Brief background: Carole's grendkids by her son are now in the care of her daughter in Oregon. Getting them to their aunt was a long process, largely with Carole's help, and this is the optimal situation for them.
For Winter Break, the kids are at home but the daughter and boyfriend are still working. Carole offers to fly out to babysit and visit. The basic problem is that Bend, Oregon is not an easy place to get to by air. Geting to Portland is easy, but getting her up into the mountains is expensive and would be physically taxing.
So I offer to drive. We've been meaning to take a long trip for a while. Indeed, we were planning an overnight excursion to The House on the Rock when she hurt her leg. We were forced to cancel that. Further, my 2012 Camry has never been tested. Time to take a road trip!
My deal was: We had to do tourist stuff as well as babysit. Carole agreed.
I made sure our AAA memberships were up to date and made a TripTik for the route west. Changed the oil and rotated the tires. Bought an iPad w/cellular connection to take/edit/post photos on the road as well as serve as a connection to emergency services. Made checklists of chargers and electronics. Bought enough trail mix, bottled water and other stuff to last us if we got caught in a snow drift for three days...
Say... when did I become the organized one? Oh dear.
Car with Trip Mileage 0, Mpls 12/20/12
Basic plan was to take a northern route west and a southern route back, planning one day at a time. I always had a Plan A and at least one Contingency Plan. For the first day, I gambled a bit an projected that we would make it all the way to Bismarck, ND.
As it turned out, a mixed start. Plan A was to leave immediately after Carole got off work. But she was feeling too poorly to go to work. Still, there's a large gap between "too sick for work" and "too sick to see grandkids". We left early Friday morning. Carole huddled in the passengers side while I drove.
A projected storm system went south, and while we were cruising on a clear (but very cold) I-94 in Minnesota and North Dakota, O'Hare Airport in Chicago was closed.
We got to Fargo, ND pretty easily. We pulled into the Visitors Center, which also had lots of gas stations and restaurants around it. Picked up maps and suggestions of places to eat. Did so.
Bison at Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center 12/21/12
Because we left early, we made it to Bismark while it was still light. Carole was still not feeling up to snuff, so I'm just as happy we stopped for the day. I wanted her at her best for the kids. Also, it allowed us to do a bit of exploring in Bismarck.
I'd been to Fargo, briefly, nearly thirty years ago. I've never been farther west in this part of the country. Bismarck was more-or-less what I expected: Flat. The dusting of snow made everything in North Dakota really pretty. Most touristy things were closed for the winter, but we explored the Capitol grounds.
Carole and Sakakawea (approx. "Sa ka KA we a"), Bismarck Capitol grounds 12/21/12
Finding interesting places to eat was easy. While I paid attention to the AAA indicators and looked at Yelp, I usually just asked the hotel clerk (or some friendly local) what was good, then avoided any chains. This led us to a place called The Walrus. Sampling local fare (or at least stuff we usually didn't encounter), I had The Thor sandwich (Roast beef, swiss cheese on grilled flatbread served with au jus) and Carole had Shrimp Diablo (Linguine pasta, onions, peppers, roasted garlic, jalapeños and green chilies in a hurricane cream sauce. With sautéed chicken) both of which were good. A crowded bar, though we got in early enough to get a good table.
In the Bismarck hotel, we registered for a hotel at the next jump: Bozeman, Montana with a stop for a dinosaur museum. Then a long night's sleep.
Continued in 20121222 Trip to Oregon and Back: Montana.