A year ago, I had planned to take the major road trip that would officially allow me to claim having been able to experience all fifty states in the USA. However, the COVID pandemic forced me to delay this trip as travel restrictions rose up to fight the virus. Two years ago, I had viewed this trip in a simple format by flying to Chicago and renting a car to drive around Lake Michigan to experience the two states I had never visited, Michigan and Wisconsin, and the last state where I had only visited by changing planes in an airport, Minnesota. Yet, with travel restrictions creating new barriers even as they slowly started to lift, I realized this trip will need to be taken solely by car on a major road trip. I mapped out a path where I would drive from Colorado through Nebraska to Iowa, before turning north toward Minnesota. I noticed during my planning that Iowa had a small national monument along the Mississippi, Effigy Mounds, and decided to put this side trip into the schedule. In Minnesota, the goal was to visit its lake-based national park, Voyageurs, and then head over to a town in the northeast point of Minnesota, where I could catch a boat ride in Lake Superior over to Michigan’s lone national park, Isle Royale, which just happens to be closer to Minnesota and Canada than Michigan. After this boat visit, I next planned to head around Lake Superior into Wisconsin in order to take a boat cruise around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at the tip of a small Wisconsin peninsula. After this cruise, I would then drive across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to get to the Mackinac Bridge, the one connection over to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. When I described my trip’s plans to a friend, he recommended that I take the time before crossing over the bridge to take a ferry over to Mackinac Island, where the small town on the island has no automotive transportation, only horse buggies to take visitors through the town. I added it to the schedule, and then plotted my path into the Lower Peninsula, planning a stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. On my initial planning, I had not included Indiana Dunes, but when it was recently re-designated as a national park from a national lakeshore, I added it to my national park bucket list. After this final stop, I plotted my road journey to loop back up into Wisconsin to get a perspective of its farming and urban areas before heading back home. After getting fully vaccinated from COVID, dealing with a family issue, HOA concerns, the passing of a dear neighbor in my community, and the medical issues of a close friend, I finally prepared and set off on my journey in the middle of a hot summer, but I was about to discover that even with all of my planning, this was a trip where I was going to have to adjust and adapt more than with any other road trip I had undertaken.
My first day of the journey was basically a long drive through the heart of Nebraska into Iowa, where my destination was a small hotel just north of Des Moines, which I had booked online the night before. This has become the foundation of handling a modern road trip, using hotel Wi-Fi and my laptop to judge the next day’s schedule and book the next night’s hotel at each stop’s journey along the way. However, I was going to discover that this trip was going to need a bit more adapting in this process. Per my initial plan, the next day I would check out Effigy Mounds and then head to a hotel just outside of Voyageurs, but I quickly discovered online that there were no hotel availability near Voyageurs. I also confirmed that there were no hotel availability near the boat departure point to Isle Royale. The closest hotel opening for either location was in Duluth at the western tip of Lake Superior, centrally located about over two hours away from both destinations, as well as just a bit west of Apostle Islands, my next destination after the two national parks. The hotel was available for the next two nights, but was fully booked for the third night following, so I booked both nights to cover the three destinations and started to plan the schedule. As I thought it over, I felt it might be best to try and see Voyageurs before checking in to the Duluth hotel, which would be difficult with the side trip to Effigy Mounds, so I made the decision to drop Effigy Mounds from the schedule for the next day. The next day, I headed straight up the interstate into Minnesota, heading through the St. Paul side of the twin cities, but it still took longer than I had hoped as I approached the Duluth area. I began to realize that I would not reach Voyageurs until around late afternoon, which would not be the best time to experience the park, so I went to the hotel I booked in Duluth and checked in early.
Once I was in my room, I logged in to the Wi-Fi on my laptop and checked on basic information for Voyageurs for the next day. After checking on Voyageurs, I went over to the Isle Royale page on the nps.gov site to check on the boat schedules at the departure point for the following day. There was only one boat handling two trips to the island from the Minnesota departure point, and seating was fully booked. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get a chance to explore Isle Royale and check it off my national park bucket list. Suddenly, I decided to check on the boat schedule for the day I had planned for Voyageurs and found the boat had one last available seat available for its morning trip. I immediately booked the open seat, and swapped the schedule to visit Isle Royale before Voyageurs. I also realized that I would need to get up at four in the morning in order to make the boat check-in at the departure point around nine. Since, I was now delaying Voyageurs for another day, I also realized that I would need to find a third hotel night in Duluth for the Apostle Islands visit. This trip was fast becoming the most complicated road trip I had ever taken on. I could hardly wait to finally get to my first schedule designation on this trip.
To be continued…