2

RoadVenture With Dad – A Day in Northern Virginia

Since I am home for more than the requisite amount of time to hang out in my bed or with my family, my dad and I decided to take a day trip to see some local sights neither of us had seen, much like our national park road trips all through my high school years. Believe it or not, there are several (okay, plenty) of National Park Service places within driving distance that I have not yet seen, so today we set out to explore some sites in northern Virginia. Originally, Dad wanted to do a 2 or 3 day driving trip, across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, then down the peninsula to cross the Bay Bridge Tunnel and wind up in Norfolk, then hit up Richmond before heading home. I’m actually glad we didn’t, because apparently a tractor-trailer crashed off the Bay Bridge and into the water.

So that happened.

https://i1.wp.com/www.fxva.com/includes/content/images/media/great-falls---low-res1.gif

Great Falls Park, via the Fairfax County Board of Tourism. We saw the falls, but not the greenery.

Anyway, at about 11:00 AM, after about 1 hour and 20 minutes of driving, we ended up at Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia. There was a little visitor center, but ultimately, not a lot to see there. Fortunately, it was not too cold to be outside, but it wasn’t warm enough to take a stroll into the park either, especially if we were going to see some other parks. It is probably a much better sight to see in the summer, with all the trees and whatnot.

http://www.copper.org/applications/architecture/awards/2013/Re-Roof-Filene-Cente/

Wolf Trap Farm Park is America’s only national park devoted solely to the performing arts. This is pretty much all I saw of it. Photo from Copper.org

From there, we drove through what is probably one of the ritziest neighborhoods I’ve ever seen (I’m talking giant mansions with golden gates), we ended up at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. Again, since it was the middle of the week in the winter, not a lot going on. There were a few other people hanging around at Great Falls, but we were literally the only people at Wolf Trap; it was so deserted that I actually had to go up to whatever buildings I could find so I could get someone to give me the stamp for my National Parks Passport. Eventually, I found someone who worked in admin to unlock the ranger station for me, and I didn’t want to impinge on his time so we left quickly.

After lunch at a totally shi-shi mall in Tyson’s Corner (I’m talking Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, BCBG Max Azria) and a few geocaches in Falls Church, we decided to head to Arlington to see the Arlington National Cemetery. It was only 3 PM and the cemetery was open until 5, but we were planning on meeting the rest of the family for dinner in Rockville on our way home, so we went anyway. Here’s a tip: get directions before you go. We ended up driving into a restricted military area near the Pentagon, and almost did it again a few miles down the road. Eventually, a helpful man in uniform gave us better directions than Google Maps (thanks a mill, Siri), and we made it to the cemetery. And even more remarkably, despite having served in the military and lived within driving distance of the cemetery for 98% of his life, my dad had never been before.

Fortunately, it had gotten a little warmer, but unfortunately, since we arrived at 3:45, things were actually beginning to shut down a little. At the cemetery visitor’s center, the ranger told us that the Robert E. Lee Memorial (Arlington House) was actually closing at 4:30, so it would be tough to make it there and have time to see anything. So instead, we just moseyed around the cemetery. I felt bad about having to rush, especially when we had to stand on the curb and wait for a funeral cortege to pass by, but it was needed. At least we got to look at some of the cemetery, which is incredible to see; acres and acres of identical white gravestones with red and green wreaths propped up against each one, in perfect straight lines. We also got to see the graves of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and their two children who died in infancy. They are buried around an Eternal Flame; I didn’t feel right taking pictures, but it was a very emotional monument and I am sure that anyone who was alive during the Kennedy presidency would definitely feel something (I wasn’t, and I sure did). I would have liked to have seen more, including Arlington House, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the LBJ Memorial Grove, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but I’ll definitely come back someday to take a second visit. A bit of trivia: only two presidents are buried at the cemetery (JFK and William Howard Taft).

If you’re in the DC area, definitely check out Arlington Cemetery, it’s hallowed, spiritual, and worth paying to park.

http://vva.org/blog/documentaries/arlington-national-cemetery-doc/

Arlington National Cemetery: a neat freak’s delight. Photo from Vietnam Veterans of America.

Four graves.jpg

Graves of the Four Kennedys and the Eternal Flame, from wikimedia commons

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19

In Elyria, Or What You Will

So, today my dad and I took off from Baltimore at about 2 PM EST to head back to Madison, and made it to Elyria, Ohio, which is about 45 miles away from the halfway point between the two cities. One of my friends commented that it would be the perfect place for a production of Twelfth Night, which sounds fun. Right now, however, I’m experiencing the performance of my father sleeping nearby, occasionally singing a verse of his favorite song, “The Old Gray Mare,” and now a verse of “Mah Nishtanah.”

I totally can’t remember what this post was originally going to be about.

I’ll probably remember when I’m back in Madison.

Hopefully I’ll also remember where I put my missing Latin shoe.

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From Isla del Encanto to Charm City USA

I am now in Baltimore, so that happened.

This past week has gone by super fast and it’s only now that I realize that I haven’t chronicled anything in my life for a week or so. I’ve spent most of the past week being tired (and now, for some reason, a little sick, possibly due to a drafty house or my dad’s driving) so I’ll do the best I can to keep it from being completely lost to memory.

Thursday, July 31: Actual date of Ponce trip, amended from the previous day. I woke up and Isabel’s apartment was so quiet that I thought she might have gone to work, so I prepared to have another lazy day until she called me. Then Axel emerged, and apparently Isabel had been working in the back room the whole time and was waiting for me to get up! We were fixing to go to Ponce, just the two of us, due to Riley not answering my texts or calls.

We were just about to get into the car when we realized that I’d forgotten a swimsuit and towel, and just as I had retrieved those items and was locking Isabel’s front door, Riley calls and asks what we’re up to. A short but hilarious conversation later, we were on our way to pick him up in Carolina for the day’s adventures.

The drive to Ponce was about two hours long, through an amazing variety of landscapes. The tropical greenery of San Juan transformed into the arid, barren mountains of central Puerto Rico; from jungle to desert, practically. We drove past several scary-looking bush fires that may or may not have been natural, who knows.

Arriving in Ponce, Riley immediately commented that it felt hotter; it actually did, strangely enough. We walked to the Plaza las Delicias and had a reasonably-priced lunch there. For the evening, we thought it would be fun to explore the nearby Bio Bay (the one with the bacteria that light up when you touch the water) so Isabel went off with her phone to make the arrangements while Riley and I took a walk around town and had some coffee. We met up with Isabel soon after at a bookstore, where she informed us that even though we probably would not be able to swim in the bay, we could definitely get an inexpensive boat tour. Before that, though, we explored town some more and found a geocache; Isabel’s first ever, and it was hilarious watching her get so excited. We tried another one, but it led us to this awesome art-garden-park thing with massive light-up sculptures so it wasn’t too bad of a walk. On the way back to the car, we saw some adorable stray puppies and watched them play.

The earlier hustle and bustle of Ponce was gone, as were we, off to Lajas, in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. An hour after leaving Ponce, we reached La Parguera in Lajas, which seemed like a cross between a backpacker’s stop and the Catskills. Apparently, Lajas is not a well-known destination outside of Puerto Rico, so it was likely that Riley and I were the only two Americans in town. At the docks, we got tickets for $8 on a Bio Bay tour boat, with about 100 or so of our closest and loudest friends. The trip itself only took an hour, and the bio bay was cool with the glowing water, but what was more impressive was the lightning storm off in the distance and the bright, bright stars overhead, especially when the boat stopped and turned off its lights in the middle of the Bio Bay so we could better see the water. Four guys jumped from the top of the ship and swam around, which was pretty cool, and despite learning the contrary, we could indeed, if we wanted, get into our swimsuits and jump in the water. Well, if we didn’t mind about a four-story jump followed by a climb back up. We seriously considered jumping but with the possibility of broken glasses (Isabel), lost contacts (me), and broken bones/drowning/not being able to swim back to the ship (all three of us, I suppose) we just watched from above. It would have been cool to swim in it though. When we docked, the guys who jumped were passing a hat to collect money, which was kind of expected.

By this point we were a little hungry. Riley tried tiburon, or shark, in a sandwich, to which I said, “no thanks, but enjoy” and Isabel and I shared some fish nuggets, mofongo (mashed plantain balls), and amarillos (sweet plantains). It was about 11 PM at this point, so we phoned it in and I drove us back to San Juan, where we arrived after 1 AM and zzzz….

Friday, August 1st: Slept in (well deserved) and said goodbye to Isabel and Axel to head over to Riley’s place in Carolina for Phase II of Operation Puerto Rico Vacation. Riley’s place in Carolina was quite different from Isabel’s in San Juan, but as soon as I dropped my stuff off and changed, we were out to Isla Verde for a night of dancing and debauchery. I practiced a bit of my ballroom moves but mostly danced to the hits of the 70s and 80s. It was basically a Bar Mitzvah without the torah reading. That was only the beginning of the night; the remaining details I cannot divulge but suffice it to say that it was 4:30 when we got back to Riley’s.

Saturday, August 2nd: Tropical Storm Bertha decided to pay a visit so it was mostly an indoors type of day. It was an adventure staying at Riley’s apartment, but after one night there I suggested we take a meta-vacation and check into a hotel back in San Juan so we could really enjoy the last few days together. So we headed over to the Doubletree San Juan for a vacation-within-a-vacation, regrouped, and had dinner at Plaza de las Americas, the biggest mall in the Caribbean. I’m not a huge mall fan, but it was very sleek as far as malls go.

Sunday, August 3rd: Back on the adventure trail! They said, “go west, young man,” so go west we did, along the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Our goal was to get to Isabela or Aguadilla. We did a few stops along the way, both for geocaches: first, at a lookout point in Quebradillas that we later learned is one of the premier lookout points on the island, with mountains in one direction and beach in the others, and second, in Isabela, at a giant stone carving of a man which actually turned out to be not-so-ancient. We turned north slightly and took a smaller road through the tiny, windy town of Isabela and ended up on Villa Pesquera, a rocky beach. The waves breaking along the rocks were incredible to see, as well as the tide pools and the huge crabs hanging out in them (didn’t get too close though!) At a swimming beach nearby, Riley went for a snorkel while I relaxed in the shallow water and the low, gentle waves, protected by the rocky spit that absorbed most of the impact of the crashing water.

After maybe an hour there, we drove towards Aguadilla, where Isabel’s favorite Thai restaurant is. We arrived at the place only to find that due to the tropical storm delaying a shipment of supplies, they had limited options, so we backtracked to the next best option, Golden Crown. Cultural (con)fusion notwithstanding, it was a really good Chinese place, despite being in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which is as far from China as you can get. Although not getting to see Aguadilla proper, we headed back to San Juan after a day full of fun.

Sunday, August 4th: Final day of the trip 😦 although I would get to see my parents that night, so 🙂 for that. Wakeup was early so we could check out of the hotel and I could drop Riley off. Before I had to return the car, though, I went on a little adventure of my own.

I drove east, picking out a geocache near El Yunque National Rainforest as my goal. Isabel said it should be less than an hour, and indeed it was, only forty minutes from busy San Juan to the middle of the rainforest. It was raining heavily the whole way there, but as soon as I paid the entry fee and parked at El Portal, the visitor center at the entrance to the forest, the sky cleared up and the sun came out. Due to a landslide, most of the park was closed, but the visitor center offered great views and geographically we were in the rainforest, so, I’ll take it. I found the geocache and after a short walk around, went further east to see what Puerto Rico had to offer.

I found myself in Luquillo, known for some of the prettiest beaches on the island, and it did not disappoint. It was Monday but it felt like a lazy Sunday as I rolled in, parked, took a walk, and had a leisurely final breakfast of huevos rancheros, iced coffee, and crepes with banana and Nutella. After finding a geocache at a nearby park and mailing postcards from the Luquillo Post Office, which wasn’t even on the map, I headed back to San Juan to return the car and return home. Suffice it to say that it was not a fun experience at all, and by the time I got to the airport I was good and ready to get back home, which I did shortly after midnight, San Juan-Charlotte-Baltimore.

August 5, 6, 7: Basically, nothing…a few days of actual vacation-like vacation, doing nothing important and eating home-cooked food. Highlights of my time here have been getting to see my sister and bake challah with her and my dad; getting a tour of the neighborhood with my mom and dad and seeing how it’s changed since January; taking a quick jaunt to Washington; and getting my teeth cleaned and hair cut. Exciting stuff, I know.

But it’s good to be home, even though in one week and two days I’ll be back in action and back in Madison. I’ll have my parents with me for a few days, but then it’s goodbye summer, hello 2nd year of PhD. Also, hello to my newest visitor, my first from Tunisia.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Czech Slovak Fest

Finally, almost a week after returning, I have a moment to compress and express my thoughts on the Czech Slovak Fest in an episode of…

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Czech-Slovak Fest

 

Official proof I was there.

Official proof I was there.

One day this past semester, I mentioned to an APO friend, Liz, that I was part Slovak. I don’t know how the topic came up – I think we were talking about languages – and she mentioned Phillips and the Czech Slovak Fest happening in June.

My first thought: “Awesome! I wanna go!”

My second thought: “Wait. Where’s Phillips?”

I asked my mom’s friend, who lives in the central part of the state, about two hours away, where Phillips was, and she said that it was “a small town, somewhere north of us, I think.” I looked it up on the map, and little did I know, but it is four hours north of Madison. That’s a lot of driving for one day. My parents said that I could spent the night there if I got tired, but after looking up info on the town – population 343 – it didn’t seem like the most fun place to spend the night. Plus, through the three days of the festival, the only interesting things were happening on Saturday, so I set out relatively early in the morning to make the trek up to northern Wisconsin.

Usually I can shave some time off of my drive, but even I was worried when my GPS said I’d be in for four hours of driving, each way. There are two ways to get up there: taking the superhighway through Stevens Point/Wausau, or taking a more scenic route through the Dells and a few rural counties – Clark and Taylor – that I hadn’t been to. To my benefit, I loaded a few geocaches for each of those counties, plus Price (where Phillips is) in case I hit a dead zone.

I left a little later than I wanted and thought that I could make it at least halfway without stopping…but not so much. My eyes started drooping around Dells, so I pulled off for a Starbucks. This is the first time I’ve seen the Dells in the summer, and it was surprisingly crowded. Once armed with coffee, I hit the road again as the scenery got more and more rural. Surprisingly, outside of a small area near Necedah, I had great cell phone reception, even while stopped for a train in some little town I can’t remember. I don’t think I ever saw a sign for Clark County, but pretty soon I was in Taylor County, passing through the adorable town of Colby. In Medford, I made my first stop, to grab a nearby geocache so I could check Taylor County off my list; for some reason, I missed Clark. Oh well. When I saw the Price County sign, I knew I was getting close, and after four full hours, I arrived at Phillips High School and the festival.

My $2 entry fee got me a nifty button and a festival guide. They were selling Czech and Slovak treats in the cafeteria, but it was mostly pork and thereby uninteresting to me. I did, however, enjoy the display posters of Slovaks and Czechs in Wisconsin; I’m a sucker for posters.

As I was about to enter the gym, which held the craft fair, I saw my friend Liz, dressed in a traditional kroj, along with her mom. I got a cute picture with her, but unfortunately, I had missed her pageant performance. Those events had happened in the morning. Whoops. At least I got to enjoy the craft fair in the gym.

There were a surprising number of actual Czech and Slovak souvenirs in the craft fair. I was hoping to practice my Slovak, and I managed to overhear two ladies speaking it at one of the booths, so I greeted them in Slovak to their surprise. We had a short conversation in Slovak before switching over to English. I told them my story and they told me theirs. Before I left to see the other exhibits, one of the ladies pressed something into my hand, “here, take it. For being such a good Slovak speaker.”

I looked down, and it was Horalky, a delicious chocolate wafer cookie treat. YUM.

After that, I poked around some more, and went into the auditorium to watch some performers. It wasn’t too impressive, but the girl in the kroj playing the tuba wasn’t too bad; I’m just not too into tuba, so I left, to find the library. In the library, they had all these computers with Ancestry.com databases loaded up on them, and though it took awhile, I managed to find some really interesting stuff, including several census records with my family, and the names of my great-great-grandparents, Israel and Annie. I got ahold of my mom and dad later, who told me that they didn’t know his name, but they thought that her name was Bluma. However, people had English and Hebrew names at that time, so it’s very possible that Annie was her English name. I also found my great-grandfather’s army draft card. According to the physical description on the card, we looked a lot alike!

The school-part of the festival ended, so I gassed up the car, got a Subway sandwich (for a town of 343, the fact that they had a Subway is pretty impressive) and found a geocache, before heading to the VFW Post for some beer tasting and chatting with other townsfolk. I had a really nice conversation in Slovak and English with Ivan and Linda, a couple visiting from Neenah, about our trips to Slovakia, the things we saw, and the foods we ate. There was a polka band playing, and some older couples were dancing. It was cute. However, it was getting late, and I wanted to hit the road before dark, so I left after 7 hours of fun.

Coming back, I decided to take the highway route to see something different. I’m glad I did; even the highway wasn’t as well lit as I thought it was, and I couldn’t imagine how dark the countryside must have been. I stopped in Stevens Point for some food, and arrived home at about 1:00 in the morning.

In conclusion, though I didn’t have that many expectations for the festival, I think that it was probably worth the trip, just to see something different. I was hoping to speak more Slovak, but the fact that I spoke any was a bonus. It was a good excuse to get out of town for the day, even if my legs were exhausted for two whole days.

1

How To Get On My Bad Side On A Road Trip

I like adventures as much as the next person, and nothing says adventure like a road trip. I can never refuse an offer to get up and go somewhere.

But if I’m the one doing the driving (which I normally am), you better follow my rules of the road.

1. Don’t play your own music if/when I’m playing mine.

I don’t really care if you play your own music, but at least have the courtesy to ask, rather than just turn it on to try to overpower my music. And if it’s really bad, I have the right to claim it’s making me tired. Which brings me to number two.

2. If I’m doing all the driving, we are taking breaks when I say so.

People who don’t drive don’t understand how tiring driving  is. Driving is fun but extremely tiring, even if you’re the Energizer Bunny. Which is why you never see him drive. If it means that we have to stop every twenty minutes so that I can stretch or find a bathroom or sit and not be in motion, we’re stopping. Drivers need breaks. And no, you’re not driving my car unless you have a license, insurance, and the ability to get me a better car should you damage mine.

3. If you volunteer to navigate, navigate.

Yeah, I do some research before road trips, but if it’s somewhere I’ve never been before, there’s the possibility I can make a wrong turn somewhere. I have a GPS on my iPhone, and you probably do too. Don’t offer to do it and then fall asleep or sit there doing nothing.

4. If I ask you to navigate, navigate.

Sometimes you just need some direction. If you’re sitting in the passenger seat and my phone is right there, take a look at it and tell me if we’re going in the right direction. And don’t make me ask twice. Which brings me to number five.

5. If I ask you to stop doing something, stop doing it.

This list of activities includes horseplay, making horse noises, sticking your head/face/camera out of the window, having a too loud conversation, arguing/yelling, or just being annoying. Leading up to one of my least favorite things.

6. Never play with the windows.

I don’t care if we’ve been in the car for two hours and you’re bored; you should have brought a book. Putting the windows up and down is annoying enough; at least ask me before going ahead and doing it. Sometimes people don’t like getting a blast of cold air in the face. My parents always used to tell me to leave the door closed in the summer because we’re not paying to air-condition the front yard, and though I hate to admit it, they were right. If you want A/C, I’ll put it on. If you want windows down, we’ll do it that way. But we’re not doing both; it’s harmful enough to the environment as it is, and I don’t need you to make me feel guiltier. If you insist on having the window down, the A/C goes off. And if I ask you to put it back up, I’m not trying to bake you alive, I just want to put the A/C back on.

7. Don’t spill in my car.

Okay, so accidents happen, but my car is pretty new and I’d like to keep this one pretty at least for a little while. Just be careful.

8. Don’t offer seats in my car to people.

This car’s not your car, this car is my car. I operate it, I pay for the gas. If we’re going somewhere and you have a friend who wants to tag along, ask me. Most likely I’ll say yes and I won’t even ask them to pay. But also understand if I say no. Don’t promise someone a ride and then tell me.

9. I am not your personal car service.

I understand if we’re going shopping and you want to go into stores you see, or you have to pick something up, but I’m not going to drop off every single person anywhere they please. If there are a group of people in the car, and we’re heading home, remember that I’m tired and I want to get home too. I don’t care if you want to get home in time to watch the basketball game. If you want me to leave earlier, don’t ask when we’re there, ask me earlier than that. I don’t care if you’re going to be late to meet your friend; I’m not going to risk an accident or a speeding ticket for you. Actually, don’t take a road trip with me and make plans back in town with another friend on the same night.

10. Under no circumstances should you unbuckle your seat belt, open the door, or exit the car until I’m parked and the car is off.

This isn’t just a road-trip-with-me rule; this is a rule everyone should know. You can jump on or off the back of a truck in the Andes, or a bus in Israel, because I’ve done both, but never, ever exit the car until the vehicle is in a fully stopped and off position. You’d think that this was common sense, but I had to learn to tell people this, and I learned the hard way. One of my housemates in college managed to break rules 8, 9, and 10 in a single night. He and I were going to a mixer at Mount Holyoke College, the girls’ school in South Hadley, about 15-20 minutes down the road from Amherst. Before we left, he told me that we’d be giving his friend Norman a ride.

And yes, I believe that is his real name, but I don’t care about this one. Not only did he tell me we were doing this, a) I did not know who Norman was, b) who was going to take Norman back, and c) Norman wasn’t even coming to the house, my housemate had offered for me to pick him up at his place, which was in the middle of nowhere, and he didn’t even give us a decent address or directions.

We finally find him, he gets in the car, and barely says a word to either of us. We drive in relative awkward silence down to Mount Holyoke. I turn into a parking lot, and before I stop the car – in fact, before I even decelerate, I was going at least double-digit miles per hour, I hear a click, his seat belt is off, and without even saying thank you, he jumps out of the car like it’s on fire, slams the door, and takes off running towards the library. Turns out he wasn’t going to the mixer at all, he needed to go study or meet friends or something there and didn’t even have the courtesy to ask me. For some reason, I wasn’t tipped off by the fact that he brought a backpack to a mixer – maybe he kept his wallet in there? Anyway, my housemate starts to do the same, and I grab his knee with my free hand, and yell using his full name, “don’t you dare get out of this car until I am in a parking space and the motor is turned off.”

I’m normally very calm and forgiving, but I spent the next few minutes actually shouting at him while leaning on his knees to keep him from leaving. Since he had a brain – and needed a ride home – he sat and listened to me yell my head off about every single way he fucked this evening up before we even made it inside the mixer. I had half a mind to actually take him right back home, but then I realized that I couldn’t take away his allowance and hey, I wanted to go to the mixer too. But he did apologize, he learned his lesson, and we became closer friends after that. The only reasons I gave him another shot are because he did some really nice things for me, he bought me a full tank of gas even though he didn’t need to, it’s hard to stay angry at someone you have to live with and see every day who could potentially turn the rest of the house against you, and overall he’s a pretty great guy, and I knew that social skills were not part of his expertise.

To this day, when I am driving, if I even hear a click of a seat belt before the car has stopped moving, you are getting yelled at without warning and are in danger of becoming banned from my car.

On that note, let’s go and have some fun!

 

 

 

4

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

On today’s episode of Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin, my friend Rahul joined me in an adventure to see four new counties plus a whole new state.

That’s So Jacob Presents: Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 4: Traipsing through Trempealeau with Minnesota On the Side

File:WI Trempealeau.png

Trempealeau is in red, with Winona right beside it.

I rate today’s expedition somewhere between a success and a failure. In terms of success, we hiked a mountain in beautiful weather, made it to a brand new state for both of us, and had tons of fun. In terms of failure, however, no geocaches were found and the drive back was probably one of the worst storms I’ve ever seen.

Rahul and I have wanted to do an out-of-Madison trip for awhile now, and since there’s “no day but today,” I pooh-poohed the monsoon-like weather forecast and decided that I wanted to see the Mississippi River and finally add Minnesota to the list of states I’ve visited; unless we’re talking about age, 40 is a better number than 39. Wisconsin has oodles of state parks but today I chose to start in Perrot State Park in Trempealeau.

We got a pretty good morning start, leaving Rahul’s place at about 8:30 AM. Some friends of his were going to join us but they all bailed, which turned out to be nice because it was a great time for us two to get closer. Leaving Madison, we had gorgeous weather, and I thought that maybe, maybe the weather forecasters had made a huge mistake. We took a Dunkin’ Donuts break in Wisconsin Dells, and from there, drove through two counties I’d never seen before: Monroe County and Trempealeau County before arriving at our destination at 12 noon.

Trempealeau, Wisconsin, is a tiny, tiny town of about 1600 people and three decent-sized buildings. The park is right on the Mississippi; driving up to it, we raced the train running along the road. I saw a sign that read “fee area,” so we parked near a small restaurant and walked into the park, stopping to read about Perrot’s Post. We met some bikers who showed us a map and several different hikes we could do, each about 45 minutes. They recommended Brady’s Bluff, but we were right at the trailhead for the Perrot Ridge Trail so we started on that one.

The trail was sunny, muggy, and buggy. Early on, we found a fallen tree suspended beside the trail, and Rahul went and walked across it. I was not so courageous, since my shoes were older with less traction. I got up on the log, which was covered in moss, and let go for barely a second before I came crashing down. Fortunately, I have good balance so I landed on my feet. I tried it one more time but ended up just doing the sloth thing and hanging off the log.

The rest of the hike was pretty steep uphill, but the reward was plentiful. At the top, we were greeted with a view of the Mississippi floodplain on one side, and on the other, the river and the town of Winona, Minnesota in the distance. I hadn’t had any cell phone service since Wisconsin Dells, but atop the mountain I got enough bars to FaceTime my dad in Ocean City. On the way down, we carved our names into some sandstone. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail, it was starting to get ominously cloudy, so I left it up to Rahul to decide whether we were done after a little under two hours of hiking, or if we wanted to do another trail. He voted for another trail, but we didn’t make it very far before it started pouring. Fortunately, we were at a juncture where the trail went back down to the road, and we missed most of the storm due to being in the dense, aromatic forest. It was a long walk back to the car though, and we were just about out of luck, resigned ourselves to getting soaked when I flagged down a truck. A friendly local couple named Rob and Robin, who had seen us arrive at the park earlier in the day, gave us a much needed and appreciated lift back to the car.

We still had plenty of daylight left (well, more like day-mist-fog-cloud cover), so I decided that since we were so close to Minnesota that we could see it from the mountaintop, we should drive over the border just to say we were there.

So we did, and now I officially have been to 40 states. Wahoo!

Over the border, the first town we ended up in was Winona. Winona is a pretty little town, there was not that much there, but it was a Sunday afternoon and kind of gross outside so maybe people were just chilling elsewhere. I looked for a geocache or two but couldn’t find any (boo 😦 ) but we got to enjoy lunch at a lovely little cafe, the kind you expect to find in a small town, probably one of the few local survivors of the Great Burger King/McDonald’s/Wendy’s/KFC purge of the 1990s. We happened to walk in at the start of a violin/ukulele concert by some local kids and teenagers, so we enjoyed that while we ate. The kids were really good on the violins, and this one girl did an awesome rendition of “So Happy Together” by the Turtles on ukulele which was really something else. I recorded most of it and sent it to my mom, who loved it. After we finished lunch, we were briefly caught in the rain, but it was an otherwise uneventful ride back to Madison.

Oh, and next time I go to Minnesota, I will be highly disappointed if there are no ukulele players heralding my arrival.

“welcome, to minnesota…we’re not north dakota…”

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin – Episode 1: Green Bay For a Day

Today was Sunday and since I didn’t have anything planned other than shopping and maybe homework, I thought I’d have an adventure.

So I went to Green Bay for the day.

It was pretty uneventful, but at least I got to see more of Fond du Lac County, and three other counties (Winnebago, Outagamie, and Brown) for the first time.

My first stop was Fond du Lac, mostly because I needed gas. But then I looked at the geocaching app and there were SO MANY caches in the area I had to at least pick up a few. My next stop was in Green Bay itself. I drove around the downtown area. It seemed like a small town. I saw Lake Michigan from the road. I called my dad, who was shocked to hear about where I was, and told me that the Packers were in San Francisco, so no game today. Also, it was a Sunday, so things were quiet anyway.

I found Lambeau Field, home of the Packers, and it was basically empty, so I drove right into the parking lot. I walked around taking a few pictures of things to prove I was there, and then found a geocache before heading home.

Next, I hit up Appleton to get a find in Outagamie County. All I saw of Appleton were suburbs, unless it’s just a city of suburbs, in which case, I saw everything. I had a croissant and iced coffee at THE Appleton Starbucks (okay, I think there were about four in the town) and spent too long reading there, and then looking for a place to get a quick bite as it was getting dark.

Having found none, I headed off to Oshkosh to get a find in Winnebago County. It was sunset, and I also wanted to hit up Target, so I found the Oshkosh Target right off the highway. I went in, realizing that a) I desperately needed the bathroom, b) I wasn’t quite sure what I needed, c) if I was going to look for a cache, I didn’t want a car full of stuff, and d) it was getting really, really dark. So I skipped out of Target after only using their bathroom, and looked on my phone for a close, easy geocache to round out the day. I found one in someone’s front yard, but it was a lock box and I looked awfully suspicious trying desperately to open the lock with my iPhone as a flashlight, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, in an unfamiliar city, after dark, and after a few tries went back to the car. I pointed myself towards the next nearest one, and it turned out to be a pretty standard micro in a very well-lit location (outside a rather quiet bar), which is what I wanted all along.

Then, of course my annoying GPS tells me to take a smaller road back to the highway, so I drive through some backwater Winnebago County for awhile, in the pitch-black, super scared. When I’m back on the highway, I get a phone call from a friend, and then my dad, which got me back to Madison, to the Super Target in Verona, actually, only to find out that it closed an hour ago. Damn. But the Metcalfe’s is open all night, so I went there instead and bought expensive groceries and still didn’t get home until 1 in the morning.

All in all, not the worst. I completed my mission of having finds in 3 new counties, and I even found a total of 10 caches, which was nice. Hopefully my schedule will allow me to do more adventures and see more of wonderful, wonderful Wisconsin.