Background Music: "Jesus Just Left Chicago" by ZZ Top

This summer has been a very damp one for Illinois. There has been a lot of flooding, leading to mud and mosquitoes and failed crops. During the day, whether it’s raining or not, the temperatures are high, and the so is the humidity. At night, thunderstorms tear through, with heavy rain and wind, and flashes of light and loud booms that keep you up all night. It’s kind of surprising how nice the people have been. They could easily get away with being more grumpy- or at least, we wouldn’t hold it against them. We got to experience some of the weather madness ourselves in Garden Prairie, Illinois, near the northern border of the state.

This stop our plan was to visit Chicago, and also drive up to Wisconsin to spend a day. There aren’t many campgrounds within driving distance of both of these places, but we did find one that would work. It turned out to be the most expensive campsite we’ve had on our entire trip- but with so few options, there wasn’t much we could do. We settled with the campground folks and drove out to our spot- the tiniest campsite you’ve ever seen, half mud and half mud puddle. “We won’t even charge you for waterfront property,” the campground hosts had joked, but no, this just would not do. Even if we were able to jump through the ankle deep mud, over the campfire to get into our trailer, the tree on the other side would surely scrape half the paint off our vehicle. For $38 a night, you’d expect a little more. We asked to be moved, and found another site with almost as much mud, but at least it was bigger, and the mud puddle dried up during the day. We had to put our truck into four wheel drive to back in.

At night, between the mosquito bites we’d accumulated while setting up camp, and the thunder and rain, it was pretty hard to sleep. We knew we had it much better than the tent campers, though, who were probably floating around on their air mattresses by 2:00 AM.

In the morning, all the people who had set up camp that Friday night, hoping for a fun camping weekend, packed it up, and we found ourselves alone on a big mosquito infested lake of a campground. We wanted to leave too, but settled on a day trip up to Wisconsin.

Thanks to our prime camping location, it was only a short drive up to Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. When you’re not sure what to do in a capital city, we’ve found the capitol building to be a safe bet, and there’s usually a botanical garden of some sort. We visited both. Luckily it was a nice day.

What we knew about Wisconsin before we arrived was that (1) people there are sometimes called cheese heads, (2) they wear hats that look like cheese, and (3) they make a lot of cheese. We were expecting to see some cheese shops there. We found a couple, but only after stopping a local resident outside the capitol building and asking her. She directed us to one place she knew of, and then told us of another place but wasn’t exactly sure of where it was. You’d think these people would know where all the cheese shops are! Surprisingly, not everyone is all about the cheese.
While in Wisconsin, we also learned that their state animal is the badger. They seem to love the badger, as they have little statues of them all over the capitol building above the doorways, and there’s even one sitting on the head of the gold lady that sits atop of the capitol dome. I was personally surprised that she was sporting a badger and not a cheese hat. The lost marketing opportunity there is just appalling. Once again, these Wisconsin folks are supposedly known for their cheese, but they’re just not following through. Of course we did end up buying some. A nice $5 cheddar, I believe. Though, we really did want that $27 block of rare gruyere- we just couldn’t justify it. The cheddar is good, of course, it’s just that we’re really looking forward to Tillamook cheese again. Only three weeks from home now, and we are homesick for a lot of things.

The next day, our plan was to visit Chicago. Unfortunately, a huge storm came in, and our big plans got soaked. The idea was to walk around downtown, see the views from the John Hancock Building and Sears Tower, visit the pier, have some Chicago Pizza. We did some walking around, but the humidity and the rain made it kind of miserable. The buildings were surrounded by fog, making it pretty pointless to pay for the views on the observation decks. Of course, we had pizza- really, really good pizza- good even on a rainy day.

The next day, back at camp, we packed up. Travis waded through ankle deep water to unplug, crank up trailer jacks, and hitch us up, while Marley and I did our best to clean up muddy paws before we got in the truck.

When we got to our Iowa spot, our spirits lifted. Our campsite here has neither mud, nor water. Although the thunderstorms still continue at night, the sun is bright during the day, the humidity is much lower and there are not nearly as many mosquitoes around. We’re happy. As is usually the case with bad situations, our last site had just served to remind us how good we normally have it.

Here in Iowa, there’s not a lot to do. The towns are really small, it’s flat, there’s lots of corn…just about what you’d expect. The most exciting place we saw this stop was Strawberry Point, IA- the birthplace of Travis’ grandfather on his dad’s side. It’s a very cute little town, whose claim to fame is that it is home to the world’s largest strawberry. It is 1430 pounds of red and yellow fiberglass, sitting atop a pole outside the Strawberry Point police station. The location, and the pole itself, are also famous for another reason. In 1930, William Penfield set a record for pole sitting there, by continuously sitting in a specially made chair atop the pole from July 23 to September 12- that’s 51 days and 20 hours! Hopefully it was a mild weather year.

We did have one more stop in Iowa: Cedar Rapids. Unfortunately, the city has been devastated by the recent floods, and in driving through we saw mainly vacant building and houses, in the process of being gutted and dried out. The flooding has subsided, and we’re hoping these folks are able to get back on their feet again soon.

So, it’s been another unique experience for us on this long trip. We’re always up for new things, but we’re hoping for some dryer weather soon- or at least a chance to sleep through the night. We’re really excited for Oregon’s mild climate!

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