Our 2021 Road Trip #40: It’s Not You, Wisconsin, It’s Us

Wisconsin Welcomes You!

Hey, I remember this state! It’s the one shaped like the Hamburger Helper oven mitt!

Humans aren’t built for infinite velocity or nonstop acceleration. Life was not meant to be lived like a marathon without a finish line. We need our days off from work, our pauses between musical measures, our moments of calm between stretches of pain, our interludes between content-packed chapters, our tactile diversions from doomscrolling, our little isolation-booth time-outs from social media, and our interstate rest stops on long, long, long drives. Sometimes we need breaks from sustained input, from our cravings for visual or intellectual stimulation. Sometimes during those little recesses, the world can’t help sneaking a few minute interruptions through the cracks.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

After our brief stops in Chanhassen, I’d love to say we next adjourned to nearby Minneapolis, a featured destination from two previous vacations where our experiences were absolutely pleasant and made me wonder what it might be like to move there after retirement. Then came one particularly horrifying 2020 tragedy that made international headline news and pushed the worldwide pandemic back to Page-Two status on news sites for weeks. Its far-reaching consequences included high-decibel debates about law enforcement powers and systemic racism; name-checking tributes to George Floyd in assorted songs, movies, and short films; and extended protests and/or riots in multiple cities including but not limited to our own hometown, and of course at ground zero in Minneapolis. From our outsiders’ perspective throughout the subsequent months, the online footage of what appeared to be the latter’s civic devolution into an American banana republic was heartbreaking.

Perhaps that changed at some point and something resembling “normalcy” (not my favorite word) brought tensions down to a point where its streets might be livable again. As of one year into the aftermath we had not perceived any encouraging updates from the U.S. Department of First-World Problems regarding their receptivity to meddlesome travelers. We weren’t interested in tiptoeing through Minneapolis a third time just to guess which city blocks would be safe for us and which had now been designated No Man’s Land. If someone else out there had the sources and intrepid exploratory urge to disprove the imagery that had flooded our feeds, we’d leave them to it. I was reminded of the time I saw punk legend Henry Rollins tell the story of when he visited Pakistan the day after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Rollins ultimately did fine. In my best of times I might aspire to be Rollins. In 2021 I was not remotely Rollins.

So we drove southeast and circumnavigated the Twin Cities altogether toward our next hotel in the comparatively nondescript city of Rochester. We made two restaurant stops along the way (more about those in a later chapter, one of which featured a brief cameo by Racism) but were otherwise out of time and energy to make our Friday evening noteworthy, nor did Rochester go out of its way to solicit commemoration, lighthearted or otherwise.

DAY NINE: Saturday, July 3rd.

Unremarkableness continued into the morning errands and for the first few hours of our drive. The vacation was far from over — we had one more museum and one more state park coming up in our near future — but we were still far from home, exhausted and low on impulse energy.

TOTAL ROAD TRIP MILEAGE AS OF GAS STOP #12: 2,965.0

As always for us, after Minnesota comes Wisconsin, another state full of memories — the water parks, the art museum that was once in a film about giant robots, the giant rock wedged in someone’s old house, the spot of Laura Ingalls Wilder tourism, the cheese, the jellybeans, The Fonz, the state fair, and more. Wisconsin has had its ups and downs.

Wisconsin forest!

Wisconsin tries attracting our attention with trees. Yeah, I think we’re done with forests for a while.

I’d love to add to that list someday. Had Wisconsin figured into the start of our ten-day excursion rather than at the end, we might’ve. I regret only stepping foot in Wisconsin twice this time around; once for lunch and once before that for a rest stop, which did its best to present itself as a point of interest. Its adjacency to the Upper Mississippi River helped a little, but by this point we were kind of done with rivers. The West had spoiled us rotten with its natural scenery. We appreciated the attempts to engage us. Hopefully next time around we’ll be in a better rested position to respond in kind.

rest stop lake!

Enjoy some idyllic Upper Mississippi waters after you’re done in the restrooms.

Major General C.C. Washburn!

Value-added rest stop features included this history of local hero Major General C.C. Washburn. Turn-ons: reading, regulation, baking.

Upper Mississippi sign!

Also, a handy primer for the Upper Mississippi. Turn-ons: explorers, ports, mood swings.

Wisconsin rock formation!

“Look! We have rock formations! Come see!” says the Wisconsin roadside, which looks kind of adorable next to the heights of Yellowstone.

Welcome to Illinois!

Then the natural vistas all but vanished as we returned to the familiar flatlands of Illinois. Suddenly we missed Wisconsin. As the oldie warned us, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

One response

  1. Pingback: Our 2021 Road Trip #40: It’s Not You, Wisconsin, It’s Us — Midlife Crisis Crossover! | Ups Downs Family History

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