Four States for the Price of One

I slept in just a tad, reveling in the last moments of my day off in Madison. I packed up and rolled out at about 7am, headed South by Southwest towards Iowa.

My nav was set to avoid interstates, now that I wasn’t fleeing in terror from tropical storms or slogging through major Metropoli along the Great Lakes shores. Perfect. I drifted through the rural towns of southwestern Wisconsin, honestly really enjoying the state more and more. It kinda looked like that America that’s supposed to be out there but is so elusive when you set out to find it.

The road took me pretty quickly down to the Iowa border and I passed into the state that played host for the vast majority of my day. On the eastern side the state seems a bit hilly, forested, and…bluffy, to coin a word. The road flowed through modest rock formations that had been carved by the rivers and streams that populate the area. It’s not a “breathtaking” kind of landscape, but like geographic comfort food. It just makes you happy to see it, and you feel welcomed by it. Weird.

As we moved westward, though, the state became a resident of the Great Plains. Everything flattened out and became less interesting. The farms got bigger and the windmills became more and more common. The crops, though, stayed the same. Pretty much all I’ve seen on this trip has been corn and (I believe) soybeans. I suppose some (or all) of the “soybean” crops could be canola beans. I don’t claim to be an expert. But the money around here, whether it’s subsidies, payouts, or just plain sales, is in those two crops. I’m beginning to understand why California is producing so much of the nation’s vegetable crops: no one else grows them. I’d be interested in learning if this is a pure economic decision (the gas pumps in Iowa, for example, have varying concentrations of ethanol content available), or is it a growing-season/suitability issue.

The other thing I noticed was that Iowa just basically disappears on Sunday. I went through town after town and saw virtually no-one. This was true for towns that straddled the main road that I was on, as well as a few towns that I detoured to scope out for food later in the day. I drove past house after house with kids’ bikes literally lying on their sides on the sidewalks and lawns, as if the Rapture had come and snatched up every kid with a bike helmet on. I didn’t see a single kid the whole time, though. It was almost creepy. More or less the same with adults. Businesses were closed. Food was not being served. Streets were deserted. Super weird. The exception was chain/franchise businesses, which maintain hours demanded by their corporate base. The culture around here, though, just seems to be that Sundays are sacred.

After my brief ride through Wisconsin, the vast majority of the day was spent traversing Iowa. I texted back and forth with a friend that recently moved to Iowa City to attend law school there. She’s been reporting on the pervasiveness of corn in the local lifestyles, and I saw several examples. Miles of corn fields, to start. I saw a sign for a (recently passed) sweet corn festival where these lunatics paid $5/head for “all you can eat corn.” I mean…isn’t living in Iowa pretty much “all you can eat corn”, 24/7? It sure looked that way to me. I also noted that the local gas chain is called the “Kum and Go”. Um, eww. As I pulled out (wink wink), I realized that I had just Kum and Gone on state route 69. The teenaged boy in me felt both exhilarated and dirty. So I pretty much just felt like a teenaged boy, I guess.

On the western edge of Iowa I encountered Sioux City. Its claim to fame seems to be that they have a Hard Rock Cafe and Casino! Eww. I am assuming that it’s a joint venture with a local tribe, but the whole area felt reminiscent of Erie, PA. I took a bridge over what I later was told was the Missouri confluence with the Big Sioux, and into South Sioux City, Nebraska, which looked even worse. Thankfully, this was the extent of my travel in Nebraska and I headed back across the bridge into Iowa, headed for points north.

I managed to get some sign photos for Iowa and Nebraska, but Minnesota (which came next) and South Dakota proved elusive. I passed a road sign pointing to a historic three-state boundary marker (think Three Corners), so. I braved a few miles on an unsteady gravel track to get to the marker, which sucked ass. But it was the best I got for Minnesota, so deal with it. I caught a nice South Dakota marker a bit later on a detour.

Regardless, I made a quick foray into Minnesota, then a few miles on to my final destination of Sioux Falls. I’ve been interested in Sioux Falls as a potential retirement spot. Surprise! It’s not. It looks like the downtown is going through a revitalization, and I did find a stellar tiki bar on the main drag. But the city itself seemed very generic. Lots of sprawl. Lots of meh homes. Lots of nothing. I did walk down to the eponymous Falls, though, and they were quite nice. I ran into a fellow motorcyclist who explained that the Big Sioux river was very low at the moment, and the stuff we were seeing wasn’t even normally visible. It was pretty cool. I grabbed some dinner, then tried out the skills of the tiki bartenders for a drink or two, and it was back to the hotel for sleep.

Sioux Falls was a bit of a let down, but the day’s ride was great. Looks like another 2 days for the 48-state loop, perhaps. Then maybe a day with my parents in Klamath, then home. Pretty much in the home stretch. And as Hurricane Henri is touching down in New England, I am counting my blessings that I was able to time my run up the east coast with just tropical storm remnants chasing me. Just a week or so later and I would’ve had to end the trip prematurely due to Henri. As it stands, a perpetually sunburned nose is the biggest hardship I’ve had to endure. I’ll take it.

Photos to come.

Starting Mileage: 59929
Ending Mileage: 60480
Daily Mileage: 551

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