2023 has been a crazy year for the weather. The weather has always been at the back of my mind when I plan my travels. This year, it has made its way to the front of it. It has become a major factor in the planning of my road trips.
I have made a general rule not to go west of the Twin Cities after mid-to-late October. This is when the snow starts flying and increases the risk of blizzards and roads being shut down. Besides Texas trips to visit family and friends, I'd also avoid going south in the summer due to the heat. These were the only general rules I had. I really didn't think much about the weather on past road trips.
In 2023, extreme weather seems to be going on somewhere in the USA at any given time. In Wisconsin, we're currently in an extreme drought. We also had smoke from the Canadian wildfires shattering our air quality records. Overall, we are faring pretty well compared to many other parts of the country.
Right now, going south is out of the question. The massive heat dome has made its way even to Illinois and Missouri. Sleeping in the car with that kind of heat would be hard. Even without the heat, I've had to cancel plans to Kentucky and Southern Indiana. There were tornadoes and strong storms there. It seems these kinds of storms always threaten the country's middle part.
Further east is getting hammered with rain and flooding. If it's not raining, there's smoke. The only real direction that seems viable right now in July 2023 is going northwest. That said, it isn't winter, so heading to the Dakotas would be a good choice.
Victoria and I have a shared calendar on our phones. I was looking at our upcoming weekends and realized how booked we were. The last trip I took was in June. The next trip would be in mid-August. There would be about a 9-10 week gap between trips. We had agreed that I could take a trip every 5-6 weeks, so I wanted to see where I could fit one in.
The weekend before, I realized my only opportunity was the following weekend. Even then, Victoria had claimed Sunday to hang out with a friend. I decided I'd leave Friday night after work and then get back late Saturday night.
I did some quick planning and realized I could follow I-90. I like driving I-90 since it doesn't go through any major population centers. This means there's less risk of a traffic jam. I hate I-94 for this reason since I'm always stuck in traffic around the Twin Cities.
One nice thing is that I get done with work at noon on Fridays. I don't have to pick Austin up until 4:45 PM from daycare. This gives me a little time to nap before hitting the road. I usually don't get much sleep or the best quality of sleep on the road. This nap definitely helps build a little buffer for that.
At 4:45, I picked up Austin. We waited for Victoria to come home. I visited a little bit and then hit the road. The bag I built out was in the car, along with some snacks.
Of course, Google Maps continues to go off the rails with its suggestions. It seems to no longer default to the most time-efficient route. It claimed it avoided a slowdown, but it still was going to take me on a route that took 15 minutes longer. Also, this would be mainly on US highways and not the interstate.
It wasn't lying about the slowdown on US-151. I did get caught up in traffic there for a bit.
I then connected with US-12 and then I-90. Taking US-12 to Wisconsin Dells is faster due to not going through Madison. Once you hit I-90 in Wisconsin Dells, the interstate itself is faster. I was happy to set the cruise on I-90.
Where I-90 and I-94 are combined, traffic can be heavy. I was happy when they split. I knew it would be smooth sailing.
I was able to drive for hours without touching my cruise control. I eventually made it to a rest stop near Adrian, Minnesota. I planned to stop in Minnesota since I did not know South Dakota's rest stop policies (more on that later). Adrian was about 45 minutes away from my first courthouse in Sioux Falls.
I set up for the night and got a few hours of sleep.
I then woke up and hit the road around 5 AM. I was soon in South Dakota.
Sioux Falls was pretty dead when I arrived.
Minnehaha County's courthouse was pretty modern overall.
The nice thing is that they preserved their old courthouse too.
I was soon on the road and appreciating the 80mph speed limit to McCook County.
When I went to the next courthouse, I stopped at a rest stop along the way.
I noticed they had many signs about their 3-hour policy.
I took the picture above and walked into the rest stop. A lady who was cleaning the rest stop questioned me. “Are you a trucker?” I said I wasn't, and I was a travel blogger. That answer seemed sufficient enough, but she then went into a rant. She complained about people not following the policy. She almost seemed proud that they'd shoo people away that were there longer than 3 hours.
I just nodded my head and went into the bathroom. There was yet another sign about the policy posted on the wall.
I do laugh at the penalty for violating this: "fined an amount as determined by the court which may be necessary to reimburse the department of transportation for the expense of repairing any damage to such rest and recreation area resulting form such violation." What does this even mean? If I stay in my car and don't litter, there's no damage. Would they charge for a possible extra visit to the bathroom? Would that be $1 or something for toilet paper, soap, and water?
After my well under 3-hour visit to that rest stop, I was in Hanson County.
It got really foggy on the way to Davison County.
I know Buc-ee's got their idea of billboard spamming from Wall Drug. I swear there was a sign every 5 miles for it in South Dakota.
I ignored the spam and made it to Aurora County.
I then stopped for gas and a breakfast burrito.
Road construction made me detour a little bit around Chamberlain. The exit I needed was closed, so I had to go to another exit. I actually wasn't disappointed as it was beautiful around the area. The rolling hills, along with the Missouri River, were very scenic. This place is kind of a hidden gem of an oasis on the prairie.
The detour didn't take long, and I was soon at the Brule County Courthouse.
I enjoyed the scenic drive to Lyman County.
The Jones County Courthouse was inside a quaint little town.
I would now get off I-90 to get to my next county, Stanley County.
I got off I-90 because I realized the Hughes County Courthouse was less than 10 minutes away from the Stanley County Courthouse. I'd get basically two courthouses for the price of one!
I also got some more bang for my buck. Pierre is in Hughes County. The state capitol building was a few blocks away from the courthouse. I was able to drive right up to the steps.
It was around 11:15 AM, and I knew I needed to head home. I felt accomplished as I got everything on my list. It would just be a long drive home.
I hit I-90 and stopped at another rest stop. I found it interesting that there wasn't a single sign about their 3-hour time limit. It seems like whoever manages the other rest stop was a little overzealous.
I hit the road and ran into a lot of construction along the way. I will say I don't like South Dakota's rest stop policies, but I will say they do maintain their roads well. The roads they were working on were actually in pretty good shape. It does seem like they do stay on top of their roads.
I stopped at Love's and got some gas and a wrap for lunch.
Besides a little bit of construction, it was smooth sailing. I enjoyed the 80mph speed limit to Minnesota. I was soon in Minnesota, and I stopped at their welcome center.
I noticed that directly across the interstate was the South Dakota Welcome Center.
This seemed really odd to me. Was the road the state line, or was the Minnesota Welcome Center actually in South Dakota? Google Maps showed it was in South Dakota.
I'm not sure how much I trust Google Maps, but either way, it's definitely a weird quirk in geography. I kept driving until I hit Austin, Minnesota. When I'd drive between Texas and Wisconsin, this is where I knew I was getting close to home. I stopped at Kwik Trip and got some food and gas.
I hit the road and was soon in Wisconsin.
I pretty much drove the rest of the way straight and then topped off at the Kwik Trip in Belleville before I came home.
By the time I got home, everyone was in bed. Someone woke up, and we spent some quality time together.
I would consider this trip a success. For the 27 hours I was gone, I was able to visit 15% of South Dakota. I will say that sticking purely to the interstate is a bit boring. I do look forward to future trips where I hit more two-lane highways. My next trip will be to Canada in mid-August. Hopefully, I'll be able to find some closer adventures in the meantime.