was looking like he could use some out-of-seat time as we were entering the area of Ashland, and so we brought the truck to a stop along the Lake Superior shoreline at a small park & playground. Despite the less-than-optimal weather and the brisk chill breeze coming off the great lake, Duncan excitedly climbed the colorful geodesic structure and classic slide (no worry about the metal being too hot on a day like this!) while the parents tried not to get too hypothermic. Then back in the truck to hurtle over to Hurley, fill up on Wisconsigas, and then finally entered Michigan's Upper Peninsula on the streets of Ironwood. Here, the Budget Dollar store offered a very interesting variety of items (but still no ice cube trays!) and gave us a break from rainy driving. But we had about 60 miles yet to go, and so we loaded up our budget loot and continued eastward on US 2 for our final outbound miles.

We turned left on M-28 as it curved around the lake in Wakefield, and counted down the last miles as the truck splashed through Topaz, Matchwood, and Ewen. We were also counting down the time on the clock, as we had an oft-rescheduled appointment with the Direct TV installer at 4 PM Eastern, and we lost another hour as we entered the Eastern Time Zone crossing the Ontonagon County line. We spied the signs for Trout Creek, made the turn onto Old Mill Town Road, and backed the trailer in (after a 3-point turn - no, make that a 7-point turn) beside the ancestral Carlisle abode at 3:30 PM EDT - about the only time this trip we've actually been ahead of schedule.

We had just reactivated the house from its long slumber and were beginning the unpacking process as the Direct TV truck rolled up. He activated the dish while explaining that he'd toured much of the UP trying to find the place (there are several "Mill Town" roads, all separated by many miles), and we thanked him for driving all the way from Green Bay to give us access to zillions of TV channels (but no Yooper ones, hey?) A check of the phone system showed that Midway Telephone had activated the DSL line, and would allow high-speed Net access to the outside world - but the nearest cell phone signal is still 10 miles away (go figure). Also about this time the neighbors and relatives began dropping by to say hi and lend us a hand (and a refrigerator - thanks!) while the rain continued to wash the road grime off the now-resting truck & trailer, and make the nearby ground just that bit more muddier. But soon all was stowed away, and it was safe to give Duncan his new surprise of a Little People Vacation set (for being such a good(?) traveler) as we settled in for our first evening in the little house in the big Michigan woods.

Day 10 pix!
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