While in Chicago, a lot of friends asked us if our next stop was Milwaukee. It wasn’t going to be. To be honest, neither of us knew jack about Milwaukee besides domestic beer apparently coming out of the faucets there. But since we were only about 90 miles south, we figured we might as well go see what all the fuss was about.
It was Kyle’s birthday and we didn’t have much time in town to explore, so we took to social media for bar/restaurant recommendations to get the show on the road. First stop was The Vanguard, suggested by our pal Rich who told us “it’s a wrestling themed bar/sausage house that this guy I know opened.” Wrestling? Sausage? Vague associations? Perfect!
The Vanguard is vegan friendly, has 8 cocktails on tap, a killer selection of liquor and beer, and an awesome staff to boot. We even got to meet the owner, Jim, who it turns out is “the guy” Rich knows. Clearly a like minded fellow, Jim was nice enough to give us some more great recommendations to continue our Milwaukee adventure. After some good conversation, deliciousness, and shots with another birthday boy at the end of the bar, we hopped back in the van to make our way to the next watering hole.
Next on the to-do list was Barnacle Bud’s, a seasonal dive that’s almost a caricature of the bars we’re familiar with back in Florida (think fake alligators/flamingos/mish mash of tropical decor adorning a tiki-esque patio on a Lake Michigan canal that’s probably frozen 6 months out of the year). Characteristic of your typical waterside dive, this gem had tons of people watching opportunities and cheap drinks. We took advantage of both, but quickly realized that after all those birthday drinks, we needed some birthday dinner.
We meandered our way from Barnacle Bud’s into an area that looked like it had a decent selection of restaurants and found ourselves at The Odd Duck… And holy cow was the food delicious! Kate had a melt-in-your-mouth octopus dish and Kyle had a beef dish with broccoli that was extremely on point. The menu at The Odd Duck changes periodically so you might not find the same plates we had, but we’re pretty confident you won’t be disappointed no matter what you order. As we were quickly coming to find, Milwaukee can get down with some cocktails and our bartender, Dan, was a super chill dude who made us some tasty libations to compliment our food.
As we were finishing up dinner, the birthday boy we shared a round of shots with at The Vanguard found his way into The Odd Duck for a night cap. He joined us and gave the lowdown on the Bay View neighborhood, painting a quaint portrait of a hip midwestern locale where everyone knows everyone — a place that comes alive after the snow melts and fosters an eclectic pool of artists, musicians, and small business owners who all contribute to making it awesome. Basically, the type of place we could totally see ourselves relocating to if not for the harsh winters. We made fast friends with Evan, who we shared a ton of common interests with and had actually just come off of a long road trip himself. He was even kind enough to run to his place to grab some Surfer magazines to give Kyle for some in-van entertainment. Little friendships like this that blossom along the way are a huge part of why we travel.
After dinner, we tagged along with bartender Dan to one of his favorite local spots called Boone & Crockett. Set up in an old house with rustic decor and tasty craft cocktails, it was yet another place that reminded us of home. Again, we met a ton of nice people that treated us like old pals and spent the rest of Kyle’s birthday sipping and chatting into the wee hours of the morning. Once the lights came on, we said our goodbyes and embarked on the 1 block trek back to the van to turn in for the night – one of the many perks of the #homeiswhereyouparkit lifestyle we were finding ourselves cozily settling into.
As great as Milwaukee was to us, we unfortunately hadn’t yet left Michigan’s treacherous roads entirely behind us and didn’t quite make it out of town before once again finding ourselves nursing the van back to health. First, we started hearing a scraping noise from the front of the van, which turned out to be one of our fog lamps hanging from it’s wires scraping on the pavement after vibrating loose. An easy enough fix. Kyle just tightened it back into place and we were back on our way… For about a mile. Then we started hearing a thumping noise from the rear driver’s side tire. The noise quickly intensified, steering became effected, and within minutes, Kyle was back on the side of the road hunting down a seemingly much more serious problem.
It turns out 3 of our 5 lugs on that wheel had completely broken off.. Yet another casualty that can be directly linked to the massive potholes you often have to take to the chin on Michigan’s unmaintained roads, their effects all the worse on a big overloaded vehicle. In all fairness, we accept some fault here as we really should’ve given the van, including the lugs, a good once over after Detroit… But how often do lugs fail?!
This was more than a roadside repair, so we had the van towed to a shop where we waited with no food in our bellies till 4 o’clock in the afternoon to get back on the road again. From there, we went to Sobelman’s and had a couple of these bad boys to lift our spirits:
And once more, all was right in the cosmos.
*It should be noted that Kyle was wearing his grey Tortoise shirt every time we’ve had an issue with the van. Please help Kate convince Kyle to burn this shirt even though Tortoise in one of our favorite bands. <3 Kate
The next day after work, we pushed off toward a little town called Cedar Rapids, Iowa where a great friend of ours from back home named Jameson had recently relocated to take a break from the Orlando hustle and bustle (a sentiment we can surely relate to). Being from heavily populated cities on the East Coast, Cedar Rapids immediately felt to us like the quintessential “small” American town… The irony of traveling through towns with “Population: 6” on their welcome signs yet to come.
Being a deep, cerebral type of cat who’s also got an arsenal of jokes, Jameson was the perfect tour guide for a town that could easily be written off as “boring” or “bland” (it’s neither of those things). He gave us the essential Cedar Rapids tour, ranging from the restaurants, bars, and markets in the downtown area to some beautiful nearby hiking spots. He also took us to the Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center and Palisades-Kepler State Park, which boasts a nature trail with a series of plaques denoting the history of the universe starting at the big bang and expansion of space through the rise of homosapeans and agriculture all the way to present day — extremely fitting for this group of cosmic travelers. We also completed a labyrinth there, explored and found some very interesting and beautiful makeshift altars, and found ourselves dangerously close to attending a Native American sweat lodge ceremony (which we opted out of in favor of catching up and nerding out on conspiracy theories with Jameson, per our usual hangouts).
It was the weekend. So for our big night out on the town, we attended a local country bar called Hazzard County that, besides boasting $1 well drinks and the motto “not your mama’s country club” on their website, also turned out to be the most happenin’ spot in town that evening (and really, how could it not be?!). We had a great time observing the locals there, which were mostly college kids and adolescent farm folk clearly out to rage. Yelling into each other’s earholes over subwoofers blasting truck country hits and early 2000’s rap provided some weird kind of freshman year nostalgia that can still be appreciated in extremely small doses. We regret to inform you, however, that the dollar well drinks were a ruse, so beware of this false advertising if ever you find yourself in Cedar Rapids.
After a weekend of laughter and philosophical chats, we left Jameson and once again, we were off.
**Stops and looks into the camera to deliver a monologue directly to the audience**
This was a real turning point in our journey. This is where shit started to get real. Up until this point, we were still relatively close to home. We had friends and their comfortable homes to visit and regroup in on the weekends. We had even had our own visitors in Chicago where we rented a beautiful Airbnb for a couple days. These were the salad days. From here to the west coast, we were on our own – just the three of us, Morty, and the wide open road. We had no real plan except to just drive west.
Ok, so where were we..
A flat, bleak landscape to start this stint, our first stop was Albert Lea, Minnesota. We slept here for one night and worked for a day at what may have been the only coffee shop in the entirety of the 2-3 street downtown area. An island in the middle of corn and soy fields, we were starting to get a feel for what the next several hundred miles were going to be like. The oases got smaller, fewer, and further between as we continued west, which was a bit unnerving after our recent mechanical issues in Chicago and Milwaukee.
From here, we drove to Sioux Falls, South Dakota which, for reasons now forgotten, we were initially really excited about. Our first stop was to visit the actual Sioux Falls, which is a series of waterfalls the city is named after. Much like an animal at the zoo, the falls had been caged in by people, with cement walk ways and railings throughout the multiple levels of the falls. It was still a rather picturesque park but, like many natural features in urban areas, you really had to use your imagination to envision what it must have been like before modern society got involved.
After briefly observing our surroundings and talking to some locals, we learned that there is still flagrant segregation and inequality between white people and Native Americans in Sioux Falls. Of course, we know what’s going on a few hundred miles away at Standing Rock and we’re quite familiar with American History, but being from Orlando, this type of thing just isn’t typically in the foreground. It all became too real after meandering around the city for a couple days, the stifling of indigenous people and their culture feeling like an underlying theme all over town.
At one point, we witnessed a distraught Native American man standing on the wrong side of the railing on a high bridge as multiple police officers tried to coax him back to safety. We were both deeply affected by the event. Maybe it was this cherry on the heart break sundae or maybe it was just our overwhelming desire to head west, but this is when we decided to move on. We’re sad to say nearly two months later that this was only a sign of things to come, as relations with native peoples don’t seem to get a much better through much of the great plains states.
We realize that our account of the short time we spent in Sioux Falls isn’t exactly vantastic, but we felt it necessary to include for the sake of keeping our story complete. We sincerely hope that if you’ve been to Sioux Falls before or if you find yourself there in the future that you either know or will discover some beautiful things about the place. We’d certainly love to hear about them.
Porter Sculpture Park
On our way to Bandlands National Park, we stopped off at a highway attraction we found on the RoadTrippers App. Porter Sculpture Park is off of Interstate 90 in the middle of a cow field on the rolling plains of Montrose, South Dakota. From a masterfully done 60ft bull’s head welded together out of steel railroad components to brightly painted, messy, demented metal sculptures that are almost punk rock in feel, self-taught math-hating artist Wayne Porter has created dozens of sculptures without any diagrams, equations, or formal training. We’re going to end this post here with some pictures of his work.
Thanks for reading!