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August 16, 2005 || 8:48 pm
Road trip update

OK. Finally have time and internet to update on the road trip. I can't believe that since Saturday afternoon we've gone over 2000 miles, from NYC to Cody, Wyoming, home of Buffalo Bill. To save words I'm just going to post my notes made en route at the end of every tiring and mind-boggling day.

Saturday. Drove NYC-Chicago, left 3pm. Horrendous traffic getting out of Manhattan. Finally actually started moving at more than 5 mph at around 4pm, drove straight out through NJ and PA, ate dinner in PA at around 8.30. The sun had taken forever to set due to going west, which was quite unsettling and lovely. We decided to drive through the night to Chicago. I had a little doze first then drove from around 12.30 letting the others sleep like babies, trying not to rock. Got through Ohio. got off the turnpike for gas in Indiana, decide to take back roads around Lake Michigan despite it still being dark. We got into Chicago at exactly dawn.

The city was totally deserted - its skyline and streets seeming so clearly laid out without the usual clutter of city life. We drove round IIT campus (even totally unslept, you can't stop three architects from wanting to see some architecture) then downtown to the Loop. Amazing multi-level transport - underground roads, ground-level streets, above-ground light rail. Amazing bridges with their strange although structurally entirely logical shapes, the resultant of economical engineering yet looks so illogical. No people around and nothing at all open, which was why we ended up at Starbucks, where I blogged from briefly before.

Then I slept as Fred drove us into Wisconsin. We got off the interstate around Madison and took beautiful back roads to La Crosse, where we crossed the Mississipi. I never knew it was so wide that far up - miles wide with islands, swampy shallow pools, absolutely wonderful. Then you climb up the high bank on the other side, round the corner and suddenly you are in Minnesota and you don't have to steer the car for 3 hours. Amazing mid-western plains scenery, unchanging yet shifting subtly and always the feeling that you are on the edge of the earth, about to drive off into nothing. It is as if you can see the curvature of the earth, with clouds so low and curving away from you, like the kind of thing filmmakers try to evoke with a fisheye lens yet in reality you don't need the fish-eye, it's already curved around you.

Silos and endless maize fields (what do people do with all this maize?) and the straight straight road into the setting sun, stopping when we need gas or food in these idyllic, sleepy small towns, classic movie-sets for 'lost in the mid-west' type nothing-happens movies. It was an amazing purification, driving utterly straight for so long, the meditation and discipline of it feeling so cleansing after the edgy night and morning. We eventually ended up in Worthington, Minnesota for the night in a motel and a hot shower- joy. We were halfway across the country.

Monday - we got up and set off somewhat late-ish after a Perkins brunch in Mitchell, the home of the Corn Palace, the first place to feel like we really hit the West - saloon and gun battle land, in a totally cheesy way. Crossed the Missouri river - an amazing sudden descent and up again into a totally changed landscape - undulating grassy hills rather than the flatness of Minnesota, really somewhere you can imagine bison and Indians and fighting.

Our destination for the day was the Badlands. The wall really does rise up out of nothing - less 'spectacular' than the Grand Canyon or similar but somehow stranger - I couldn't comprehend how they were formed really, as there wasn't the orienting feature of a river gouging it's way through the rock, just line after line of spiky eroded mountains, plateaus at different levels, disorienting and strange passing through them you suddenly find yourself at an upper level plateau looking down on the striped pink and yellow rocks beneath you. Other things - prairie dogs are damn cool. I saw a bison. We pitched our tent at the foot of the mountains in the amazingly organised National Park campsite and grilled out and drank beer under the stars.

Today - woke early and packed up, and back on the road, into Wyoming, 9th biggest state, and only 500,000 inhabitants. We saw about three people and passed through a 'town' called Emblem which boasted on its sign that it had a population of 10. We drove across endless scrubland, prairie, mountains, all extraordinarily beautiful, huge, making us gasp at every twist of the road (that is, when we weren't on 50 miles of dead straight with distant mountains on all horizons). We dipped our toes in the freezing waters of the Bighorn Mountains and now we're in Cody for the night before getting into Yellowstone tomorrow.



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