Why do I torture myself year after year? I willingly go to a place where I get to hang out with 150,000 of my closest friends. I spend a hot summer day outside in the sun. I tolerate waiting in long lines for the ladies room. I eat battered, deep-fried, junky food. What is this torture? Why, the Great Minnesota Get-Together, of course!

Any self-respecting Minnesotan will trek to the Minnesota State Fair at least once each year. I have friends who go multiple times. Take my friend Jen A, for example, whose husband is in the Army. They got stationed in Guam for three years. A year ago he left a month before Jen. Jen waited until after the Fair. And when has she come back for a visit? To coincide with the Fair. She has been there just about every day. I don’t know how she does it. I go for a few hours and I’m done in. Think I’m joking about attendance of 150,000? Look at this. And I went on the last Sunday. The last Sunday usually goes over 200,000.

These just in:

Quotes from Jen (which I include because I truly am impressed by your desire, determination, and stamina, and I know you were doing what you love to do): 1) “After a 15.5 hour day yesterday, I’ve logged 67 hours at the fair this year. A record for me. One day to go. (Sunday).” 2) “My last day at the fair. 16 hours for a total of 83 hours over 6 days. That’ll do.”

2014 State Fair breaks all-time attendance record. Thank goodness I didn’t go on Saturday, attendance 252,092.

So this is the fun I had at the fair.

photo of overheated Kelly

When I bike to the fair, I am hot and miserable before I even pass through the gate.

Biking to the fair.

Just like going to the fair at all, biking to it always seems like a good idea before I do it. It’s a four-and-a-half-mile ride, most of which is on a dedicated bike- and busway. Easy route, but even if the temperature isn’t too hot, I get overheated. So I’m at a disadvantage before I even get through the gate.

I should also mention that the fair encourages you to not take your car. As could benefit me, there are three bike corrals. Unfortunately they are at the three corners of the grounds other than the one where the transitway spits me out. Getting to a bike corral adds a half-mile onto my ride. But I’m glad they have them because it takes a lot of the thinking out of arriving at the Fair.

Anyway, I had a couple of personal connections at the fair.

Personal connections and vegetables in general.

My coworker’s grandmother enters vegetables every year. And she wins every year. Look at those Yukon gold potatoes! Jen (a different Jen) helped harvest those winners. And since I love vegetables, you get a photo of the west wall of the Horticulture Building. And who wouldn’t be impressed by giant pumpkins, Charlie Brown?

photo of potatoes

Blue ribbon Yukon Gold potatoes dug up and sorted by my coworker, grown by her grandmother.

photo of giant pumpkin

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

panoramic photo of vegetables

These are a few of my favorite vegetables.

photo of Larry's painting

A little purple goes a long way.

I also managed to find my nextdoor neighbor Larry’s painting in the Fine Arts building. As my mentor Chris Gargan always said, a little purple goes a long way. Or was that John Ribble? It was twenty+ years ago.

photo of mini-donut beer

Mini-donuts! In beer form!


Natch, it didn’t take me long to acquire beer. Unlike last year, Lift Bridge Brewery made PLENTY of their Mini-Donut Brown Ale. It sounds so wrong, but it works. This year there was also a s’mores beer replete with a floating marshmallow, and a lager that came with blueberry frozen foam.

photo of Kelly with beer

Kelly visits a beer exhibit. Yes, a beer exhibit.

A great thing about the Minnesota State Fair is that it keeps up with the times. Whether it’s an evening of Minnesota bands, sponsored by The Current, or craft beer, the fair is all over it. Back by popular demand for the third year, was the Land of 10,000 Brews exhibit, also in the Horticulture Building. This is where there are six options for four-beer flight from Minnesota breweries. The selections vary daily. Sometimes there’s fancy stuff, but mostly it’s a way to support our burgeoning craft beer industry.

[Update from the interim between writing and posting: Some asshole robbed the exhibit at gunpoint a couple hours after the Fair closed for the year. Armed robbery of over $10,000.]

photo of double-wide stroller

Does she look like she’s actually having fun?

Major annoyances.

I’m pretty sure I ranted about this last year, too, and every year before that. If it’s not old enough to walk under its own power, it’s most likely not old enough to really comprehend, and therefore actually enjoy, what is going on at the fair, and should therefore be left at home. Your doublewide stroller isn’t doing anybody, and I mean anybody, least of all you, any favors. Tell the truth. Do you actually enjoy pushing that thing through the throng, having to constantly apologize to the crowd around you for needing non-standard space accommodation, the crowd which is already annoyed by the rest of the crowd? Are you having fun when the tot is screaming because it wants cotton candy, or is over-stimulated, or is over-tired? And when it falls asleep, well, what was the point anyway?

photo of parade float

It’s a parade. Yay.

While we’re on the subject of hindrances to the already crowd-hindering crowd, what about the daily parade? I guess some people watch it, but it seems like it’s mostly meaderers scattering to the curbs to make way. I find it particularly purturbing because on either side of the street it goes down are some of the things I’m most interested in, such as the aforementioned Horticulture Building and the abeermentioned Ballpark Cafe, from whence the Mini-Donut Brown Ale (and many other fine, Minnesota brews) is served, and because I always manage to encounter it. I just want to cross the damned street. Call me a chicken if you must, apropos to the fair.

photo of Kelly with a Pronto Pup

It’s a Pronto Pup. Or is it a corndog. Huh?

Fair food.

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve likely heard of all the any-state’s fair food you can get on a stick. Minnesota’s fair does food on a stick like no other. However, I mostly avoid it. Battered, deep-fried delights are so far from how I typically eat that it doesn’t take much of it to do me in. But I’ll always get a corndog. I don’t like weiners but I love me a corndog. I am a poor Minnesotan because I’m still not sure exactly what the difference is between a corndog and a Pronto Pup. What I do know is that this year I got a Pronto Pup rather than a corndog and I didn’t like it as well. I think a Pronto Pup is more of a batter batter while a corndog is more of a cornbread batter. Next year I shall go back to the corndog.

photo of Kelly eating corn on the cob


What never disappoints is the roasted corn on the cob. Minnesota sweetcorn, grilled in the husk. ’Nuff said. Oh, except for that they compost all the discarded cobs.


photo of weather radar progression

How much time do I have?

Weather, more beer, more food.

All afternoon I felt like I had blown it with regard to the weather. The day before, Saturday, was a little less warm, a little less humid, less unsettled. Sunday started out overcast and not-warm, but of course by the time I got pedaling the sun came out and the dewpoint started creeping up. The forecast was for a clear afternoon with rain and thunder likely in the evening. It approached more quickly.

photo of Kelly and cutout of Mark Stutrud

Hanging out with Summit Brewing founder, Mark Stutrud. Well, a reasonable facsimile of him, anyway.

I made my move in the direction of the exit when I figured, based on radar panel number three, that I had about forty-five minutes before the heavens would open. I need about twenty-five for the bike ride. Fortunately, the main Summit Brewing counter, in the International Bazaar, is right on the way to the entrance I use next to the bike corral. Summit had a fair-only brew this year, but it was not on offer on Sunday (unless it was at an auxiliary location). Nevertheless, I ordered one of the beers that was available and participated in what was their genius marketing ploy for the fair, taking a selfie with the life-sized cutout of founder Mark Stutrud. I have actually hung out with Mark several times in person, so this was a little weird, and yet, necessary.

photo of tacos

Tacos al pastore y asada.

I had just about decided that I was out of weather-time and had every intention of heading out, when I was dazzled again by what had caught my attention on the way in, tacos from Los Ocampo. I wasn’t exactly hungry, but wanted to eat, and figured that if I ate a little more at the fair, that would be enough for the day. I went for one each of the al pastore and the asada. The nice people sitting on the bench next to me approved of my choice (having vast, it seemed, experience at one of Los Ocampos’ restaurant locations) and gave me a piece of their fried plantains. It was all very good.

photo of approaching weather

Hopefully I’ll beat this home.

I finally, finally, uncorraled my bike and headed home, a little later than I meant to. On the other hand, it wasn’t already raining so I knew whatever happened, I wouldn’t get it too bad. As it was, I only got spritzed on during the second half of the ride. I got home and took my second full shower of the day. I tied my hair up in a different way that proved to be a beneficial way, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the fair.

Winter weather, whoa!

April 11, 2013


Spring has not sprung. I was willing to overlook the fact that I wore longjohns and a parka to the Minnesota Twins baseball season opener. I don’t even mind that I can’t wear shorts yet—though many break them out as soon as the temperature hits 40F/5C. This is Minnesota, after all.

Mother Nature teased us with mild daytime highs last week. They were a little below average but still warm enough for people to wear shorts and to inspire me to drag my bicycle out of the storage room. It was an exciting development to pedal to work for the first time in months. After work I stopped at the local bike shop to enquire about a spring tune-up. I was told of my bike’s immanent demise, that I would be lucky if the thing didn’t fall apart right under me, and that with the labor and parts for the required complete overhaul, it would be less than $100 more to just purchase a new one. But I digress.

My friend Jon is hardcore and bikes everywhere all year. Even he was optimistic enough about the weather to make the switch from his winter beater bike to his nicer summer ride.

None of this was meant to be. The temperature went back down to around freezing and for days we listened to dire predictions about a late winter storm. Yesterday the drizzle began. Jon showed up on (I think he said) his wife’s beater bike because he had stored his already. An Instagram friend lamented that he’d have to switch the summer wheels on his car back to the winter. People do that? Another friend, Brad, was not looking forward to his #30DaysOfBiking ride after he got home last night.

I had been keenly radar-watching all day. The system was moving very slowly and Minneapolis was above freezing. I brashly predicted that the forecasts of six to twelve inches of snow would not materialize, that it wouldn’t be nearly that bad. I’d had a meteorology class in college in 1983, after all. Were you even born then? You would have seen me walking my dinosaur.

By the time I went to bed, the radar had bloomed. I knew I’d wake up to whiteness in the morning. I did.

ImageFortunately, the temperature hasn’t been spending much time below freezing. There were about 3 inches/8 cm of slushy snow on my sidewalk and it was raining snow. On the radio, the traffic updates reported slick entrance and exit ramps, and “too many spin-outs to mention them all.” I knew that in downtown Minneapolis where I live and work, things would be sloppy but the urban heat island effect would preclude too much slipperiness. What I wasn’t expecting to hear was that light rail trains were not in service because of ice build-up. In the eight winters that I’ve lived where I can use the light rail, I’ve never heard of service being suspended for any weather-related reason. Metro Transit does a nice job with the rail line. And really, the buses, too.

I personally was not put out by this storm. I don’t drive my car very much, and I certainly don’t drive it to work. I train, bus, bike, walk. I got to work this without too much inconvenience, except for having to wait while the Brothers Deli cooked my breakfast because I failed to phone ahead.


“Look closely ….. that’s the amount of rain we received last year June through October.” Photo by Bossy Acres. They grow organic vegetables. Get some this summer.

Sure, I might wish for milder temperatures and dry roads so that I can continue riding my dilapidated bicycle. But let’s all of us put aside the selfishness of our personal comfort and conditions for a moment and think about the bigger picture. Though it sucks to get a major snowstorm in April, for sure (and let’s face it, if it were 50F/10C and had been raining for a week, we’d still be whining), let’s remember the inconvenient fact that since last summer, Minnesota is in drought. Our late snowfalls and slow temperature warm-up are a boon for the farmers who put food on our tables. The slower melt reduces flood risk, which means more of the water can be absorbed into the ground rather than just running off. In a couple of months when you’re walking around your local farmers market in your Crocs with your wild children, you’ll be thankful.



“Priority parking shoveled out.” Photo by Harriet Brewing. They make Belgian-style beers. Go drink some.

This is Minnesota. If you’re going to live here, you must have a sense of humor about the weather, whatever it is and whenever it’s occuring. Just look at this photo posted by local brewery Harriet Brewing. They know people like Jon will still be out on their bikes, even in these shit conditions. This too shall pass.


I’ve written before about how much I like to sit outside on my front steps with a tasty adult beverage (which in my case will be beer, ninety-eight per cent of the time). And since I moved in years ago, my tasty beverage-enjoying has been sheltered from the sun god by a lovely, thick maple tree.

It’s true, I have been known to disparage this tree because it’s the largest and fullest tree of the three in our yard. In the almost seven years that I have lived here, I have often wished that my little garden area got more sunlight which it would, if the maple weren’t so full and wonderfully developed.

You know what they say—be careful what you wish for. Three weeks ago, two-thirds of this magnificent tree was sacrificed for clearance of overhead power lines.

If I look only at the extra sunlight my poor garden plants now get, then it seems like a suitable trade-off. But if I look at the tree itself, then my eyes melt. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said two-thirds. I happened to walk out the door to go to work at the same time the tree-trimmers were milling about in my front yard assessing the situation.

“This isn’t good. The branches are growing straight up.”

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it—it’s going to be ugly when you get back.”

And thus it was. The tree is a shadow if its former self (unintentional pun intended). I haven’t even taken a picture of the carnage so I can’t show you, but use your imagination based on what I’ve said. I do know, though, that it has been better for my potted tomatoes.


Oh no, no snow!

March 10, 2012


It obviously doesn’t come as a shock to anyone that we’ve had a mild winter this year. As you may recall (and if you don’t, please review here), last winter was quite a different story.

I don’t do a lot of necessary driving in my car, so snow or no snow it’s not usually too much of a deal to me. Having said that, it kind of seems like when it does snow, three out of four times it’s on a bowling night. But maybe that’s just me being overly sensitive because I don’t do a lot of necessary driving and when I do drive, it’s noticeable when the conditions are less than optimal.

Regardless, my party line is that if it’s going to be cold, I think it should snow. But this year, I don’t even get that. It hasn’t been cold and it hasn’t snowed. We’ve had about three inches altogether so far. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. We’ve had about ten. I haven’t looked it up but I think that’s pretty close to the truth.

Last night I dreamed that I was biking over the crest of the Rocky Mountains. Though it was Todd with whom I had been discussing biking every day in April and he mentioned he was “Riding the Rockies” in June—May?—June?—May?—you’re not missing the Small Batch Revival, are you?—it was actually Jon, Christine, and Chris who were my cycling companions in my dream. And it wasn’t the Rockies, but a mash-up of Rib Mountain in Wausau, Wisconsin (okay, Granite Peak, whatever), and Lutsen Mountain up Duluth, Minnesota-way. It was “Riding the Rockies,” but all I wanted to do was get to a roadside motel, such as the Big Orange Moose place in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, and have a Hacker-Pschorr, which I enjoyed when I got stranded in Mauston, Wisconsin, last year.

But I digress.

The point is, it has been unseasonably warm this year. That’s something you’re probably almost as sick of hearing about as the running commentary on the “front-runner” in the Republican presidential-nominee circus. 

I continue to digress.

Because of the warm temperatures, when I heard about a bike-every-day-in-April challenge I thought, oh, I can easily do that. In the non-winter season I do bike to work every day, and the challenge will get me out on the weekends, too. Though I prefer to walk home from work because it’s a very relaxing interlude, I can’t overlook the time savings of riding my bike both in the morning, when I would catch a ride on the light rail or the Number 7, and in the afternoon when it’s thirty-five minutes for the walk versus ten for the bike ride. Also, the downtown-traversing bike ride is a whole lot more stressful. But, because of the warm temperatures this year, I anticipate that I’ll start biking earlier, such as in April. Or on Monday.

Look at this forecast for the next week. Tomorrow I will take my bike over to the neighborhood shop and top off the air in the tires. How can I resist the lure of these temperatures?

Snow emergency? This whole winter has been a false alarm.




Laundry socks, er, sucks

October 9, 2011


I hate doing laundry but at least I have clean socks again. I ran out on Thursday. More specifically, I ran out of white socks. You see, it has been unseasonably mild for a Minnesota early fall. The daily high temperature has been over 80°F/27°C for close to a week. That means it’s still shorts weather, and shorts mean white socks. Fortunately because it’s so warm, I could wear sandals for a couple of days and it wasn’t a big deal. But I’m kind of done wanting to look at my toes for the season, so I’m glad to have clean socks again.

I have enough socks (of all colors) and underwear to keep me going for weeks. I have so much because I hate doing laundry and wish to avoid it as much as possible. I know that in the end, whether I do a load a week or wait until running out of socks and/or underwear finally forces me to do four loads on one day, the amount of laundry is the same. And I don’t even mind the washer and dryer part so much. But I absolutely loath the folding and putting away. There again, if I did more frequent loads it might not seem like such a monumental challenge and I might think more kindly toward it. 

But that doesn’t seem to be how my brain works. I will consume a Saturday or Sunday with multiple loads and then fold in the evening while I’m watching a movie or Masterpiece Theater (sorry, PBS, I haven’t gotten used to how you now call it Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Mystery, and Masterpiece Contemporary). I feel good because I’m multitasking rather than just sitting and watching the tube.

At least I don’t have to travel to communal laundry room. Shortly after I moved into my condo, someone else moved out and sold me his old Sears Kenmore portable washer and dryer. I wheel the washer over to my kitchen sink and connect a hose to a special faucet attachment and I’m good to go. The dryer vents through a reticulated, wide hose to a box with about an inch of water in the bottom to trap lint and vents on the top to release the air. I like laundry day in the winter because my furnace nor my humidifier have to work as hard. 

Having the washer and dryer in my unit saves me from having to pass four doors each way every with every visit to the laundry room. I’m sure my appliances aren’t the most energy efficient, but I sure consider that $50 to be well-spent. I don’t even care about all the quarters I’ve not had to scrounge. I just adore the convenience, since I hate the task.

So that nice, clean pair of socks is now upon my feet, and I’m heading out with toes safely concealed in shoes.


My air conditioner doesn’t count? Okay then, my favorite piece of clothing is the one I’m not wearing. No? Your favorite piece of my clothing is the one that I didn’t take off because I do have air conditioning.

As a Minnesotan who writes a blog, you have no doubt noticed that I must periodically dwell on the weather. This is much easier to justify if we’ve just gotten fourteen inches of snow in one twelve-hour shot, or if, as it has, it has been 300° (Fahrenheit or Celsius, take your pick) with humidity that would make a Swedish sauna proud for all but two non-consecutive days in the last three weeks.

What inspires such things as my grouse about elevators is that my mother passed her overheated physiology right on to her only child. What got from my father, who is exactly the opposite of my mother and runs for sweaters when it dips below 80°F/27°C, is a better ability to cope with the heat. What I bring to the table on my own is my understanding that the better hydrated I am, the less uncomfortable I will be. That, and my acceptance of having to sequester myself within the air conditioned bubble.

It’s all relative, I know. Just today, a native-Floridian friend (actually, I think he’s Equadoran before Floridian, the point being tropical, or close to it) quipped that he “never understood people suffering in heat waves.” But he’s currently visiting New York City to where my Minnesota heat wave has moved, allowing him to commune with people who don’t usually experience 104°F/40°C temperatures and high humidity, and suddenly he has a different perspective. Of course in Florida it’s humid and hot. Here in the north, it gets pretty hot for a while and kind of humid sometimes, but not the extremes of both days on end. 

We must complain.

But can you blame me? Two days ago, we set a new high dewpoint record of 82°F/28°C, during an air temperature of 95°F/35°C, resulting in a heat index of 114°F/45°C.

Now we’re on the same page, aren’t we?. There are only so many garments one can remove when one is overheated. My favorite piece of clothing is my air conditioner!

Chillin???, er, chilly

May 27, 2011


It is May 26 and I have just turned my heat on. Why, you ask? Is it because I live in the southern hemisphere and it’s winter? Is it because I forgot to shut the refrigerator door? No, it’s because my place is old and drafty.

I live in a rowhouse which was built in the 1890s. It’s very solid and heavy, but I have a feeling that the ground it occupies is not all that solid. Consequently, the building must be constantly shifting as it settles its 115-year-old self. I’m on the ground level and my cement floor has become more and more uneven as my five and a half years of residence have passed.

We are in the northern hemisphere, and spring has been a little stingy about having consistently seasonally temperatures. The sun is high and warm if you’re basking in it, but the air temperature has mostly on the cool side of the average. But I was still running the heat regularly until two weeks ago. And it was just five days ago that I allowed myself to be publicly excited about not having had it on for a whole week! Then, a couple of chilly evenings and tonight I’m reaching for the On switch.

My place takes its time warming up in the spring. I suppose that’s mostly because of all the tiny cracks that must exist in the walls and door and window frame from its age and unsteady footing. Sometimes I wonder if the floorplan has a little to do with it, too, although I can’t imagine that would really be relevant.

Being a rowhouse, the space is long, narrow, and open, with no full interior walls. The floorplan was one of the things that attracted me to it. Of course the bathroom is enclosed, and there are a couple of nice walk-in closets with walls. Three half walls help with the rest of the load-bearing duties. But I have no rooms and no doors. Privacy is tricky when I have visitors.

I drew the diagram above when I bought the place so that I could plan things. You’re seeing the paint color layer. The sitting room and living room have since become known more basically as the front room and the middle room. I’m nothing if not practical.

Practicality is probably part of causes me to whine about turning the heat on tonight. By the end of May, you’d sure think you wouldn’t have to any more. It’s a psychological thing. But I sure will take this kind of weather any time over the inevitable temperature destination that will have me turning the air conditioning on.

Part 1: Back story

I have a good reason. My friend Sara and her podcast partner Rob from How Much Do We Love are having a live performance in Chicago tomorrow night. Sara lives in California, I live in Minneapolis. One of my two best friends from Minneapolis, Rob, moved to California and is now one of her best friends. So Sara and I are friends via the transitive property. There are two Robs—my friend (and now Sara’s) and Sara’s podcast partner who lives in Chicago. Confused?

So Sara and podcast Rob decided to do a live performance version of How Much Do We Love. Since Chicago is in my neck of the woods, roughly speaking and definitely relative to California, I decided to hop in the car, contingent upon my tax refunds finding their way to my checking account. They did. As a bonus, my friend California Rob is going, too. But he was the lucky one. He got to fly. Today, he only had to drive from Madison where he had overnighted with his brother. Unlike me, who had to drive from Minneapolis.

I suppose I could have flown, but a flight is so much more expensive than three-plus tanks of gas in my economical Hyundai Accent. It’s a good car, but it has the bodyweight of a gnat and therein lies the problem.

It was no surprise that it blizzarded today. But the timing kept changing. By suppertime yesterday, I had resigned myself to waiting until Monday (tomorrow) to drive down, because the forecast at that time said the snow would start during the overnight. But when I woke up at 7:00 this morning there was not a flake in sight. The weather radar made me think that if I could just get going, I’d avoid a large part of the trouble. This seemed like the thing to do, as the forecast now said that snow would continue through about midday Monday.

Part 2: The drive


Of course, hoping to leave within an hour turned into actually leaving in two. Okay, so I laid in bed for forty-five minutes contemplating it all while checking forecasts for cities along Interstate 94 and hypnotoading myself with the radar loop trying to figure out where the blob was going and how quickly. I hit the road at 10:15, just as the snow was beginning to fall in earnest in Minneapolis. I was still optimistic.


For a while, just a while, I, in my fluffy little Hyundai Accent, managed to drive at speeds up to 50mph. That didn’t last too long. By the time I availed myself of the rest stop at Menomonie WI, conditions were deteriorating quickly.


This is the mayhem that I was endeavoring to traverse, from the upper left pin to the lower right. Kindly disregard that one in the middle that’s out of line.

As I neared Eau Claire WI, conditions were approaching white-out (I refuse to spell it Wite Out®). What qualifies as white-out? At best, I could see 1/10 mile ahead of me. At the second Eau Claire exit, traffic was diverted off of I-94 to US Highway 12. Tonight I heard it was because of a twenty-car pile-up. At the exit, there were four vehicles in either ditch.

I shall now digress and editorialize about something that irks me at the best of driving times—tailgaters. It’s bad enough that when you’re flying down the freeway at speed, people think it’s okay to ride ten feet off your bumper. Today, in the blizzard+white out conditions, people were riding ten feet off other people’s bumpers. What in the name of [insert your favorite diety here] makes you think that’s a good idea when it’s slippery and you can’t see anything? Your tailgaiting me makes me go slower, not faster. It’s counterproductive. It’s a blizzard, for [x]‘s sake. Don’t be a fucking ass because you drive an SUV. Other people don’t.

I understand the limitations of my particular car and drive accordingly. It’s not a winter car. I had no business being on the road today. But since I foolishly chose to be so, I drove within the parameters that it is capable of meeting under such conditions. You’re just going to have to wait for me, or use the other lane to pass me. Your tailgating is not going to make me drive in a manner that my car can’t handle.


So we got shunted onto Highway 12, and I stopped at the next gas station to use the facilities and to clear the ice off my windshield wipers. The passenger side one had been caked with ice since shortly after the Menomonie rest stop and my driver’s side was almost holding its own, but every now and then I had to open my window and grab it and try to smack it against the windshield as it made its pass.

The nice lady at the gas station recommended taking 12 to Wisconsin 53 to Osseo WI, where there is a big junction with I-94. It was while driving on 53 that I realized that was the way to go. The road surface may have been less clear than the interstate, but I had more confidence in it, and I quickly realized major advantages. On the less major roads, there was far less traffic, and trees, property, and any other stuff is closer to the road which allows you to more easily keep your bearings during blizzard driving, and it provides more interesting viewing while you’re driving so you don’t get fatigued by white white white white. I was delighted once again by Mother Nature’s beauty.


I took 53 to US 10 just west of Osseo, where I stopped at the SuperValu for the bathroom and a snack. I decided to stay off I-94 and rejoined Highway 12 about ten miles further east. The snow began to ease and the clouds became less thick, and for a while, there were some really interesting quality of light things going on. I don’t know if these photos do it any justice.


At Black River Falls WI, I decided to get back onto I-94. The lanes were pretty clear and I was fairly confident pushing the needle to 40–45mph. Quality of light continued as I moved into the “wintry mix” portion of the weather. Thundersnow was forecast for south-central Wisconsin. The clouds were alternately thick and dark, and looser with the sun almost poking through.


Shortly after Black River Falls, there was a rest stop at which I paused. Just as I pulled in, it started to hail. Okay, so it was really tiny and probably technically large sleet, but I’m calling it hail. They were very discreet, peppercorn-sized balls. I took the opportunity to eat one of the sandwiches I had packed. I’m very glad I packed sandwiches.

Well, within about half an hour, darkness began to settle on the situation. I passed Tomah WI and began to have thoughts of hitting up California Rob’s Madison brother for a place to crash, because it was becoming apparent that it would be after midnight by the time I got to Chicago, or fourteen hours on the road in stressful conditions.

I tried to push on in the darkness, but it rather quickly became obvious that with the liquid precipitation that was now falling which was likely freezing rain, and all the semi-trucks that were whizzing past me in the left lane, temporarily blinding me each time, I was operating under very unsafe conditions and was rapidly becoming fatigued. I decided I couldn’t even make it to Madison and exited at the next lodging opportunity, which was Mauston WI, which is from where I’m now writing to you.


I had a reservation at a Super 8 in Chicago, so that’s what I chose in Mauston, hoping I could transfer tonight’s booking here. Because of the extremely cheap rate, I couldn’t do that and had to pay here, too, but no matter. What’s my safety worth? Certainly more than the cost of a hotel room. And it’s a really nice room, too, well worth the $55 (my Chicago rate was $43).


However, unlike its neighbor, the Country Inn Suites, it does not have a bar. So I went next door to DJ’s, and hung out for a while. Though I could have chosen the 16-ounce cans of Keystone Light for $1.50, I instead opted for the $3 Hacker-Pschorr Weiss and $3 Guinness Draught. I brought two cans of Guinness back to the Super 8 with me, which I have enjoyed while recounting my tale. So that was (ahem) five beers and a frozen pizza for $20 plus tip.

My safety, priceless. I will forge ahead in daylight tomorrow.

That???s brisk, baby!

February 9, 2011

Back in December, I shared with you our blizzard of the decade. I declared that if it was winter, it ought to be cold, and there ought to be snow. It’s two months later and winter has not let me down.

Overnight was only the second coldest of the winter so far. It didn’t quite go down to double digits below zero Fahrenheit like the other one did about a month ago, but at a certain point, splitting hairs over a degree or five is, well, pointless. It’s cold! 

I walk seven minutes in the morning to catch the light rail train that delivers me to the office, and thirty minutes hoofing it all the way home after work. It’s a good walk because it’s long enough to be beneficial as exercise, but not so long that it’s boring and I lose interest and don’t do it. The last winter or two have been relatively mild, both from temperature and snowfall standpoints. It’s true I have been overusing my winter boots this year, but I had completely forgotten until today about my wear-contacts-instead-of-glasses technique. It was so fantastic this morning to keep my face covered with double-scarfing and still be able to actually see where I was going, versus my usual alternating between a warm nose and only half fogged up glasses. Seeing is good!

I should have recalled this winter survival method sooner. I feel like it’s been since about October, but really, it’s probably only been since November that I can count on one hand the number of days that the temperature has been above freezing. I’m probably exaggerating by a month. Below-zero probably only started in December. About on Monday after the blizzard.

As a result of the prevailing temperatures, the snow has hung around. At my location in downtown Minneapolis, we got about fourteen inches of snow in the blizzard, then, during the next week, about four or six inches additional. I can remember one “stretch” of two or three days that it was above freezing, but not so radically that much of the snow melted. Not much of the snow has melted. 

If each day were equivalent to 10,000 years, this winter would be an ice age and the snow banks in my front yard would be glaciers. The little birdies that somehow stay alive and function in these temperatures would still be T. rexes and I wouldn’t have to wear my contacts and bundle up with long underwear, winter boots, double scarfing, two pairs of handwear, and two layers of headwear plus the hood of my sleeping bag down coat because the comet wouldn’t have yet struck and it would still be tropical.

So these, then, were the conditions today, at 8:00am and 4:00am. Things improved by a whole 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Crisp and clean with no caffeine. Cold? Yes. Minnesota? You betcha!



*Those two door slams in the birdie movie are my neighbor Jen coming home. Just in case you were curious.


Today I was supposed to pick someone and follow them for a while, reporting on where they went. Well, I followed Old Man River and he went south, to New Orleans.

I was going to take pictures of the river (the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis)—the river itself—but it didn’t take long at all for my focus to shift to the bridges. The river is present in a few of the shots, but once again the underneaths of the bridges are the stars. Maybe you remember when I did that last summer on a bike ride.

Ah, summer.

The difference between last summer’s bike ride and today’s walk is, oh, I don’t know, about 70°F/21°C. I didn’t look today, but it was about 15°F/-9°C, based on the forecast high. But being a hardy Minnesotan, I bundled up and went for a nice walk.




1. Hennepin Avenue Bridge (historic). Underneath the bridge, behind where I stood to take my photo, are a couple of pylons from the original version of this bridge built in the mid-1800s. I think the current bridge is the third or fourth version. Oh. According to Wikipedia, this bridge was the first permanent one across the Mississippi River. How about that?



2. 3rd Avenue Bridge (secret passage). Just a bit east (the whole walk wasn’t even two miles), is a more modern-looking, but quite older bridge. This one was an odd duck because it has beautiful arches when viewed from a distance. But when you’re standing directly underneath it, all you see are two doorways like the one in this photo. It looked like it went through three parallel walls. Weird. I was sort of disappointed there wasn’t a drawbridge or something.



3. Mill Ruins Park. Okay, so it’s not a bridge, it’s the riverfront ruins of abandoned flour mills. There is running and dripping water everywhere. The icicle mass was cool. There also seemed to be a model photoshoot going on. The models were not modeling outerwear. Silly catalogs.



4. Stone Arch Bridge (arches). This is the bridge that might possibly have some notoriety outside the Twin Cities. It used to be a railway bridge. Now, it is for pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s stoney and archy and neat. It’s at the foot of the St. Anthony Lock & Dam, which I believe is the first lock and dam on the Mississippi. The first in sequence, I mean. I don’t know if it was the first constructed.



5. I-35W Bridge (strong). This is the sturdy replacement for the bridge that collapsed in 2007. From the side you see graceful arched spans, and from underneath you see these stout legs. I live in the neighborhood. I was outside puttering with my tomato plants when the old bridge collapsed. I heard the sirens and figured there was a big accident on I-94, which is also near my home. It’s still weird to interact with the new bridge.



6. 10th Avenue Bridge (industrial). It’s also weird to be underneath this bridge, just a couple blocks downstream from the 35W Bridge. This photo doesn’t show it, but this bridge looks old and tired from below. The roadbed on top is all spiffy, but it’s a little creepy to look at the chipping concrete when you know what happened to its neighbor three years ago.

Thus concludes today’s history lesson.


Photos were taken with the assistance of my new friend, Instagram, and the Inkwell filter. (Except for the first one of me, that is. I did that in Photoshop.)