In 2007,

The year I first came to Montana, a movie came out about the life & death of Chris McCandless.  "Into the Wild" chronicles the story of a young man trying to find his place in the world, for better or worse.  Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam) did the soundtrack, and it's one that fills me with wanderlust every time I hear it.

It's also fitting for a drive home, when that drive puts the sunset to your face.

We ended up staying in Rhinelander a few days longer than planned so that I could be in the office.  Elyse and the kids took full advantage of the time, spending more time with great-grandparents, but it did set us back on returning to Bozeman.  Reluctantly, I had to cancel a Wilderness class I was going to teach for FBC's Legacy Project, but such are the sacrifices remote work brings to life from time to time.

On Thursday, May 21st, we struck off for home.

When I double-checked our route home, I noticed that our delayed departure meant landing on some graduations & construction along I-90.  Typically, we've preferred driving through South Dakota over North because of cheaper hotels and more frequent diaper-changing stopping points.  But, as I looked at it, and called hotels, it was not looking viable.  A huge part of doing a trip of any sizable duration is proactive & strict planning.

You have to budget.

You have to keep contingency plans.

You have to be stingy.

You have to be flexible.

The trip started with an unexpected detour that turned out to be a memory I will cherish forever.  The trip's new return trip route turned out that way too.

As I looked at the map for the fastest route home from Rhinelander, I noticed that the route went about 15 minutes South of a certain town.

A town of 312 people, that you could blink and miss, a name no one believes, and a town you would have no reason to visit.

Unless you were born there.

If you are driving to this town from the East, on WI Hwy 70, you will drive through the town of Fifield, WI.  Fifield is the town that my dad would often buy our Christmas tree from on our way back to Rhinelander from hunting.  It also has a statue of a deer that my siblings and I would eagerly look forward to seeing on our drives past it.

Many a Frasier kid was beat-down in the back seat of my parents' car by a sibling trying to see this deer first.

If you continue on past the deer, through Draper and Loretta, you will come to a small town named after a season:

Winter, WI - My Hometown

Today, when people ask me where I'm from, I say Bozeman.  It's not from any disdain about my childhood.  I've always made a point to say that I'm "from" wherever I live at that time.  Even when, for a time, that meant saying I was "from Iowa."  I just felt like it was a more honest and helpful answer than, "I'm from this place that I spent part of my childhood."

From before I was born, until the summer of 1992, my family lived in this house:

 The stonework is new, and the trees are alarmingly larger than I remember.

The stonework is new, and the trees are alarmingly larger than I remember.

Someday, I'll write a post about 'why' my parents had selected Winter, WI to start their family.  I need to get more info from them on it first, as I was quite young and I'm certain some details are really romanticized by decades of replaying memories.

The main fact is this:  They were there to help people that no one wanted to help.

As we drove up to the house, I felt a weird cocktail of emotions.  I hadn't seen the building in at least 15-20 years.  We had driven past on the highway, but we had not gone down to actually look at the place where all my earliest memories project from in a long time.  And then, there it was.  Crying started in the back seat.

I would like to say that the reason emotions were high in the vehicle were because of the experience.  They weren't.  Hannah was hungry.

We pulled in to the "downtown" area, and Elyse got snacks out for the kids.  That was weird, but cool as well.

Two of my brothers and I once rode in an Independence Day Parade in this very spot - in 1991.

Once the nostalgia wore off and the desire to get home set in hard again, we hit the road.  So, roughly 4 minutes.  That speaks to the strength of the former more than a lack of the latter.

After driving through seemingly endless miles of woods and farmland, we came upon St. Cloud, MN.  Our goal for the evening was Fargo, ND - a few hours further.  So, when we saw a diner and Elyse said, "I've always wanted to eat in a diner...", well I simply had to pull over.

Common theme with Hannah:  HUNGRY

We had a simple dinner of burgers and shared a malt.  It was good, and I'm glad we had the experience.  However, after a few weeks of eating "Mama's cookin'" from both our mother's, the food from this place darn near killed us.  Again, super delicious.  But oh Mylanta...our guts were in agony from the grease.  Ewan claimed he had a headache in his stomach...and many of you have seen what he'll gladly eat.

Like so many things on this trip, the consensus was, "Glad we did it - in no rush to do it again."

The next few hours went by quickly, and we arrived at our hotel in Fargo, ND before sunset.  Which was a nice change.

Also of note, we hit mile 6,500 as we rolled in to town.

The hotel (a Best Western) had a sweet pool with big water slides and toys that added a theme park feel.  The kids had a blast.

Also, may I just say, out of all the chains of hotels that we stayed at on this trip, our best ones (for our budget) were Best Western hotels.  Hands down.  The variety of locales meant that we stayed in Hamptons, Hiltons, Fairfields, Grand Stays, and one nasty Super 8 too...but Best Western took that title for hospitality and cleanliness.  

The next morning, Friday, we were on the road by 9:30AM.  I was dealing with work in the AM for our drive across North Dakota, but when I wasn't working, Elyse read from our Continental Divide book.  We had bought it on the first day of our honeymoon, five years ago.  We finally finished it on this trip.

On the far Western edge of North Dakota was the last of our National Parks: Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

If you are driving along on I-94, it's easy to miss it from the highway, but I recommend at least Painted Overlook.

This mildly pimpled landscape is your reward for the 6 featureless hours to the East or West of it.

The buffalo were out en force by the highway, but not so much in the Park.  The Park has a 38 mile loop that we started, but when it was clear (and I'm not ashamed of this) that the speed limit would remain 35 MPH, we bailed.  That's how badly we wanted to go home.  We skipped a whole freakin' park.

We did get to see some of the bigger buffalo before we bailed:

Foot to the floor, we crossed in to Montana at 4:30PM, May 22nd.

A few sets of thunderstorms greeted us as we rolled past Billings.

There's the sky we've been missing.

And then, almost like magic, we arrived home in Bozeman, MT.

I'll share final trip stats in a later post.

Right now, I'm just glad to be home.