Captain’s Log – Sturgis, SD; Mt. Rushmore; Madison, WI

Coming down from the Rockies

Coming down from the Rockies

With our first major nature leg of the journey finished, we were ready to return to civilization.  But first, we had to get through some large swaths of unsettled territory known as Wyoming and South Dakota.  I kid, but only sort of.  You can drive Interstate 90 for a 1,000 miles without seeing much of anything.

Leaving Yellowstone however, is gorgeous.  After winding through the mountains, we made a stop in Cody, Wyoming for some breakfast at Our Place – the country’s best diner, at least according to the owner and some of his well traveled patrons.  While my omelet topped with melted American cheese squares may not have had accoutrements of a San Francisco brunch, the silence and pace of our meal was a testament to the quality of the food.  With full bellies, we bid farewell to Cody – the hometown of Buffalo Bill (who has a museum there that is supposed to be great) – and continued towards Sturgis, SD.

The man, the myth - Clarence

The man, the myth – Clarence

Sturgis (population 6,600) is home to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which is celebrating its 74th year this week and is estimated to draw over 500,000 riders from across the world to small town western South Dakota.  Our host, Paula, was gracious enough to let us camp in her backyard and introduced us to her trusty sidekick, Clarence.  This week, as they do every year around this time, Paula and Clarence are hosting some 17 rally-goers in the same backyard.

We were only in town for a night so we headed downtown for some beverages at The Knuckle – where our presence significantly dropped the average tattoos per patron.  We were a week early for the rally but already the town was gearing up as canopies, stages, and makeshift traffic signage lay in wait for the coming hoards.  Our stay was short and we set off early the next morning for Madison – another 12 hour day in the car.

Presidential posturing at Mt. Rushmore

Presidential posturing at Mt. Rushmore

The trip to Madison started off pleasantly enough as we stopped off at Mt. Rushmore early before the crowds.  It’s an impressive scene.  Started in 1927, we were a bit surprised to learn that it was created solely in hopes of promoting tourism in the region and well, it works.  As we would soon find out – tourist trapping seems to be a South Dakota past time.

Wall Drug is a drug store, breakfast buffet, ice cream parlor, junk peddling, tourist trap along Interstate 90.  But after 50 miles of nearly endless billboards telling of the free water and five cent coffee at exit 109, we simply couldn’t afford to skip it.  So we went in, enjoyed our five cent coffee, picked up some stamps (they really do have everything), and went on our way.

View of Madison from on top of the capitol building

View of Madison from on top of the capitol building

We pulled into Madison well past sunset after another long day on the road.  Madison is on an isthmus and is centered around the state capitol building – which is the tallest in the city and will remain so due to legislation.  I think this is great policy as the lit up dome takes over the night sky.  We arrived at Will’s old apartment outside of the city and were welcomed by his old roommates despite the fact that their lease was expiring in two days.  We laid out our bags and pads and went to bed – I’m coming around to NASCAR being considered a sport, driving will wipe you out.

The next day, we awoke and Will and Malc headed to the University of Wisconsin campus for some interviews while Matt and I went to Starbucks to try and catch up on some work on the blog.  The city is quaint and reminds me of a larger and more politically geared San Luis Obispo.  The University lies to the south west of the capitol building and the streets sprawl out in a grid around the the capitol square.  Restaurants, businesses, and bars fill out the very vibrant neighborhood and we caught some of the community spirit that the city aims to foster with events like their Concerts on the Square – an event that turns the grass around the capitol building into a vibrant quilt of blankets marking small, temporary territories claimed by the citizens of Madison.

Inside Madison's capitol building

Inside Madison’s capitol building

After lunch with the delightful Beth, we toured the capitol building and its spectacular rotunda before heading back to the apartment to regroup and get ready for an evening on the town.  The safe and walkable streets of Madison bustle in the evenings with college students and young professionals.  This, coupled with the affordable booze prices, can lead to some excesses and our drive to Chicago the next morning got off to a late start.  But, as always, onward and upward.

I apologize for the long winded posts – still working on catching up.  Chicago coming soon!

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