August 9- On August 6 we drove late into the night and boondocked in the parking lot of a Walmart in Sioux Falls, SD (a good chunk of driving out of the way, particularly considering we didn't leave the Badlands till about 6 PM.August 7 was a big driving day, taking us from eastern SD across Minnesota and into Wisconsin. We did perhaps the most daring thing of the whole trip, having lunch at Mexican restaurant in a mall in rural Minnesota (actually, it wasn't bad).
We pulled in for the evening in a little town called Wisconsin Dells, in part because it had a lot of campgrounds and in part because I had heard of it and thought it was supposed to be a neat natural area. Which I believe it probably was, somewhere under a thick patina of water parks and t-shirt shops. We dubbed it "Myrtle Beach without the ocean" - apparently it is a huge weekend playground for Chicagoans. Our hopes of a quiet evening amid natural beauty dashed, we settled for a round of Pirate Cove mini-golf and headed back to the campground, where we utilized the pool in hopes of forestalling the kids from begging for a day at Mount Olympus water park, or worse, Noah's Ark.
Had a huge thunderstorm roll through in the early morning, so we spent some time laying awake, listening to the rain and pitying the campers in tents. Eventually we got up and headed into Madison. Madison is one of those places that I somehow had never been to before, despite having lived fairly close for four years. Rob has been there a few times for work and really liked it, so he was anxious to show me around. First stop (11:30 AM) was a power breakfast at a Madison institution, State Street Brats. I asked if it was too early to have a beer with mine (what else can you drink with a brat?), and the bartender laughed at me. So we both got local brews to complete the meal. (I recommend onions and chipotle mustard to top off the brat, btw).
After "lunch" we wandered around the State Street area, between the Capitol and the University. Unfortunately, we weren't there on Saturday, when they close the entire area around the Capitol and set up the biggest farmers market in the country. This is one of three super cool things about Madison, along with being situated between two lakes and having a superb bike culture. Madison is definitely a town I could see us relocating to—not quite as neat as Hood River, Oregon, but eminently more practical both in terms of getting jobs and in terms of not completely abandoning our families in the Northeast.So maybe someday.
Sunday evening we went to visit a National Guard colleague of Rob's for an excellent dinner. He has three daughters under nine, so the kids got some social interaction, not to mention some time on the Wii. Kieran also got some unsolicited nailpolish and glitter on his person—did I mention it was three daughters? We boondocked on his street that night, catching another huge overnight storm—Madison is in the middle of their wettest summer since 1908.
We all went to breakfast together this morning and then we headed toward Chicago. Someday we are going to fly to Chicago and stay downtown and take the kids to all the museums, but this was not that trip. We and our camper stayed on the outskirts of the city and hit a destination we had promised the kids since before we left - the Legoland Discovery Center. I had taken the kids to Legoland a couple years ago in San Diego and it was their favorite place, so they have been looking forward to this for a long time. And let's face it, most of this trip has been to the places Rob and I wanted to go, and blissfully short of pop culture. So a destination for the kids (besides mini-golf) was in order. Plus it turned out there was a Big Bowl restaurant in the same plaza—one of our favorite restaurants, and now mostly gone from the DC area. Thanks, karma!
Drove this evening to the South Bend area, in preparation for a walk down amnesia lane at Notre Dame tomorrow morning.