"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
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
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!