Friday was our real first full day on the road. We woke up in the good graces of Cyndi & Rog's Chicago apartment and enjoyed spending some time visiting with them before getting a late start on the road to The Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Our original, and a bit overly aggressive, goal was to get as close to the park as we could and stay the night in Wall, SD. It was on this morning that we learned our trip overlapped with the week long Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, SD. This year's rally had over half a million vehicles entering the rally attendence record which was the highest number of vehicles recorded entering the rally since 2005 (13 of whom did not return home). Needless to say, we were concerned about finding places to stay as we got closer to The Black Hills of South Dakota.
As we got closer and closer to South Dakota we started to see more and more motorcycles, RV's and trailers headed to or from Sturgis. Luckily we were generally seeing them traveling in the opposite direction, so traffic wasn't bad. Overall, this was a loooooooong and boring day, just driving as far as we could. As the day grew shorter, the motorcycle traffic made it clear that we needed to find a room before Wall, SD which was beyond our reach anyway. So, we set our destination to the cheapest available accommodations we could find, and that led us to Mitchell, SD, “Home to the World's Only Corn Palace!” If we had more time, we might have stopped, or at least driven by, but we didn't actually see or visit the Corn Palace on that fateful night (or the following morning). I'm pretty sure we didn't miss much, but I'm not thinking we'll have another opportunity to visit a Corn Palace any time soon though. I have a feeling the “World's Only Corn Palace” will stand alone for the foreseeable future.
We drove out of Illinois and into Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. Other than some hills in Wisconsin, most of the scenery was flat farmland and interstate. The one major exception to this was the Mississippi River crossing on I-90, near La Crosse, WI as you enter Minnesota. As you descend down into the river valley you first cross the Black River which seems like it is just part of the Mississippi. You then cross French Island and a marshy tributary before crossing the Mississippi and climbing up the steep and rocky valley wall in Minnesota. For the next half an hour it seems like you've been transported from a flat midwestern plain to rocky foothills of a mountainous region; however, that feeling soon ends when you arrive back in the flat farm fields of Minnesota.
The remainder of the day consisted of driving, fueling and snacking. At one point Bri was eating almond butter out of the jar with my knife while stopped at a gas station. Once the sun went down, it seemed as though we needed to clear the windshield about every 30 minutes. The flat and vertical windshield on the Jeep seemed to be a magnet and was accumulating a coating of fishy-smelling insects. As bad as our windshield looked, I can't imagine how the bikers felt riding down the interstate. After over nine hours and over six hundred miles of driving, we finally made it to our new destination of Mitchell, SD, and I was even more impressed with how the Rugged Ridge Dash Kit I installed for our trip was holding my iPhone 6.
Our hotel was the 2-star Super 8 Motel - Mitchell (1700 S Burr I-90 At Us Highway 37, Exit #332, Mitchell, SD). It was a pretty standard, grungy, cheap yet overpriced motel near the interstate. The exception was that the beds' had a nature mural wrapping the headboard. On this particular evening, it was packed and overrun by motorcycles and bikers on their way to or on their way from Sturgis. One 3 star (out of 5) review left on TripAdvisor summed it up nicely,
It almost goes without saying, but Bri slept with her clothes on tonight.
“the bathroom had hair on the floor and in the tub. had bits on back and arms from sleeping in the bed.”Melissa Sherwood from TripAdvisor.com