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August 9, 2016


This morning we hopped into the car with boundless energy, excited to finally make it to North Dakota. We had a little more than an hour’s drive to Fargo, and the weather was fantastic, so despite our fears of stuff flying out of the backseat as we drove at (OK, slightly above) the 80 MPH speed limit, we put the top down and soaked up the sun.



Fargo is a meaningful milestone in this trip for a few reasons. One is that it’s our farthest stop from home – the last stop before we head east toward home. But, more significant, crossing the border means that I’ve now been to 49 states, missing only Louisiana. (Sam is right behind me with 48 and will get to 49 sometime tomorrow when we cross into Wisconsin.) For these two reasons, when anyone has asked in the past couple of months where we were heading on this summer’s road trip, our answer was “North Dakota.”

Which is all to say that we were eagerly anticipating today. It went nothing like we expected.

The drive to Fargo was fun. We learned, among other things, that North Dakota is so sparsely populated that everyone there has their own exit on the highway.



Some people’s exit signs even tell you what they’re having for dinner.



Fargo is billed as the biggest and most exciting city in North Dakota, so we planned to spend the whole day there, but we quickly discovered that even the exciting stuff isn’t all that exciting.

We started with the Roger Maris Museum, which is literally inside a mall.


If you need a new pair of jeans, a refrigerator, or some baseball history, head this way.



And it’s not even a storefront in a mall–it’s just a nice display that juts out slightly in a hallway, right next to a pet store.



There’s an interesting collection of Maris’s awards, including his 1961 MVP trophy.



There’s also little alcove with a few seats from Yankee Stadium circa 1960, and a documentary about Maris that plays on a loop.



On the plus side, the museum is free. But even being huge baseball fans, we were in and out in about 20 minutes.

Upon leaving the mall we then followed traffic signs to “Downtown Fargo” but never saw anything that looked like a downtown. Mainly we saw a ton of auto parts stores, fast food restaurants, and RV sales shops.

Up next was a Viking ship that’s just outside Fargo, in a Norwegian museum in Minnesota.



It looked pretty cool, but then we read the posted information about it and learned that it’s not original–it’s a reproduction that was built in the 1970s to celebrate the area’s Norwegian heritage, and then sailed to Norway and back. That’s still kind of impressive, but not as impressive as actual Vikings.

From there we headed back into Fargo proper to Bonanzaville, a historic village made out of relocated but original buildings and artifacts from North Dakota’s frontier days. This was the most fun we had in Fargo. We walked into the first house ever built in Fargo, as well as a frontier schoolhouse, a frontier bar, and a frontier jail.



There was also a small museum of old cars and a separate air museum, both of which were cute but thoroughly underwhelming after last week’s visits to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the US Air Force Museum, respectively.

At this point we had planned to attend a Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks baseball game, but when we finished Bonanzaville it wasn’t even 2 p.m.. So instead of waiting around until 7 for a minor-league ballgame, we decided to head out of town and start the long journey home ahead of schedule.

This is when a bunch of other dominos started falling.

The next part of our journey is pretty simple: take I-94 east from Fargo through Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, all the way to Detroit, making some extra stops along the way to break up the drive every time we can find something fun or interesting.

Leaving Fargo a half day early meant that we’d probably be in Minneapolis by nightfall, which would be almost a full day early. That opened up a window for my “special project.”

I’ve been trying to arrange a fly fishing excursion at some point on this trip, but since I know absolutely nothing about fly fishing or even where you can do it, it hasn’t been so easy. I also haven’t really been able to figure out when to fit it into our schedule. I originally thought we could do it yesterday in South Dakota, but it turns out that there’s no fly fishing in the eastern half of the state. So I started looking at Minnesota and Wisconsin. There are better options there, so when we left Bonanzaville I started calling random fishing gear shops in Minnesota to ask basic, obvious questions like the rube that I am.

Ultimately I got my answer: Minnesota guides tend to book up at least a week in advance, but there are more places to fish in Wisconsin, so that’d be a better bet on short notice. One call led to another, which led to another, and the bottom line is that I booked a guide to take us fly fishing in rural Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon. All we have to do is get there, but it’s 3.5 hours off our I-94 path, and we’ve got the entire state of Minnesota between us.

I live in New York; when else am I ever going to go fly fishing? Let’s do it.

With a completely new, seat-of-our-pants plan for the next couple of days, we headed east. That brought us first to Alexandria, Minnesota, which does a more impressive job of celebrating its Viking past than does Fargo. It’s the home of the Runestone Museum, which in turn houses a world-renowned stone with Viking carvings. We decided to skip the museum and head straight to its mascot, a 30-foot statue of a Viking affectionately known as Big Ole (as in, let’s go see the Big Ole Viking).


By this time Sam and I were both pretty tired of driving, so Sam started watching one of my favorite 80s movies, Better Off Dead. I, meanwhile, just kept on driving. There are perks of being the only adult on these trips, but being behind the wheel for seemingly endless hours of seemingly endless hours of farmland is not one of them. Of course, we hadn’t originally planned to do all this driving in one day, but what we had originally planned was no longer relevant.

And speaking of the unplanned, a few days ago we decided to add a stop between Alexandria and Minneapolis: Darwin, Minnesota, home of the world’s biggest ball of twine. Now, you may remember from our first road trip that Sam and I have already been to the see the biggest ball of twine, and it was in Cawker City, Kansas. But here’s the thing: the Kansas ball is, in fact, bigger than the Minnesota ball, but the Minnesota ball was rolled by only one man, thus making it the biggest solo ball of twine. The Kansas ball was originally rolled by one man, but he died while it was still only the second biggest, and then the town decided to honor him by finishing what he started. In fact, you might remember that Sam and I added a few orbits of twine to the ball when we were there. But that doesn’t happen in Darwin, because the folks in Darwin are purists about these things.

You’d think that people in a town called Darwin would have figured out a way by now to rise above all competitors (survival of the fittest, and whatnot), but alas, there remain competing claims to the title of Biggest Ball.

Yes, I know that the whole thing is quite stupid, and that they’re both impressively large balls of twine regardless of how they got that way. They even both live in their own gazebo, and they both have their own mailbox. The Hamster and I probably could have lived our entire lives fulfilled and contented with seeing only the Kansas ball. But when I learned that we’d be passing within a half hour or so of the Minnesota ball, how could I resist?



What can I say? It’s a big ball. We came, we saw, we got back in the car.

The rest of the drive to Minneapolis was exhausting, and much slower and longer than we anticipated. But getting closer and closer to the city energized us. For one thing, we had a great time in Minneapolis on the first road trip, and have nothing but fond memories. For another, we were excited to see building more than three stories high for the first time since Omaha.

A real city! With a real skyline! And street lights! After a day of tiny cities and rural driving, this was exciting stuff.

The struggle with revisiting any city is finding things to do and see that we didn’t do last time, but are still worthwhile. Minneapolis is such a great city that this proved to be pretty easy. But by the time we got to town it was already 7:30, and we hadn’t eaten dinner, and I needed to pee, so we decided to take in just one sight before finding a place to eat and sleep (and pee).

That place was the descriptively named Stone Arch Bridge, a 150-year-old bridge that was originally built to carry trains across the Mississippi in an industrial part of town.



The old mills there are no longer functioning and one in particular has largely crumbled, but the neighborhood was revitalized in the 1990s. The bridge is now open only to pedestrians and bikes, and is surrounded by the absolutely beautiful Mill Ruins Park.

A few of the old factories are still there, juxtaposed with modern apartments and an ultramodern performing arts center.



With downtown skyscrapers in the background and the Mississippi doing a waterfall thing over the nearby dam, the setting was at once majestic, rustic, natural, and urban. As the sun set, the quirky, eclectic view couldn’t have been much more beautiful.



Hundreds of people were there to exercise, have professional photo shoots, propose, or just enjoy the scenery. And none of them were looking at their phones.

It’s stuff like this that makes us love Minneapolis. It’s clean, there’s not much traffic, and people are generally nice and friendly, so it has a bit of a small-town feel, but it also feels like a grown-up, big-boy city, with lots of interesting neighborhoods and sections and all sorts of quirky places and events. It has real color. It has a great mix of skyscrapers and parks, old and new, and everything seems to be designed thoughtfully and smartly. And to top it off, parking isn’t terribly hard to find, and it’s pretty easy to get around.

The only problem was that I still needed to pee. The park was so beautiful that we would have loved to have dinner right there (and by this time we were starving), but I needed a bathroom, STAT.

I decided we should just head to our hotel so I could pee there, and then we’d figure out dinner. The only problem with that plan was that we had no hotel.

The last time we were in Minneapolis, we stayed in a very dated but roomy and clean (and relatively cheap) hotel not too far from downtown. I thought it would be fun to stay there again, but when I looked it up I found out that it has since closed down.

I didn’t want to spend a fortune to be downtown, but I also don’t know the place well enough to know where all the non-downtown hotels were. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to find a place in a very close suburb that is both nice and affordable. We hurried there, I finally peed, and we finally ate dinner at about 9 p.m.

What started out as a thoroughly planned and not-that-busy day ended up getting completely packed, a little odd, and completely off script, but we did some fun stuff in between all the driving, Sam laughed out loud at Better Off Dead, I’ve now been to 49 states, and tomorrow Sam will be able to say the same.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robin permalink
    August 9, 2016 7:41 am

    I’m sure you’ve heard this plenty of time but I think you should bind the entire hamster series and publish it. Hamster is better than any fodor or let’s go guides.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Elsa permalink
    August 9, 2016 12:14 pm

    For your next visit — there are porta-potties on both ends of that stone arch bridge! 🙂

    • ABH permalink*
      August 9, 2016 12:37 pm

      Thanks, but they must’ve been moved. I searched and searched, and the only bathrooms nearby are the ones in the visitors center, but it was closed. 😦

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