After a quick bowl of cheerios, in a visitor centre that was mosquito free, we left St. Louis via another (very small) portion of route 66. We quicky merged on to one of the numerous interstates. The interstates are effective and quick way to move from state to state, by are no means the most scenic. Through various states we have driven on smaller local highways that meander through small towns, with small populations and mom-and-pop style general stores. I much prefer these. But sometimes efficiency is needed.
We left St. Louis, with a short stop in Kansas City, which is famous for it’s barbecue, and has a super cool library building that looks like a library (pictures help explain that one). After our lunch stop in Kansas City we headed North to Omaha, where we had a campsite booked for the night. This drive took longer than expected, as we were forced off the I-90 by the flooding of the Missouri river. We spent 1.5 hours driving through corn country before finally reaching Omaha. Once we arrived we had about one hour to see a few items. This was due to a heat index of 112 F (44 C). We briefly walked through Old Market, only to find most stores closed and most restaurants closing their outdoor patio seating that gives Omaha the ‘cool’ vibe I had read about (though not sure if most people would describe Omaha as ‘cool’ – maybe only when comparing it to other towns in Nebraska?). Because there wasn’t much to do in old town, we walked half way to the fountain in heartland park. It was too hot to walk all the way, so stopped close enough to take a picture, and then continued on our way. We skipped the gondola ride I had hoped to take, and instead walked halfway down the Bob Kearney Pedestrian Bridge – just far enough to be in 2 states at once. By now we had finished sweating completely through our clothing and were ready for the AC in the car. We headed to our campground, and spent the whole ride there debating on bailing on the KOA and getting a hotel instead, because the heat + getting eaten by bugs combo was getting pretty old, but instead we dove in the pool, took cold showers and toughed it out. Being in the heat bubble was at the verge of intolerable at this point. While trying to cool down in the pool I was, for a few minutes, in tears, because I didn’t know how to cope with overheating any more. But we had a budget, and not a lot of extra money to spare, so we didn’t have the luxury of abandoning pre-paid campsites for hotels. The benefit of a pre-paid campsite is knowing where you can sleep at night, but the downside is the loss of money if you want to change plans. On the other hand, we learned in Wisconsin that arriving and just walking into a hotel without reservations can mean paying higher rates than reserving in advance. So pros and cons to both approaches.
After a adequate nights’s sleep we quickly took down our tent (a routine we were very efficient at) and left to get our breakfast from the air conditioned Cracker Barrel restaurant (we thought it was a brand of cheese – apparently it’s a large chain of old fashioned southern country restaurants and general stores. Ray’s breakfast came with grits, biscuits and gravy!). We drove back east into Omaha to catch the I-90 north, but it seemed that north of Omaha was flooded as well. So we crossed back into Iowa on the I-680, but it closed too. We tried following the detour signs, but they all took us south. The GPS was having a small kiniption, and we had been driving in circles for an hour. We finally pulled over at a McDonalds for some wifi and pulled out the iPad and some paper maps and picked a new route – one that took us diagonal across Nebraska. We picked a route that avoided rivers, and therefore any possible floods. However, little did we know it would turn out to be the most boring route imaginable. For 9 straight hours we drive diagonal across the state, without an interesting site to see. There isn’t even corn here to keep us entertained. A few cows. Saw about 20 seconds of wheat. Lot of rolling fields of grass. Some bails of hay. For 9 hours. No monument or historic sites. For 9 hours. 9 HOURS! Just nothingness. Of course, we did have the road all to ourselves – that was the only plus.
About halfway through our journey on highway 20, a warning light popped up the dashboard. It looked something like a tire. We just had the oil changed and tires checked 4 days ago, so we were confused. We decided to drive back 6 km to the most recent town – Ainsworth. Ray checked the back tire pressure. 15 psi. I assumed it must have messed up. So I tried the front (to make sure my gauge was working) – 38 psi. Then the back again. 15. My first thought was, “I am grateful for my dad who bought me this tire gauge 12 years ago when I got my first car, showed me how to use it, and forced me to put it in the glove box.” He’s a smart guy like that. So we manage to find a tire shop (luckily, since we were in a zero street light town with just 3 gas stations, and whole 2 blocks long). Andre, a wonderful young man, tells us it will be no problem to fix it. We stand by the side, taking bets as to the cost of this immediate repair. I mean, we are in the middle of nowhere. Next big town is 4 hours away. We are from out of the country. They have all the power. Ray guesses $80. I go with $100. 45 minutes later, he’s done and Ray says “What’s the damage?”. Answer? $20!!!! So big props to Andre for getting us on our way – fast and cheap!
After Ainsworth it’s just more driving and nothing, until we reach South Dakota that is. Flat tires and flooded rivers have not deterred us to returning to see more of what South Dakota has to offer.