No, really. I had fun today. Who would have thought?
Today’s big thing was the Alvin Straight ride. But to get to Laurens, Iowa, where he lived and started his journey, I had to get out of South Dakota. I had a few options, but ended up taking Route 15 south out of town.
Route 15 South, no matter where it is, is a tough ride. Route 15 South along the Susquehanna River is horrible. I hate it. And Route 15 South out of Milbank, South Dakota is just as bad.
Well… maybe not.
But there are a lot of cornfields in this part of the world.
And it’s flat. Really flat. Hm. Actually, no. it’s not flat, really flat. It’s got hills and swells. It just seems flat.
South Dakota didn’t last long this morning. Soon it gave way to US 212 to Minnesota. Now, I’ve never been in Minnesota before, but it’s where MST3K comes from, so it can’t be all bad.
This, however, wasn’t the place in Minnesota where MST3K came from. It was just like South Dakota, except there were towns.
Quite a lot of towns, actually. And I stopped in a few, took some pictures, got the feel of the place. It was nice. Definitely not somewhere where I could live, but still… nice.
I passed through Canby and Marshall and Slaytown. Each town seems to have been founded by a different nationality. Ghent, for example, seems to have been founded by the Belgiums who are also good at whatever rolle bolle is. Ghent is the world capitol of rolle bolle. Ghent has a population of 315 and isn’t even on my map.
I then found myself on the interstate passing truckers. I wish I could see the look on their faces when a red little Vespa passes them.
At exit 64, I headed south into the heart of northern Iowa. I’ve been through Iowa before, but that was on an interstate coming back from the 2004 trip with Ashley and Nikki. We ate at some horrible Chinese place somewhere. That was when we did Devil’s Tower, WY to Lewisburg, PA via a night in Pioria in two days, a distance of over 1,750 miles, in just two days.
So yeah, I’ve been to Iowa. But not like today. Today I got to really see Iowa. And I can understand why folks live here. I don’t think I ever could myself, but I get it. It’s a really nice, down home and comfortable sort of place.
But today was going to be a real Iowa experience. I was going to try my best to follow the route that I thought Alvin Straight took to visit his brother in Wisconsin. You may have heard of him, but if not, I’ll give a quick summary…
Alvin Straight lived quietly until he went on an unusual journey that put him in the spotlight. The Laurens resident took a 240-mile road trip -on a lawn mower. At 73, Straight wanted to see his brother, Henry, whom he hadn’t spoken to for almost a decade. The 80-year-old brother was ill in Wisconsin after suffering a stroke.
Straight didn’t trust public transportation and could not drive a car because he had limited vision and no driver’s license. So he decided to drive a 1966 John Deere mower to Wisconsin. On July 5, 1994, he loaded a 10-foot trailer with gasoline, food, clothes and camping equipment. He hitched it to the mower and started out from Laurens.
The mower’s top speed was 5 mph, and the trip along back roads took nearly six weeks. Straight endured rainy weather and breakdowns. The odyssey made headlines. Straight didn’t like finding himself the object of attention.
-The Des Moines Register
When I pulled into Laurens, Iowa, it was just as I had pictured it (thanks to David Lynch, I guess). But I was half expecting a sign or memorial or something. But tiny Laurens gave up nothing. Alvin was definitely Laurens’s most famous resident, but not even a sign? Shame.
And while I didn’t know the exact route to take, I did my best at piecing together something. It’s been years since I watched the movie, which was filmed on location and I’m sure has many clues as to how to follow it. In retrospect, I should have watched it while planning this.
I didn’t, however. I followed the roads pretty well, assuming where Alvin would have driven the John Deere. It was mostly speculation on my part. Also, I’m sure the roads have been changed a little in the past ten or so years. I know US 18 has.
Most everything made sense by the time I pulled into West Bend, where the Grotto of the Redemption is. The Grotto and its creator Father Paul Dobberstein. He fell ill in 1912 and decided to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary. 42 years later, he was finished. You can read all about it here (and you should).
I was planning on just riding by the Grotto, but as I did that, I knew I just had to poke around inside.
I took a ton of pictures, so please check them out. It was amazing. He did most (all?) of it on his own. Crazy? Maybe. But well worth it. The world is definitely full of religious nutjobs trying to ruin it for the rest of us. I’m glad that there are some, in this case, Father Dobberstein, who put that nutjobbery to good use and make the world a better place.
There was a tour I could have taken, but I was running late and had to keep up the pace.
But just when I thought I was back on the road, I stumble upon Britt, Iowa. I had to gas up, so I pulled into the nearest gas station. That was under the big early 60′s era sign that read: BRITT – National Hobo Convention.
No, I’m not a hobo (more of a tramp, I guess), but I’ve always been really intrigued by them. So this must be where the hobos have… or had… their national convention. Interesting.
I look to my left and see another sign: National Hobo Museum. I couldn’t pass this up.
At the end of Britt’s main street was a little movie theater. For some reason, I love old movie theaters and take pictures of them whenever I see one. I pulled over to take its picture, but on the marque it read: Hobo Museum.
I paid my two bucks and checked it out.
Tons of pictures were taken of this so, again, check them out. The old theater was mostly intact. Even a few of the seats remained. Almost all of the space was for rustic displays of hobo art and paraphernalia. Famous hobos have donated tons of their stuff for us to check out. I was thrilled.
You can read more about the museum here.
After I spent a bit too much time there (worth it), I really had to beat cheeks. By this point, the Alvin Straight idea had fallen apart.
US 18 turned into a four lane and I couldn’t find the old routing and wasn’t even sure if he took it anyway. I basically gave up. There are a few places where he might have gone that I visited along the rest of my day, but my research into this was poor.
However, I’m ridiculously happy that I got to see Laurens and that I got to travel on some of the route. Next time (I wonder if I actually hope there is a next time), I’ll be better prepared.
Several detours later and I was on US 18 again, descending into the Mississippi valley.
I crossed and was in Wisconsin!
This was a pretty big moment for me. I have never been in Wisconsin before. And prior to entering Wisconsin, I had been in 47 of the 48 continental United States. Wisconsin was it! I have been to ALL of the lower 48 states! Thank Wisconsin! Happy 48th to you and me!
I’m staying the night in a funky little town called Prairie du Chien. There seems to have been a War of 1812 Battle here. It was a British (Canadian) victory, eh.
The motel I’m in is really nice. I think it might be one of the best of the whole trip. One of the cheapest too. I visited the Piggly Wiggly and got some strawberries that are almost edible and some chips. Grape juice too!
Today was a really fun day. I wish I would have known!
Here are my pics!
Miles today: 503
Miles total: 9,939