For the first time since we started our road trip, we woke up early – well, eight o’clock was early by our standards. We stuffed some suspicious-looking muffins from the breakfast buffet into our pockets to eat on the road, but the coffee looked and smelled like tar, so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. We left it stewing on the burner for someone else to try.
My friend was on a mission to get to her hometown in Wisconsin because tonight was her high school reunion. I’ve never harboured a desire to show up at a high school reunion; I imagine it would turn out rather like ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion’ without the rich guy flying me off in a helicopter at the end. Nonetheless, my friend had a dress all picked out and ready to go, so we hit the road a little after eight with my friend at the wheel and Sprocket sprawled lazily across me in the back seat.
The badlands diminished in size and then disappeared completely as we sped along the interstate and pretty soon there was nothing but flat fields spreading out on either side of us. When I think of a road trip across America, this is what I think of – vast open spaces with almost nothing as far as the eye can see. It is very grand, austerely beautiful and absolutely deadly to drive through, as the unchanging scenery and the arrow-straight highway hypnotizes the eyes. Only the occasional silo, gleaming silver under the relentless sunshine, broke the monotony and gave us cause for discussion.
To keep ourselves awake, we switched on an audio book and were carried away into a fictional town filled with psychics and murder most foul. We stopped only to fill up the fuel tank and made good time to Fargo, where we dipped down south into Minnesota. This was Lake Country now and everything looked fresher and greener. Pretty little lakes of sparkling blue whipped by as we drove along 1-94.
I liked Minnesota; it had a sense of humour that was apparent from the road signs along the sides of the road, advising drivers to ‘Be Polite’ and ‘Be Kind.’ Sprocket approved too, rousing himself from my lap and gazing out the window at the passing towns.
I saw a sign for Brainerd and my thoughts flew instantly to Frances McDormand’s star turn as the Minnesotan police chief in the film Fargo. I couldn’t help myself, blurting out random lines like ‘the little guy was kinda funny-lookin’. My friend raised her eyebrows, then launched into a pitch-perfect Minnesota accent, so we switched off the audio book and chatted in dialect until our jaws ached from the effort and our sides ached from laughing at our silliness.
It took over four hours to cross Minnesota, at which point it was well past lunch time. After Minneapolis we started looking for a rest stop with a restaurant but the only signs we could see were for the usual fast food fare. “Well“, my friend said, “if we’re going to do fast food, let’s do it properly” so we pushed on through to Wisconsin in search of the fast food of her youth. Culver’s is a home-grown Wisconsin chain that fries just about everything in butter – I could feel my arteries harden just thinking about it, but the fries were heavenly and the frozen custard made us giddy with delight. Sprocket doesn’t normally eat people food, but on a road trip like this, rules don’t apply, so we got him his very own burger, minus the bun, and fed him bite-sized pieces to prolong his joy.
Armed with our frozen custards, we got back into the car and set off once more along 1-94, cutting south-east across Wisconsin. Lushly forested hills rose and fell along the way, and the sun hung low in the sky, finally setting in a haze of pink out the back window as we reached Wisconsin Dells.
As twilight began to glimmer, my friend realised there was no way were were going to make it in time for her reunion, so she got on the phone and made arrangements to meet up with her friends the following day. We turned off the highway and travelled the last 75 miles along back roads in complete darkness. It was almost midnight when we pulled up outside the farm, where we were greeted by my friend’s parents with hugs and smiles as big as their hearts. Sprocket got to meet his country cousin, Paddy, a golden retriever with a simple, happy way about him, while we were ushered into the farmhouse and stuffed full of the most delicious food and plied with old-fashioned cocktails served in highball glasses. We chatted until the wee small hours and stumbled deliciously tired into bed and fell asleep almost immediately.