Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Alaska Trip Day 2: Kettering, OH to Plymouth, MN

"Darn it, Chris! When are you going to get to Alaska, or even to Canada? Do you really think anyone cares about Illinois and Iowa? Talk about a buzz kill. You know everyone wants to see your Alaska photos, yet here you are talking about stupid Illinois and even stupider Iowa. What the hell?"

You see...here's the thing. If we were only interested in Alaska, we wouldn't have driven the whole way there. Maybe we would have flown to Edmonton or Vancouver and driven to Alaska from there, bypassing the 2,000-mile-wide prairie that lies in between the Appalachians and the Canadian Rockies. (That's probably a fair compromise for those of you who want to drive the Alaska Highway, but aren't interested in a 10,000-mile road trip.) But that's not how we roll. We like wide open spaces, and we have fun on all of our drives, even ones through Iowa. But perhaps most importantly, going through each day of the trip individually and in detail is the best way to portray to you just how long of a drive this really was.

So, with that, sit back and enjoy the ride! We'll get to Alaska eventually. I promise.

Alaska Trip, Day 2 (Fri Jun 25): 801 miles; 12 hr 9 min

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Except for an interesting hill here and there, the scenery won't change much between here and, say, British Columbia. But that's okay. That's the reason we wanted to take a different route going north - to make these drives as interesting as possible. (And also so I can visit more new counties along the way.)


It actually worked out well that we got an hour ahead by driving to Kettering on Day 1, because that gave us extra time for "dilly-dallying" on Day 2. Most of the "dilly-dallying" came in Iowa; about the only interesting thing we did in Illinois was to meet another Penn Stater, Jeff Frame, for lunch in Urbana. Jeff was actually the second of five distinct groups of friends or family we stopped to see throughout the trip. We take pride in that we know people all over the country.

Quad Cities (Illinois/Iowa, along the Mississippi River)

Are the "Quad Cities" (which are actually five similarly-sized cities, not four) more associated with Illinois or Iowa? From what I've gathered, the correct answer is "neither", so I'll give the Quad Cities their own section. With that, I present to you...the Quad Cities!

So, I just thought this sign was interesting. Aren't the Quad Cities exciting???

We actually gave the Quad Cities our best shot. Sure, we could have taken the I-280 bypass around the southwest corner and seen absolutely nothing, but what fun would that have been? Instead, we took I-74 straight through the heart of the Quad Cities, and crossed what I thought was an interesting-looking bridge in the process.

That's the I-74 Bridge (yep...that's the name), originally built in 1935 and widened in 1959. I'm a sucker for old bridges, and I really like that Amber was able to get the "Welcome to Iowa" sign in the process. On top of that, crossing the Mississippi River is always a momentous occasion on a cross-country road trip.


I was actually kind of excited about Iowa. The only part of Iowa I've ever been to before is I-29 on the opposite end of the state. What does the rest of Iowa have to offer?

I'm going to hazard a guess and say that most people think Iowa is boring. Iowa itself probably thinks it's boring, which is why they (or somebody) felt the need to build something interesting along I-80.

Located just west of the Quad Cities on I-80 (Exit 284), it's the WORLD'S LARGEST TRUCKSTOP! This is the first of several "World's Largest" landmarks that we'll see along our trip. We don't purposely seek them out; they just seem to find us. Nonetheless, we had to stop. "World's Largest" things almost always disappoint, but this one was actually larger than I expected.

(We didn't get Mo the cow puppet in as many vacation photos as we would have liked, so just keep that in mind going forward.)

So, what do they have inside the WORLD'S LARGEST TRUCKSTOP? Well, it's probably exactly what you'd think it would be. Instead of one or two restaurants, they have a mall-sized food court. Instead of a small convenience store, they have a large convenience store. Instead of one souvenir stand in the corner, they have an entire section devoted to all things Iowa. Instead of a small section devoted to truck parts and accessories, they have a gigantic area devoted to trucking. Want to buy a super fancy chair for your truck? This is the place!

(I don't like posting pictures of me on my blog, but that's the price I pay by using Amber's pictures. We would have brought Mo the cow puppet inside, but we didn't want to get beaten up by one of the truckers.)

The rest of the drive through Iowa was - surprise! - very flat. But I do have some interesting things to say about it, such as that the Cedar Rapids city hall is on a small island in the middle of the Cedar River. No pictures, unfortunately.

We took the "Avenue of the Saints" highway through much of Iowa. The "Avenue" is a stretch of improved highway (divided highway with speed limit 65+ most of the way, I think) from St. Louis to St. Paul. Except for some traffic lights in Cedar Falls, the portion of the "Avenue" we took (I-80 to I-35 via I-380, US-218, and US-18) is basically interstate-fast. Of course, the problem with taking an interstate-like road is that, like with most interstates, you're not likely to see anything interesting. So, we took the business route through the town of Charles City and found this nice little city park.

The real reason we took the business route was to find a gas station, but that little detour worked out pretty well.

By the way, Amber took many more pictures than I am posting here, and she will be posting all of her web-quality pictures to a separate website (Flickr or Facebook or something) in due time. Once she does, I'll post a link here. In terms of the Charles City park, this means you'll get to see many more pictures of ducks.


How about that ominous backdrop of storm clouds behind the "Welcome to Minnesota" sign? Welcome to Minnesota...now PREPARE TO DIE!!!

During our lunch stop earlier in the day, Jeff said he was very jealous of us. Not because of the fact that were on vacation, but because the Storm Prediction Center had declared southern Minnesota to be of "Moderate Risk" for severe thunderstorms that day, including a chance of tornadoes. (Jeff is a storm chaser and was part of the VORTEX2 research project; his VORTEX2 photos can be found here.)

Our drive up I-35 through southern Minnesota proved to be very, very interesting. Not only did we drive straight through an impressive thunderstorm, but we heard tornado sirens! This was the first time I had ever heard tornado sirens, and it was kind of scary.

So, you're out driving, and there's a tornado in the area. Do you...
A) Keep driving and try to outrun the tornado.
B) Stay where you are and wait for the storm to pass.
C) Go storm chasing!

Despite being meteorologists, Amber and I have zero storm chasing experience, so option C would not have been a smart option. Instead, we chose option A - keep driving. According to radio reports, the tornado was south of us, and we were driving north, so I never really felt threatened. Besides, unless you're already in a secure location, staying put when you hear a tornado siren just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. "Hey, we're in a car, and there's a tornado coming our way. Let's stay put!" (That may make perfect sense if you're a storm chaser, but our Honda Civic isn't exactly the TIV 2.) I guess we could have gone to a gas station and taken shelter in a bathroom or something, but like I said, we already knew the tornado was south of us and that we were in the clear. My biggest fear was not the tornado, but actually car-damaging hail, which fortunately we did not have to experience. Here is a radar loop of the storms we drove through (h/t Nick W), for those of you who geek out over this sort of thing.

So, that's Day 2. Exciting! Tomorrow...Canada!


Jeff said...

Glad you had a great trip!

That was a good-looking supercell moving SE from Mankato. From what I can guess, it looks like you went through the forward flank of the storm, so the worst hail (and possible tornado) was initially to your west, then moved SE and ended up south of you.

Sometimes staying put when you hear sirens is a good idea. I know stories of unsuspecting motorists driving into tornadoes.

James Allen said...

Google Maps sometimes puts icons on the Navigation traffic map to show why slowdowns occur. I saw one once south of St. Augustine, and if you click, it displays some info.

Chris said...

You drove through Cedar Rapids, IA! That's the city I live in.. unfortunately. Alaska, someday.