Friday, January 09, 2004

Big hill; bigger ice cream sundae

column #5 of Travels with Lola (from the Oberlin News-Tribune)

As we wander from one town to the next, it’s interesting to see how the places describe themselves. You can learn a lot about a town by the signs they post at the city limits.

Entering Champion, Michigan, we learned it was home to the "1998 U.P. Best All Around Fire Department." A sign in Eagle River, Wisconsin proclaims it the "Snowmobile Capital of the World."

Pulling over for the night at a 24-hour truck stop in Prentice, Wisconsin, we learned that the exit also led to "Timm’s Hill – Wisconsin’s Highest Point." Naturally, we knew where we’d be heading the next morning.

The hill is in Timm’s Hill Park, about 220 acres with a few lakes, an observation tower, picnic shelters, and several hiking trails—including Timm’s Hill National Trail.

We climbed the hill—all 1951.5 feet of it—to the observation tower to take in the surrounding countryside. The view was pretty much just tree tops as far as the eye could see.

To put it in perspective, the highest geographic point in Wisconsin is less than 1/10 the size of the highest point in the U.S., Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. But hey—how many people do you know that can say they climbed the tallest point in Wisconsin?

In St. Peter, Minnesota, we drove straight past the historic Cox House and the Treaty Site Historic Museum, and stopped at Ruttles 50’s Grille & Bar. Six years earlier, during my only previous visit to St. Peter, I dined here and took their Rama/Lama/Ding/Dong challenge (apparently they like slashes).

The Ding/Dong is an $8.99 sundae—ten scoops of ice cream, toppings, nuts, whipped cream, etc. By comparison, they do have a "regular" sundae at $2.99. If you can down the whole Ding/Dong in one sitting, the prize is your name on a plaque at the restaurant.

Naturally, I took the challenge and had no problem at all—I even had an appetizer bowl of potato soup beforehand (3 summers working at Dairy Queen may have given me some experience). But that was then. Since I’d never returned, I could never verify that my name made it on a plaque.

Well, I can now say that my name is on a plaque in St. Peter, Minnesota. Rather than celebrate with a memorial Rama/Lama/Ding/Dong, Kaci and I opted for a small strawberry sundae and a margarita.

Back on the road, we soon found ourselves on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway (U.S. Hwy. 14), which took us to Walnut Grove. It was here that the Ingalls family moved in 1874 when Laura was 7 years old.

Though she didn’t publish her first "Little House" book until she was 65, Laura recalled enough of her time in Walnut Grove to detail it in "On the Banks of Plum Creek."

Strolling around town, I was beginning to think the town had done a remarkable job of restraining themselves from naming every other street or sandwich after Laura or one of her books. There’s no "Little House on the Prairie Realty" or "5/3 Banks of Plum Creek."

But then I did notice Ingalls Street and Lake Laura on my map. I also found Nellie’s CafĂ© which offers "Laura Lunch Pails." And it is just off the historic highway which bears her name.

For a small agricultural town with barely 600 residents, I was surprised to see the sign for the Southwest Minnesota Hmong Culture-History Center. But then I noticed that most of the people I saw on the street appeared to be of a southeast Asian background.

I wondered if any of the Hmong people had read Ms. Wilder’s books and been enchanted with the tales of pioneer life, before determining where they would immigrate to themselves.

As I sat contemplating children’s books outside the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum & Information Center, I watched three motorcycles pull up. Their riders, all clad in black leather with dark sunglasses, hopped off their bikes and walked into the museum. I guess "Little House on the Prairie" really is for everyone.

Our last stop in Minnesota was Pipestone, home of the world’s longest peace pipe (to give a hint, it’s 12 feet longer than Lola). We strolled through the quarries at the Pipestone National Monument. Here only Native Americans can mine the red claystone, which is carved into pipes for use in ceremonies.

The area inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s "The Song of Hiawatha." In honor of the poem, the town hosts an annual Hiawatha pageant.

Next stop: South Dakota

[Note from Ryan, 11/19/09: Thus concludes my first blog attempt 5 years ago. Yep, the first one indicated I would try to post each week. And I did post each week.  For 2 weeks.]

Monday, January 05, 2004

Moose tracks, nuclear corn, and the bermuda triangle

column #2 of Travels with Lola (from the Oberlin News-Tribune)

And we’re off!

Our much-planned cross-country journey in our little school bus has finally arrived. After a few weeks getting ready at my folks’ place in Ashtabula (and dropping most of our belongings in their basement), we sped off in search of excitement and adventure in the U.S.A.

But then we were passing Cobblestone Square on I-90 and couldn’t help but stop in and see what movies were showing. Three hours, sixteen dollars, and "28 Days Later," we were back on the road.

Soon we passed the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant and Kaci noticed the many rows of corn across the street from the plant. "Wouldn’t you like to eat that corn?" Kaci asks. (Do you know where your food comes from?)

Just after sundown on our second day, a blown tire on I-94 in southern Michigan brought our trip to a screeching halt (at least that’s what it sounded like to me).

Within ten minutes, Officer Rule stopped and contacted the Good Sam Club for us. Good Sam is similar to AAA road service, but specially geared for RVs and motor homes.

I guess we were looking fairly pathetic at our misfortune, so the trooper tried to cheer us up. "If it makes you feel any better, this is where semis run off the road, cars cross the median, and fatalities occur." She even told us that the Michigan State Police refer to that section of highway as the "Bermuda Triangle" due to all the strange accidents.

I’m not sure why this would make us feel better. Perhaps her point was that we just had a flat tire, and not a large semi barreling down the road at us. But with massive trucks driving 80 mph and passing within feet of our bus, but we were not put at ease by the added knowledge that one of them could easily go off course.

Good Sam indicated that their nearest truck from us was 100 miles away, and they would rather reimburse us to hire a different company. The trooper called the nearest driver they could find.

It was only when he arrived 90 minutes later that we learned the "local" driver was 65 miles away when contacted. And it was only when he was done and showed us his bill that we learned he was charging us mileage for the 130 miles of driving he had to do to get to and from our lonely spot on the highway and he was charging us labor for those 2 hours of driving. Of course, this was in addition to the labor of changing the tire.

Yes, we had one of our tires replaced by one of our spares, for a mere $364. By the way, if you ever have tire trouble in southern Michigan, the name of the company you can count on for the same friendly service is Carlson’s 24 Hour Truck Repair. (Stay tuned to see if we do get reimbursed by Good Sam.)

Eventually we made it to the Lake Michigan coast and ended up in the small resort town of Pentwater. Walking down the street, I recognized the shop where eight years earlier I first experienced the amazing power of moose tracks ice cream. I can still taste those flavory fudge swirls mixed with those crunchy-yet-creamy peanut butter cups in that wonderful waffle cone. You never forget your first.

Alas, a memorial cone was not to be. The only animal listed on their ice cream menu was a grasshopper or a cow or some other silly thing. No moose.

After our day in the little town, it was time to say goodbye. Prior to our trip, Kaci had volunteered to work at a week-long music festival in Michigan for women only (or rather, "womyn" only). We decided to incorporate it into our trip rather than wait until it was over to begin our journey.

So I dropped her off near Hart, with the plan to pick her up after the festival. I headed north up the coast of Lake Michigan, arriving in Traverse City late at night. Fortunately, there was a nearby WalMart where I could stop for the night.

WalMart has a policy of allowing trailers and mobile homes to set up in their parking lots at night. I guess their assumption is that when you wake up, you’ll stop inside for your coffee, newspaper, or other groceries rather than heading somewhere else. Some don’t allow the overnight parking, but that is more often due to city ordinance than any store policy.

Kaci and I may not agree with all of WalMart’s politics or economics. But we’re not against accepting a free spot of land from them when it’s late and we need to to rest our weary bus.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Happy New Year!

[Note from Ryan, 11/19/09: I decided to fold a few ol' posts from a different blog ( into this here blog. There were just 3 or 4 and it was 5+ years ago.  But isn't that how it is with most people's first venture into blogging? You have big plans and then write 3 posts and then forget all about it.  And then hear about people getting paid to blog and think "I could do that."  Well, apparently not me.]

Hello and welcome to the brand spanking new cyberspace home of my travel tales, highlighting my adventures in and around the world.

The title represents three things:
(1) going with very little luggage--the only real way to travel;
(2) shedding light upon a subject--hopefully you'll learn something, as I have; and
(3) being light-hearted--having fun and being able to laugh, even if it's at my own expense.

Some of you will also recognize "Traveling Light" as the title of my column in the Oberlin News-Tribune (2002-03).

Sometimes the stories will be fairly recent, but others will be stories from long ago that I'm finally getting around to write about. I'll try to post every week or so, so check back often.

By the way, I was hoping to get the address (instead of but it turns out that it was already taken by "A mega-site of Bible, Christian and religious information & studies; including, audio and written KJV Bible, Bible helps & tools, churches, Doctrine, links, news, prayer, prophecy, sermons, spiritual warfare, statistics, and tracts." What that has to do with traveling, I'm not sure. But if it interests you, you now know where to find it.

Thanks for stopping by.