Onto the Interstate

My breakfast is still cool in its ice bucket as I get ready to head out on my second day of long drives west, to get me as quickly as possible across the Mid-West. The hotel room is good, there’s some funky design graphics on the way into reception and loud music blaring in there, but it’s fine. I chose it for its location near N Halstead St. The lack of breakfast and parking are irritants that can be dealt with, the latter not too much of an issue here.

It’s very humid as I step outside to retrieve my car, having checked out and left my bags at reception. Five minutes later I’m back, load up, and I’m away around 10.15 am. Onto I-90 W, there are tolls to be negotiated. And it’s different on the west side of Chicago to the east. There’s a separate lane for cash payments that’s separated from the main highway by barriers. You have to go off on a slip road almost, the main lanes being electronic toll tags only. So I miss the first toll, being caught unawares of the need to go down this slip road until I had driven past it. There was also heavy traffic and I could not cut across quickly. There were signs saying cash to the right but with very little warning. So suddenly I was past it.

When the next toll plaza arrives the traffic was much lighter but again there’s very little signage about ‘cash to the right’. I catch glimpses of signs on Interstate exits saying ‘missed tolls – pay online’. But I can’t make out the web address, it’s printed too small. So at the third toll I ask the guy taking my money what to do and he hands me a leaflet, which explains everything.

I know I need to pay, it’s the sort of thing Yanks are really hot on. Don’t pay and next time I enter the USA and I’ll be locked up for non-payment. So that’s a job for later at the hotel. I-90 W, my friend for the next couple of days or so, is generally flat and straight. There are trees that line it here and there and, once out of Chicago, fields of corn appear. But there’s little of ‘real’ interest. For the most part, one’s attention is – quite rightly – taken by idiot truckers and other drivers whose lane discipline is as non-existent as ever. I can only be thankful I have not witnessed crashes caused by some appalling driving, yet again.

Lunch in Madison

I endure the drive. It’s not remotely interesting or, I suppose, that enjoyable but it’s not totally dead boring. Little things change enough as I drive to just about make it OK. I stop in Madison, or rather its outskirts, for lunch. A sausage and egg McMuffin on the All Day Breakfast menu at McDonalds goes down well.

Back on the road and about an hour or so later around 2 pm, a storm descends. The rain is very intense, it’s so bad I need my wipers on double speed. At times visibility is almost zero and I slow right down. It clears eventually and as it does the road goes through some scenery changes with a few rolling hills to add some interest. The temperature dropped dramatically when the storm hit and from being in the 70s in Chicago. It’s now in the mid 50s.

I-90 W by West Salem WI

I-90 W by West Salem WI

I’d left Illinois earlier and entered Wisconsin – America’s Dairyland according to their licence plates. But I’ve not seen any cows yet. In fact the first cows I do see are in the next state, Minnesota, soon after I cross the Mississippi River, which is the state line. The river up here seems almost as wide as it is in Mississippi!

Mississippi River at Dakota MN

Mississippi River at Dakota MN

So I decide I need a photo of the Great River and pull off the Interstate at the next exit, Dakota. I come off onto a road, River St, running parallel right by the river’s edge. I follow the road for a quite a while then stop to take some snaps. I’m just about to get back in the car when I see a sign up the road: 61 N.

Highway 61 Revisited

It’s Highway 61, still tracking the Mississippi all this way up north! Just ahead there’s a 2 lane highway that is the current Hwy 61. So I figure the road I’m standing on now must the original 61 from days of old. I know there’s no musical or cultural significance to Hwy 61 this far north, but I feel like I’ve met and old friend again. How strange I think, what a bizarre coincidence, hooking back into what I’ve done before.

Highway 61 Revisited at Dakota

Highway 61 Revisited at Dakota

Onwards towards Rochester and I-90 W is now rolling up and down – gently of course, it’s an Interstate – but as we plough through farming country, for the moment it’s not flat and straight either, which is good. Farms dot the roadside, grain silos are everywhere. Somehow I get the impression it’s smaller, maybe family-run, farms here and not massive fields managed by conglomerates. But these peter out and the flatness returns as Rochester approaches.

I get into town around 4.15 pm, passing the Centerstone Plaza Hotel Soldiers Field and going a block down to re-fuel. When filling up I appreciate how cold it’s got: just 53º F and it really feels like that as well. Very chilly. I then think I’m not sure I want to be walking about town for dinner later in the cold. I cruise around town looking where some potential bars I’d found might actually be located. Turns out not too far, maybe a 10-15 minutes walk. But the hotel has a bar & restaurant called Twigs that did get some good online reviews.

Twigs for Dinner

Arriving at the hotel, I check-in and get into my room. Nice and spacious it is too. I go back downstairs to firstly use the hotel computer to pay my missed toll, after which I check out Twigs. There’s a bar to sit at, at which I can eat, and it strikes me as probably not having a ‘party night’ atmosphere, but then not every evening needs to be. Thinking yet again of the cold outside, I opt to return to Twigs later.

At 8 pm I go downstairs from my room and sit at the bar. Ethan the barman is bundle of energy, just the right side of being friendly without becoming a pain in the ass. There’s little personal engagement with me however, and I suspect later that this is deliberate. Rochester is known for its Mayo Clinic and it’s clear that most of the hotel’s guests are patients or relatives thereof. In Twigs that night are an assortment of bandages, drips and wheelchairs as folks come and go throughout the evening. My guess is that staff are instructed not to engage in ‘personal’ talk with guests, like “What are you doing here?” or “How you doing?” Why? Because the answer is most likely some serious medical condition. Which unsurprisingly the guest might not want to talk about openly at a bar or perhaps at all.

So there’s no chat amongst those of us at the bar. Everyone keeps themselves to themselves. I eat Butter-baked Chicken with Twigs Homemade Herb Wing Sauce, plus fries, and it was very good indeed. After which I write some more diary while finishing off a beer or two, then head upstairs for bed.

Another 345 miles west today and another 6 hours on the road. But tomorrow is even longer, my longest ever distance in a day. Ever.

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