Last Chance Road Trip – Part 1

Last Chance Road Trip – Part 1

Day 1

Friday, July 23, 2021 – Waupaca, WI to Munising, MI

And it’s on!  Hello again, dear friends, family, lurkers, and our children (SIGH, they figured out the existence of this blog, sorry for the reduced cursing and PG13 content change).

Last year, we thought about maybe doing a road trip this year and hitting all of the stuff we’ve deliberately not done on road trips in the past, due to having better things to do.  This year, as we were trip planning, we decided it was the best option for a trip.  We were still a bit squicky about planning a trip that could get cancelled, so here we are.  Last chance to see all the crap we drove by without stopping the first 5 times we have gone out west.

Our journey will bring us to Munising, MI for trail races, over to Soup Town to see Grandma Barb, across North Dakota to Cody, WY.  We will use that as home base for a few days, then over to South Dakota, then the slow dreaded journey back home.  Mostly because that journey is across southern Minnesota, which is so boring.  Actually, so is northern Minnesota… crud.

We started up north around noon – Matt and kids were packing the car – with everything.  Pillows, robes, blankets.  Kids, it’s 85 degrees.  We compromised on the robes and a single Trolls pillow.  We rolled out of the ‘hood, and began the drive up to Munising, which is 4 hours away.  

Traditional start of vacation photo – B did get schmucked in the head with luggage when we made a few tight turns.
We literally were still within city limits of Waupaca at this point.

We were pretty psyched for this trail race – we had all signed up last year and it was cancelled, so so glad it was on this year!  Our friends the Pucillos and Blair were signed up too.  Kelly greeted Matt at the reception area, having just drank beer for lunch/dinner, then looked into doors in various patios until she found our room.  Holiday Inn Express was the host hotel for the race – we can’t say enough times how much we love this hotel – a room on the lake side is one of the best hotel rooms anywhere.

Packet pick up was closer than ever before. 

We grabbed our stuff, met up with Grandpa Bob who was up for the weekend, and hauled in two weeks worth of luggage.  We ordered pizza up from Pictured Rocks Pizza and snarfed it down.  We tried to make the kids go to bed, because we had to be up early.  The evening was full of frantic surfing.  Wasn’t looking good for race day.  It would definitely rain, but it was unclear when.  We tried to go to bed at 10 pm; the kids maaaaaybe fell asleep at 2 am.  

Beer/cocktail of the day:  none – geez man, we have a race tomorrow  

Miles traveled:  245 miles

Day 2

Saturday, July 24, 2021 – Munising, MI

Best day ever!!  So the trail run we were signed up for was the Great Lakes Endurance Grand Island Trail Run.  We had all signed up for the half marathon last year, then Sarah got bold and upgraded to the full marathon (alert – we do not recommend making decisions while drinking).  You got picked up by buses that went to all the hotels and campgrounds, then dropped off at a ferry dock, then motored across Lake Superior to a wilderness island for the race.  Total race capacity for the 50k, full, half was about 200-300 people.  

Sarah was up and getting ready and out the door to wait for her bus at 5:45 am.  It was her shivering in the windy 70 degrees and 90% humidity (with Matt drinking coffee since his race started later) until another guy joined her.  Finally the bus pulled up and there was only one person on there, which should have been an ominous sign.  Sarah (and the two other people) were dropped off at the ferry dock and there was what appeared to be a pontoon boat with all the seats ripped out with a much larger than necessary motor attached.  She and 4 other people were escorted aboard and took the frighteningly fastest trip ever out to the island, with the front half of the pontoon-like boat airborne.  She got out just as the 50k (and early wave marathoners) were starting.  Loafed around for an hour until the marathon started.  There were about 40 people doing regular wave marathon, which was for 5h or faster predicted finishing time.  

Sarah’s low rent way to put a pic of the course map here.
Sarah’s exhilarating pontoon boat ride in – and you can see the folks doing the 50k lined up at the starting line ready to go!

When the race started, it was a run for a few miles on a dirt forest road, then a “gnarly climb” up into the thumb of the island (true story, had a river running down the middle of the single track due to the storms overnight) and then back down.  Mile 7 was on the beach and then another climb up rocky single track after that.  Sarah hung in the back, hoping for a ~5 hour finish (her prior marathon had been like 4:15-20) and found her people, having a good time.

Yeah, we all thought running down a pretty beach would be great. Spoiler: it totally sucked. Do you like sand in your shoes? Do you like wet shoes? Do you like running slanted to one side? How about all three?

Meanwhile, Matt and Kelly and Blair were getting ready to start their half marathon.  Grandpa Bob was keeping an eye on the kiddos in the hotel, while Matt and friends boarded the fancy ferry (barge) that seated 30 people and zoomed over to the island.  There were about 100 half marathoners and their course cut across the island (take Sarah’s low class image above and draw a line through the middle of the island).

Look at these beautiful people! Note the lack of rain gear and dry clothes, indicating a pic clearly taken before the race.

None of us saw each other on the course.  Blair, Matt and Kelly finished between 2-3 hours, and Kelly took off in the pouring rain for the ferry and hotel, while Blair and Matt waited it out for Sarah on the island.

Oh wait, rain you say?  Yes.  At mile 16 it began drizzling (as Sarah was in the “cliffs” portion of the trail and Matt & Blair were finished) and then at mile 20, the torrential monsoon like rains began.  The forest road that was supposed to be the “fast” downhill portion of the race from 20-22 turned into a mud slide.  There was no one around aside from a lone guy behind Sarah (others were much further in front and behind).  That mud slide was all down hill and virtually unrunnable, and Sarah loped along in the grass on the side of the mud, splashing in puddles.  She watched an emergency vehicle struggle to come up the forest road, then leave with a backboard visible (WTF?!?).   Mud everywhere.  Mud slippery mud mud.  

The rain stopped and eventually the hell ended and Sarah loped into the finish line.  Haha, good enough for 3rd in the 40-49 age group!  Well, there were only 5 in the age group.  She will take her fancy glass medallion.   Splashed around in the water in Lake Superior, then headed back home (and Blair headed back to Gwinn for more family time – bye Blair!).

So happy to be done. Never so happy.

We ran into the hotel, changed into swimming suits, said hi to Bob, grabbed the kids, and popped over to the pontoon boat place with Kelly and family.  Off to Pictured Rocks!  What a wonderful afternoon – mysteriously the monsoon was gone and it was a beautiful day on the water!

A beautiful day on Lake Superior! (pic credit to KP)
This picture looks posed, but I don’t think the kids could agree on anything long enough to pose for a pic.
Is there a dangerous slippery appearing rock area in a river, flowing down to Lake Superior? Why, yes, of course – and Z and B were drawn like a magnet to it.
What a beautiful waterfall! (Note the other pontoon boat near it – these people dogged us the entire damn afternoon. We go to the secret cave we were forbidden to go in, there they are, trying to navigate in; we go to the shipwreck, they go to the shipwreck; we try to steer the boat through the channel, they allow their 4 year old to pilot their boat, almost cutting us off)

We then went to the hotel, picked up Muldoon’s pasties, and collapsed back at the hotel.  What a wonderful day!

Delicious beef pasties – the way nature intended! These are heaven. (Ignore the Christmas plates, we are a tad behind).

Beer of the day: Matt on the pontoon boat – Central Waters Tropical Face Punch

Miles traveled: nil

Day 3

Sunday July 25, 2021 – Munising, MI to Superior, WI

The day began with Sarah enjoying the mid-80 degree weather outside on her patio with coffee, basking in the sunlight in her PJs within full view of the many people dining on the breakfast patio.  Kelly wandered over, and they cackled about how hot it was and thank god yesterday it was just rain and not heat.  Eventually the rest of the Durst-Kolinski clan awakened and after a good bye to Grandpa Bob, we were off!

We stopped in Christmas, MI at a BBQ place, the Duck Pond, which was recommended by Kelly, who heard about it from another friend.  It was kind of like eating at the Chain Bar in King, WI, but slightly classier (actual waitstaff and no drugs that we know of).  B ate the whitefish, Matt had BBQ pulled pork, Noah had a wrap, and Sarah and Z had burgers.  It was tasty, and great beer selection – which we didn’t indulge in, given it seemed poor form to drive for 5-6 hours after drinking.

Yeah, looks like we thought it would.
Let’s all not look at the sign that says 1029 miles to Yellowstone…

We then got on the road.  Look at a map – it is like a straight line from Munising to Hurley/Ironwood, to Superior.  WELL.  The internet is sketchy and we did somehow get lost several times.  Like WTF, people.  And although abandoned ghost towns seem cool out west, they were not cool here.  Belligerent shifty people polishing rifles on porches, and lots of bait shops.  Actually, Sarah felt like she was home in Superior already despite being in the UP.  We drove through, stopping only at a couple “Roadside Parks”, the quaint MI way of saying pit toilet in the woods.  

We crossed the border, and the family had to listen to Sarah tell stories of every podunk Hwy 2 town we drove through – how she knew someone from there (“my eye doctor’s receptionist’s daughter is from here, now I met her in college and went to these bars and played pool.  blah blah blah”, “here is where I saw a wolf 22 years ago”, “I once almost hit a deer here”, “this bar looks cool but I know someone who got in a fight here once 25 years ago so it might be sketchy”).  There’s not a lot on highway 2 but Sarah was FULL of information.  Not useful information.

We zoomed into Superior and Grandma Barb was there with open arms!  She had made a taco bar and Sarah’s bro Andy and family came over, and we had a rousing game of Pictionary that would have been won by the girls if the boys hadn’t shamelessly cheated.  We enjoyed some delicious shortbread bars that Grandma Barb had purchased out of the back of some lady’s car.  No one has gotten sick yet.  Matt and Sarah and Grandma then sat on the front porch and had a beer while listening to a symphony practicing through an open door at UW-Superior. 

Another rousing game of Pictionary. We knew the girl team was in trouble when Z had to draw the word “rescue” for the first word.
See that tiny open door near the “do not enter” sign above the bush? it leads to backstage! We are a cheap people and will take free entertainment whenever we can.

Beer of the day: Bent Paddle Golden IPA

Miles traveled:  298 miles

Day 4

Monday July 26, 2021 – Superior, WI to Bismarck, ND

Plan was to get up and be out the door by 8 or 9 am.  We rolled out of bed at 8:45 am and were like, eh.  The kids had been up for hours, getting sugared up by Grandma Barb.  We packed up and hit Caribou Coffee (in Superior!!!  we felt so urban) and then crossed the border into MN.  And hit road construction.  EVERYWHERE.

After today, we know that eastern South Dakota is no longer the worst state to drive through.  (And for the record, Sarah thought Nebraska was pretty, no matter what anyone says).  It is clearly Minnesota.  It is so ugly.  YES YES, the Cities are fun, the north shore is beautiful and so is Duluth and Rochester and the boundary waters.  But the rest of it?  Trash, man.  All the pretty trees were logged 150 years ago and scrubby leafy undergrowth and sad second growth pine everywhere, small towns littered with Lutheran churches.  We swore last year we would never drive this again.  Well, here we are.  Although Leech Lake and Height of the Land lake and some of the lakes are so pretty, the areas surrounding them are not.

We decided to make the drive across north central Minnesota worth our time this year.  We hit up Grand Rapids for some Mickey D’s (don’t judge us, there are few food choices on the drive) and then headed to Itasca State Park!  That is where the headwaters of the Mississippi are.  We had wanted to go last year, but checked out their live cam and it was swarmed with people and we felt kind of COVID ick with that.  Well, we care less now.  Off we went!  It was a bit off the beaten path to get there, but it had a gorgeous visitor center and nice plaques (did not go in the center, otherwise Zoe would buy more crap).  We walked down, and splashed in the waters.  It was really nice and the water felt great (cue swimmer’s itch in a few days).  Amazing that this is where the Mississippi river starts!

Take a look at the brown monument in the center of the photo. Sarah figured out where the webcam was AND that it had a 10 second delay. So the two of us posed and then uploaded the webcam feed and screenshotted it. We need a life.

Sarah drove the next stretch.  Matt sat there, white knuckled, listening to all the alarms go off (dash cam and some other lane warning) and tried to navigate all the backroads while she happily dozed off and drove at the same time.  We made it to Moorhead and stopped at our favorite DQ.  They have the original DQ menu and it is all delicious and home made food (they are one of the last non-corporate hold outs and do stuff the original way to make “the man” mad, which makes us love them).  This place is always hopping, even at 6 pm on a Monday!  

Best DQ ever (although we feel like we are cheating on the Waupaca one, just a little).

We then motored on to Bismarck.  Along this stretch, we stopped negotiating with Zoe.  For days she had been insisting on listening to the Home soundtrack.  We have all listened to it now many dozen times.  (prior trips have included Trolls, Moana and Lego soundtracks).

We rolled into Bismarck, ND at 9 pm.  It looked like noon outside because we are pretty far west in the central time zone.  We immediately drove to “Stonehome Brewery”, some random place Sarah had found on the internet on the drive.  We grabbed food and a growler of their hoppiest IPA and hit up the Staybridge Suites.  Our room here is freaking amazing.  B: “We don’t need THIS much space”.  No, we don’t.  But god it was like staying in a palace for a night.  We devoured our food while watching the Olympics.  Matt got some kind of fig and bacon pizza, Sarah got salad and pretzels/cheese, the kids got grilled cheese.  The beer was weak but palatable.  North Dakota is trying, people, we wanted to give them a chance!  

The food was unexpectedly better than the beer.

Beer of the day: Stonehome Brewery Two Worlds IPA (IBU:41 – the most bitter beer they make…)

Miles traveled:  520 miles

Day 5

Tuesday, July 27, 2021 – Bismarck, ND to Cody, WY

We straggled out of bed in the morning, and Matt took the kids down to the pool.  After the pool, he took off for BearScat Bakery (yeah, yeah, we know, the name…) and picked up a dozen donuts.  We packed up the car and donuts, and we were off! 

This is upside down, too lazy to fix. These donuts were freaking delicious!

We stopped by Salem Sue, our favorite North Dakota highway stop.  She’s the biggest Holstein cow in the world, and we always stop by to say hi.  This year, the kids each separately disclosed to Sarah how creeped out they were by the size of the blood vessels on Sue’s udders.  Kids, grow up!  You need blood flow to make milk!  (note:  Sarah was creeped out too, clearly Sue had gotten a fresh coat of pink paint).  We got in the car, as another family had shown up and was moo-ing at Sue.  We knew we were not the only ones!

Hello Sue!!
Eesh, we get this is farm country, but the blood vessels get bigger every year.

Back the road again.  We then stopped in Dickinson for gas and lunch.  The kids were all, we want DQ.  Ugh.  Then we thought… well….  so we picked up DQ for them, and Sakura sushi rolls for us!  haha!  Living large with the 3 roll special.  God we love this place.  First time for eating sushi while driving.


Shortly just west of Dickinson, there it was – Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  We took our annual family photo, used their restrooms, got out precious passport stamps, and off we went.  The same people who were at Salem Sue were there too – we all seem to follow the same trail.

If you think we are letting a stranger touch our camera this year so we can pose for a pic, not so much. We will suffer through a couple years of substandard Teddy R selfies, it’s cool.

On for more endless boring miles.  The car fairy had made an appearance and Sarah had received a tiny Oregon Trail game.  Funny, 30 years have passed, and Sarah is still losing at this wretched game.  Noah played and won, although a bunch of his family died from measles or drowning.  Matt wanted to tear his eyes out.  Z and B fought endlessly, in between requests for the Home soundtrack, which we all know by heart.  The temperature climbed to 110 degrees.

This game has two pixels and it still managed to display a tiny tombstone after Sarah killed her family and then herself in the damn game.

We finally got into Billings, the worst place in the entire world.  Funny, the sugar beet refinery smelled extra worse, and there were even more casinos in town than we remember.  We stopped by Costco for bulk goods (refrigerated stuff) – loaded up the cooler, and turned south.  This was a boring road of scary depressing tiny towns – all the way to Wyoming.  We then started following the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River which was pretty, then the hills started turning into mountains.  Then all of a sudden it was gorgeous!

We headed into Cody.  Note: if you come in from the north side of Cody, it is not pretty.  Sort of like seeing the worst side of town.  But then it gets cuter.  We of course hit up the Albertson’s (grocery store) and a nearby liquor store (lol), and then turned on to South Fork Road.  Our AirBnB was just outside of town – on the Diamond Bar Ranch.  Matt had been texting the owners back and forth all day – and all of a sudden we were there!  We drove down a tree lined driveway to our chalet, which was next door to the owners.  There was another guesthouse nearby.

Ooh, fancy driveway with trees!
So quaint looking! The door doesn’t lock, but this place is worth that minor trade off.
We stepped into the chalet and it.  Was.  Amazing.  Like, the kids said: “we don’t need to stay somewhere THIS nice”.  (Don’t worry kids, our next place is not nice.  maybe borderline scary.  you will regret these comments). 
There were freshly baked cookies, luxurious linens, an amazing deck overlooking the ranch and the mountains. 
No air conditioning, but we have two box fans and lots of windows.

As we baked our frozen pizzas (CLASSY), we hauled in our numerous pieces of luggage.  We were finally here.  At like 8 pm.  Exhausted.

Tomorrow?  Stay tuned for a hike, hail, and a drive through liquor store.  You know shit will start falling apart soon, right? Vacation has BEGUN.

Miles driven:  538 miles

Beers drank:  Wilson Mountain Style IPA – Roadhouse Brewing (thankfully we had some Bent Paddle left – “Mountain Style IPA” is not really a kind of beer, nor should it be)

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