Wednesday, February 29, 2012

White Out!!

Dateline: Rogers, Minnesota
When I set out on this trip two days ago I was still hoping I would make it all the way to Grand Forks, North Dakota with the weather on my side. It is a gamble this time of year, but I remained the eternal optimist. There were a few patches of snow in the shady spots as I traveled across the higher elevations of western Maryland and southwestern Pennsylvania, but by the time I reached Wheeling, West Virginia, and all across Ohio and Indiana, I saw no hints of winter other than the brown farmland of America's heartland.

Such would be the case yesterday until I reached the northern suburbs of Chicago, in northeastern Illinois, in the late afternoon when I began to see more frequent patches of snow along the road and across the urban sprawl that is enveloping more and more of the once pleasantly rural landscape between Chicago and Milwaukee. The skies grew overcast and by the time I crossed into Wisconsin near Kenosha there were flurries in the air. A few miles later I began to see thin bands of snow swept across the road by the wind that was increasing the farther north I drove. When I turned west at Milwaukee for the final miles of the day that would take me to my night's rest in Madison, the snow had stopped, but the ground was white and the rivers and lakes I was passing were now iced over. It is still winter in the upper Midwest.

This morning I had to brush a light accumulation of snow off my car and scrape the ice off my windows before I started out on the longest leg of my trip - from Madison, Wisconsin to Grand Forks, North Dakota. It would be a long day under the best of conditions. Northern Wisconsin and the Arrowhead of Minnesota were in the throes of a major blizzard , and the farther north I drove, the more snow I saw on the ground. The ceiling continued to drop as did the temperature. But the roads were clear and I pressed ahead.

The snow began to fall as I took the northern by-pass around the Twin Cities. It was light at first and blew off the road, but the storm grew in intensity and by the time I began to head north from Minneapolis toward St. Cloud the snowfall turned horizontal and quickly accumulated on the road obscuring the lane marking. To make matters worse, the trucks were throwing up slush which would temporarily blind me. It was time to get off the road!

I pulled off at a truck stop to top off my tank just to be safe and to get a big mug of black coffee to steel my nerves. By now there were white out conditions! I chanced upon a Minnesota state trooper at the truck stop and I inquired how the roads were farther north. His response was less than promising - multiple accidents and partial road closings with several more inches of snow and blizzard conditions expected before the storm passed. If I didn't have to be on the road, it would be best that I stay put. I have traveled through storms like this and it is no picnic to be sure. I took his advice to heart. My day on the road had ended.

I have found haven in a local inn and I am waiting out the storm with a warm room, a cold beer, and a good book. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

40,000 Hits As of Today!!

Five thousand hits in the past two months alone. Thanks to all of my loyal readers and to those who have just tuned in.

Ain't That America?

Dateline: Madison, Wisconsin
Another early start to the day and I departed the eastern suburbs of Columbus, Ohio at dawn and drove west on Interstate 70 through downtown and across rural eastern Ohio, passing Springfield and Dayton, the birthplace of American aviation where Orville and Wilbur lived and worked their entire lives. It was another day of good weather as I set my sights, first for the broad expanses of central and northwestern Indiana, with the hope that I could make it through downtown Chicago before the evening rush hour began.

I crossed into Indiana at Richmond, where my family lived briefly when I was in high school. I stopped for gas and took a quick drive around town and was surprised just how little it has changed in 45 years. Then again, nothing seems to change quickly out here. That is what I like about the Midwest. As I drove west toward Indianapolis, which has, perhaps in spite of itself, grown into a major metropolitan area which even hosted the most recent Super Bowl, I could not seem to shake lyrics penned by native son, John Mellencamp:

Ah but ain't that America for you and me
Ain't that America somethin' to see baby

I didn't notice any little pink houses as I drove deeper into Indiana, but I think I know what Mellencamp was talking about when he wrote this song. It doesn't get much more heartland America than this. On this trip I have gone in search of an America I remember from growing up here in the Midwest. I am finding it in every direction I look.

I breezed through Chicago under sunny skies which turned overcast the farther north I drove. I ran into some light snow as I passed around Milwaukee and arrive here in Madison as night fell and the temperature began to drop. After two days of pleasant driving, I am afraid I am in for a rough patch tomorrow.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Into the Heartland

Dateline: Columbus, Ohio
What a pleasant day to be on the road! I left home in suburban Maryland around 6:30am this morning and was able to get around Washington, DC before the rush hour and the insufferable Beltway traffic could slow me down. The dawn was breaking and today's weather report all the way to my day's destination - Columbus, Ohio - was in my favor. The traffic thinned and I passed Frederick, Hagerstown, and Cumberland and continued out into the mountains of western Maryland (such a diverse landscape for such a small state) and across the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania below Pittsburg. The day rushed by quickly, and after an enjoyable lunch on the outskirts of Wheeling, West Virginia, I was crossing the Ohio River for the last 100 miles to Columbus. It feels good to be back in the Midwest where I spent most of my life before I headed off to college.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Setting Off for the Northern Edge

In just a few days I am setting off on a long road trip that will take me from my home here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC to North Dakota and the the eastern fringe of the Great Plains. My trip will take me across the northern tier of Maryland and up through the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania before I cross the northern panhandle of West Virginia and the Ohio River at Wheeling. Then it is off across central Ohio and Indiana as far as Indianapolis before turning north and west toward Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and on to the Twin Cities and the Mississippi River. The last leg of the trip will take me across central Minnesota to Fargo, and eventually north to Grand Forks, on the Red River of the North just 75 miles below the Canadian border and 120 miles south of Winnipeg.

Although I have been to the Midwest many times in recent years, and in western North Dakota five years ago, I have not been to the northeastern part of the state in over forty years. In 1970 a good friend from Milwaukee and I set out from that city on a road trip that would take us on the same route I will follow through Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota.

So I am looking forward to this new adventure. I know it is a gamble with the weather this time of year. I'll just hope for the best. I will be checking in periodically with reports from the road.