Onward Gringo Soldiers travel blog


Christmas Day dawned crisp and cold, but at least no snow was falling. We got the cats loaded up (can’t go all that way without a little feline companionship) and were rolling by 7:00. As mentioned above, the good news was that the snow had all fallen to the south and west of Point. The bad news is that you can’t hardly get to Texas without driving south and west – oh joy, oh rapture. Even on dry pavement, I detest I-90 between Madison and Beloit. This old road surface makes some gravel roads look good, so heading straight south was out of the question. That left me (Jill never wants any part of these decisions) with a choice of the Madison – Dubuque – Cedar Rapids route (now all pretty good 4-lane road), or the La Crosse – Albert Lea – Des Moines trek. Logic told me that the snow had fallen 3-5 hours earlier in Minnesota (more time to clean up the mess), that arctic Minnesota had to be much better at snow removal than wimpy Iowa, not to speak of the Mississippi outside La Crosse being beautiful any time of the year. So I chose La Crosse – it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The roads to La Crosse were really quite good. The various Wisconsin county crews were out plowing, sanding and salting and we easily cruised at 65 once we hit the interstate at Tomah, all the way to the Mississippi. As soon as we hit the Minnesota border (right on the damn bridge to be exact) the roads turned to crap. Perhaps it is because this interstate section only serves Albert Lea, Austin and Rochester, but Minnesota clearly was treating this otherwise major highway with “benign neglect”. Where we had seen 7-8 salters / sanders in Wisconsin, we now saw 1 in Minnesota – in the opposite lane of traffic. We saw numerous vehicles in the ditch, some recent, some from the night before. What should have been a 90 minute cruise turned into a 3 hour ordeal. The next time I attempt to use “logic” to drive through Minnesota in winter, one of you is authorized to remind me of this debacle with a 2x4, ok?

But as they say, all bad things must come to an end. We finally got over to I-35 and all the salt they were saving on I-90 somehow miraculously materialized. Traffic north and south was literally whizzing along. When we stopped for gas at Albert Lea just after noon, I dumped most of a gallon of windshield fluid into what had been a full reservoir when we started. As we pushed further south, we gradually lost some, then all of the snow. By the time we approached Des Moines, the lovely brown winter mud was there in all its radiant beauty.

Crazy as it sounds, the drive from Des Moines south to Kansas City can actually be quite pretty – when the grass is green, the rolling hills are covered in spring foliage and the temp is not plunging into the single digits like it was late Christmas Day. Once we’d hit I-35 we were able to make up for lost time, so 5:00 sundown found us at the stunningly beautiful Wal-Mart in Cameron, MO about 50 miles north of Kansas City. The north wind bringing in those low temps was howling to a fare the well, so we gassed up (slowest pump I’ve ever seen in my life – nearly 15 minutes to fill 55 gallons – I thought I was going to die) and found a flat spot in the parking lot. Here’s a shocker – we had the place to ourselves. We kept the slides in (less area to heat and no chance of them freezing in the “out” position), jacked up the furnaces and I enjoyed a little leftover pasta with 2 glasses of delightful Three Buck Chuck while Jill had a scone. By 8:00 we had crawled under the ½ dozen blankets on the bed and visions of palm trees were soon dancing in our heads.

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