I knew this would be my last big trip for a while. December proved to be pretty mild by us in Southern Wisconsin. With that being said, other parts of the Midwest were getting hit pretty hard. In November, I even ran into some winter weather when I was coming back from Thunder Bay. It was just a matter of time before we got hit with some significant winter weather. Regardless, the weather was becoming too unpredictable to make big trips.
The days are also short, so I can't visit as many courthouses in a day. That wouldn't be as much of a problem as I could get a few more hours of sleep and take the trips a bit slower. The biggest problem was that it was getting too cold to sleep in my car comfortably.
Now on top of all the issues with traveling in winter, there was another wildcard. Victoria is due in late February. The closer we come to the due date, the more critical it is for me to be around. I need to be ready to rush to the hospital if the baby decides to come a bit early.
To be honest, Victoria and I probably wouldn't have taken this trip if she didn't already buy plane tickets. We were both exhausted. She was exhausted from her pregnancy. I was exhausted from traveling so much. With that being said, we did want to see family and friends in Texas, so this trip was still important to us.
With our trips to Texas, Victoria usually flies, and I'll drive. I've been at my current job a bit longer than Victoria, so I have more banked up vacation. This allows me to take a few days off before and after Victoria does. I can use these extra days to take the long way to Texas and visit a bunch of courthouses along the way.
Lately, I've been thinking about different strategies to maximize my time out on the road. I want to visit as many counties as possible. The overlying idea I had with this trip was getting as much of Oklahoma done as possible. These counties were the furthest uncompleted counties away between Wisconsin and Texas. I was hoping I could avoid the chance of running into any winter weather. The further south I went, the hopefully less chance there'd be for winter weather.
I put together an itinerary and got ready to hit the road. The weather outside was pretty mild before I left.
My first order of business was to load up the car with everything, including Maya's stuff. Maya would be staying at my parents' house while we were done. My trunk was packed with Maya's stuff and Christmas presents.
On Sunday night, I drove 150 miles to my parents' house in Marshfield. I was initially going to spend the night and start first thing Monday morning. But I guess I caught a second wind of energy and decided to get a head start on my drive.
I ended up making it a rest stop near Austin, Minnesota, where I called it a night.
As I said earlier, sleeping in your car in the winter is a bit more of a pain. When I woke up, there was a bunch of ice on the inside of the windshield.
I hit the road and was soon in Iowa. The sunrise was pretty beautiful.
Since I was ahead of schedule, I figured I'd follow a line of unvisited counties down to Texas. Then, I'd visit as many counties as I could before it got dark. When I hit Missouri, I immediately exited I-35 to get on US-69.
When you visit as many counties as I do, you take all sorts of roads. I'll take anything from Interstates to US highways to backroads. I really have no business being on some roads, but my GPS thinks it's the most efficient route. Since I see many different roads in many different areas, I get to start comparing. Some states have good roads, and others are not so good.
I can say in my travels, Missouri's state primary highway system is probably one of the worst. I actually kind of cringe when I know I'll be taking a Missouri state highway. Many of their highways do not even have fog lines. I've seen better quality on other states' secondary highway systems.
This isn't saying Missouri as a state is bad. On the contrary, there's a lot of beautiful places to visit, and I enjoy my trips there. I just get nervous on certain roads since they can feel a bit unsafe. I also feel this way in Illinois and in places in other states.
After leaving US-69, I eventually went on MO-46. This highway is a prime example of a road with no fog lines or shoulders, and it's also not the greatest quality road.
I'm used to driving these kinds of roads, so it doesn't really phase me anymore. However, I do get nervous from time to time and wish the roads were a bit better. I have learned to deal with them, though. Before you know it, I was in Worth County.
I eat in my car a lot to make my trips more efficient. Usually, it's some sort of gas station food. To make the least amount of stops, I will combine gas, food, and bathroom into a single stop. In this case, I got a turkey and cheddar sub at Casey's.
I ate that sub while driving to the Gentry County Courthouse.
The road to Dekalb County also lacked a fog line, but I made decent time to that courthouse.
Shortly after, I was in Buchanan County.
Then came my last county in Missouri, Platte County.
On my way towards Kansas, MO-92 was a much better road and something I'd expect for a state primary highway system.
I wasn't on MO-92 for too long before crossing over into Kansas and visiting Leavenworth County.
After Leavenworth County was Douglas County.
By this time, I was starting to watch the time in relation to sunset. I figured I could get at least one more county done.
On my way to Franklin County, I needed gas. The interesting thing is the Kwik Trip gas station chain dominates Wisconsin. The Casey's gas station chain seems to dominate Iowa and Missouri. It also has a decent presence in Kansas and Oklahoma. Casey's also has a presence in Belleville, Wisconsin, where I live. It seems they're starting to make their way into Southern Wisconsin.
With that being said, I have both Kwik Trip and Casey's rewards. Casey's was doing some sort of promotion that applied a $0.25 gas discount for a month's worth of fill-ups. You get that discount for each time you spend $10 or more at a Wisconsin store. The discounts are applied on top of each other so you can have multiple discounts at a time.
I could not add any additional discounts for $10 purchases in non-Wisconsin Casey's. That wasn't as big of a deal since the current set of gas discounts still applied in other states. However, I realized I needed to make filling up at Casey's a priority to cut down my gas expenses.
In this case, I got a $0.75 discount.
After filling up, I made it to the Franklin County Courthouse.
After taking my pictures, I got in the car and checked the sunset times. I realized I would not make the next courthouse before it got dark. I then hit the road and headed for the Oklahoma Welcome Center. This is where I originally planned to spend the night.
Since I had some time, I decided to stop for some food along the way. So I stopped at a Kansas travel plaza. I really pigged out with The Bigger Hardee.
I then made it to the Oklahoma Welcome Center and parked the car for the night.
In the morning, I woke up, and it was a chilly 21F.
I hit the road, and my first courthouse was Kay County.
Another fill-up at Casey's yielded me $2.03 a gallon!
The colors in the sky on the way to Grant County were beautiful!
Up next was Alfalfa County.
I started seeing more oil wells on the way to Woods County.
It also appears Woods County's count seat of Alva was the "Mural Capital of Oklahoma."
I got behind some slow traffic on my way to Harper County, but I made it there after a while.
I stopped to take in the nature on that way to Woodward County. The cows were peacefully grazing in the fields.
When I was about to get in my car, I had to do a double-take. I was looking down at my phone to pull up directions to the next courthouse. In the periphery of my vision, I saw a silver Focus. When I got closer, I became alarmed, thinking, "What happened to my front license plate!?" I realized an identical Focus was parked close to my Focus.
After that little bit of confusion, I got Ellis County.
Soon I was at Roger Mills County.
And then Beckham County.
I was finally able to get some interstate driving in.
I couldn't find a Casey's, so I stopped at the first convenient gas station. To be honest, this place looked pretty sketchy. I was pleasantly surprised when the bathrooms were pretty clean overall.
After gassing up, I made it to the Custer County Courthouse.
With a little more driving down US-183, I got to the Washita County Courthouse.
Next up was Kiowa County.
In my opinion, Oklahoma is one of the most underrated states in terms of physical beauty. It seems nobody really thinks about Oklahoma or what it has to offer. To me, it seems like a cross between the Plains States and New Mexico. The mountains also really help with its beauty.
After taking in some of that beauty, I was in Greer County.
Earlier, I mentioned how Missouri's state highways could be a bit sketchy. When I visited Harmon County, the roads to the courthouse were also a bit sketchy.
At least when I got on the highway to Jackson County, the roads got much better.
When I made it to Tillman County, I could see they were in the Christmas spirit. The courthouse was decorated out front. There was even a guy dressed up as Santa riding around on his motorcycle!
I had just completed all the originally planned counties before going to Texas. That was a good thing because the sun was starting to set.
It was now time to high-tail it to Texas. Hopefully, I'd get to the Bell County Rest Stop that I had planned to stop for the night.
I always love stopping at Slovacek's. I had originally intended to get a Frito pie, but it appears I came by after they stopped serving hot food. Their sausage is great, so I got some beef sticks, sausage, and cheese instead.
I ate along the way, and before you know it, I was at the Bell County rest stop.
As you can see, I wasn't the only person who slept in my car. It seems like there was a fleet of us when I woke up in the morning. It's definitely noticeable the vehicles with the fogged-up windows.
I hit the road and then stopped at HEB in Round Rock to fill up and get a car wash. I didn't go inside this one.
Victoria texted me and said her plane was going to be early. I immediately headed to the airport to pick her up.
Our first stop was going to another HEB and picking up some local Texas-made stuff we couldn't get in Wisconsin. The interesting thing is there was a mariachi band playing.
After grocery shopping, we were hungry. We stopped at Whataburger. I got a chicken fajita taco.
Traffic wasn't horrible, so we drove to Round Rock. We stopped at Piranha Records to see if they had any good CDs that we could listen to while we drove around.
We killed some time at a park and then met up with some friends at Waterloo Ice House.
I got a Hippie Chop Salad, and Victoria got breakfast tacos.
After we got done eating and visiting with friends, we hit the road for Bryan, Texas.
We checked into our hotel room and got a good night's rest.
The following day had some nice blue skies, and it was definitely much warmer than Wisconsin.
The LaQuinta didn't have their regular breakfast due to the holiday. So we decided to go to Fuego instead and get tacos. I got a Southern Comfort and a Fuego Steak taco.
A little while later, we visited with Victoria's family. Later that night, I rode with Victoria's uncle, and we picked up some takeout from Wings 'N More. I got the rib and wings sampler.
For Christmas Eve, we got lunch at Chicken Oil. This is a very unique place, and I got the chicken fried steak.
We decided to help Victoria's grandparents out and fill up their water jugs at Jacob's Well on the way from Chicken Oil.
We made it to Victoria's aunt and uncle's house a while later. I had some meat pies for appetizers. We also partook in a Texas Christmas Eve tradition of tamales and chili.
For Christmas, it was a bit cloudier out. We met up with the family and had Chinese food, along with some saki.
We visited for a while. We then checked out the commercial kitchen Victoria's aunt Kathy uses for her business. She has recently started a Cajun catering business called Gumbeaux Cajun Catering Company.
When we got back to Victoria's aunt and uncle's place, I got to try to boudin balls.
We opened presents and visited for a while. We then went back to the hotel. We got breakfast at Laredo Taco Company in the Stripes Gas Station the next day.
We then headed to Austin to meet with some family friends.
We ate more tamales for lunch.
We visited a bit, and for dinner, I got to eat some homemade chili and venison sausage.
We stayed the night at that friend's house. I dropped Victoria off at the airport around 5:30 AM the next morning.
I knew I'd get a good start on visiting more counties in Oklahoma, so I hit the road and headed north. Surprisingly, I did not hit a single traffic jam.
Soon I was in Oklahoma and at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Up next was Stephens County.
I didn't see much cotton along the way, but I made it to Cotton County.
After a little more driving, I was in Comanche County.
In Lawton (Comanche County), I noticed that the stoplights were in pretty rough shape.
Many of the stoplights were flashing red, so I had to make a lot of stops. However, that didn't slow me down too much, and I was soon in Caddo County.
A little more driving got me to Grady County.
I choked down a pre-packaged burger in the car and then got to Canadian County.
Up next was Kingfisher County.
I passed through some sort of safety corridor to get to Blaine County.
My GPS took me to Dewey County on backroads, where I saw cattle, windmills, and oil wells.
Major County would be my last county in Oklahoma.
I had originally planned to do one more county, but it would be dark by the time I got there. So I decided to drive to Missouri. I'd follow a line of counties towards home like I did on my way down towards Texas.
I made it to the Lathrop, Missouri rest stop, where I called it a night.
I woke up, and it was raining hard. I realized I would have to be careful on my way up. It appears the temperatures would drop the further I headed north. The rain would then become snow. My ultimate plan was to trail the storm as much as possible to allow the plows and salt trucks to be out.
I slept in a bit and released the storm had moved a bit east. So it looks like I'd be behind the storm.
It was still a bit rainy, but the roads were decent. Finally, I made it to my first Missouri courthouse of the day, Ray County.
It seemed Missouri had some high water crossings. So I definitely made sure to be vigilant, especially on my way to Carroll County.
It seems like I'd be following US-65 a good chunk of the way north. I soon got to Livingston County.
I saw an Amish buggy on my way to Grundy County.
The sky was getting dark, and I was getting nervous. It was still above freezing, but I saw snow directly north of me on the radar.
The roads seemed fine on the last county that I would visit before going back to Wisconsin, Mercer County.
Across the street from the courthouse were what appeared to be two different garages. They also appeared to be from two different eras.
Now it was time to start heading to my parents to pick up Maya. So I checked the radar, gassed up at Casey's to get an awesome discount, and then hit the road.
It appears I'd be following US-65 to Des Moines, Iowa, and then connecting with I35. I soon hit Iowa.
Now I was getting nervous. The roads were wet, and it was on 34F out. This is really the danger zone where things can get slick fast.
I eventually made it to Indianola. This is right outside Des Moines. I decided to stop at a Burger King to get something to eat and see what was in store weather-wise.
I was still trailing behind the storm, but you could tell I was about to hit areas that just got hit with snow.
By the time I got to Northern Iowa, there was snow on the ground. I stopped at a rest stop, and they were just starting to plow it out.
When I hit the road, there were semis in the ditch. This was not good!
The plows were out in full force in Minnesota, but the roads kept getting progressively worse.
It started snowing when I got closer to Wisconsin.
By the time I hit the Wisconsin border, I knew I had needed to get off the road. It was forecasted that the lows would be below zero, so there was no way I could sleep in my car. I pulled into the Wisconsin Welcome Center to get my bearings and find a hotel. That was almost a mistake as the rest stop was unplowed, and I almost got stuck.
I found a Super 8 in La Crosse that ended up being really good overall.
The following day it was -4F with a -15F wind chill. I definitely made the right decision to get a room!
I got in the car and hit the road. Things appeared to be a little more cleaned up than the night before.
When I got off the interstate, the state roads started to get nasty.
I finally got to my parents, and Maya was so excited to see me that her tail was blurry from wagging when I took the picture.
I loaded Maya and her stuff in the car, and we headed back towards Madison.
I was happy to get back to Belleville. When I left, everything was green. Now it was all white with snow.
It was nice to get back home and settle into the daily routine. The end part of this trip reminded me of why I'm wary about traveling far distances in the winter. With that being said, it was great seeing friends and family in Texas. You can clearly see I ate well and I really enjoyed the warmer weather. I was able to visit a bunch of counties and feel pretty accomplished.
I know with the baby being due soon, this will be my last trip in a while. I'll definitely make sure to explore the local area and report back. In the meantime, I'll also be planning for the next time I can hit the road. Definitely stay tuned, and I'm sure I'll be back on the road again in no time!