At one point (or maybe two) in my eleven-hour nervous marathon to get to Grand Rapids from Iowa City yesterday, I thought I might just have to turn back, as I was getting lost so often.
It ain’t that hard to miss the signs and get off the Interstate and into some back street, thinking, “uh oh” – but you have to keep cool, find a petrol station (ok, gas!) and ask the person at the counter how to get back on track.
The Asian guy at the Shell station in Burnsville somewhere (off I-35W, when I exited wrongly) was quite a card. “Lost?” he quipped, deadpan, “I been here 30 years, I’m still lost”. Jokerman! But he knew how to help me, as did all the other four or five helpers.
My worst challenge once I got back on I-35W heading straight into Minneapolis-St Paul was to find exit 9B onto I-494W, so I could circle the city to the south and west. I managed, just, and for once was grateful for a mid-afternoon traffic jam.
I slipped into the Highway by being brutal and the nice woman I jumped in front of gave me way. My stress levels were diminishing: I started counting down the exits to Number 27 onto I-94W and thence to M-101 turning north and past Elk River on I-169, the home run.
You can tell how schooled up I was by the fact that I am writing these directions from memory at 6.45am the morning after. I had no SatNav in the little Toyota Yaris, which zipped along well enough, albeit it preferred to wander unless constantly corrected. Crap speakers, but you can’t have everything.
By the time I was on the Elk River bypass feeling good, it was 4.30pm and the afternoon sky was darkening ominously. I still had nearly three hours to go and I wanted to stop and get the photo you see above, at Zimmerman. Dylan fans will need no explanation why: wee Bobby had some forebears here, most likely.
Once I’d snapped my pictures (it was freezing out there), I stopped at the gas station and got a roll and coffee (my diet up to then had been an apple pie and icecream at Northwood on the state border with Iowa, back south). Another driver told me it was 2.5 hours to Grand Rapids, where he was going.
I ate my ham and cheese under a flapping Stars and Stripes rattling on a pole beside the car, and headed north; ten miles up the road I noticed that I should have got some more petrol back there. A couple of missed turns and run arounds trying to get off I-169 and into a gas station wasted more time and it was getting darker. Was I going to run out on the highway – at night?
Whew: I spotted a Marathon gas station at Princeton and pulled in.The pump when I pulled it out squirted petrol all over the the screen (someone had left gas in the hose). Got past that, and went in to pay, explaining all this to the two young woman behind the till.
Then came the quite common response: “I love your accent!”, to which I gave one of my several responses, “well they give them away free in New Zealand” – which saves me being taken for an Australian.
She loves our beautiful country, she wants to go there. I say yes, do go and I pay, thanking her that she never mentioned Lord of the Bloody Rings. That’s where she saw our beautiful country, she says.
I tell them in parting I am going to Hibbing. “Hibbing? But there’s nothing there!” I inform her of the history of Bobness – she is amazed, “well, I’ve learned something today!” She deserves that trip to New Zealand. She even knew who Dylan was.
Pressing on with an hour at least to go, I come Mille Lacs, an Indian Reservation and the most amazing lakeside vista I’ve ever seen. The low stunted autumn trees give way to a sudden sea of water that stretches to the horizon unbroken – then meets the sky. There are no hills or mountains here so the sudden conjunction of air and water is like a separation of the elements. Magical.
As I gasp and drive on, night presses in and we come to the Indian Casino – a bizarre juxtaposition with ads for male strippers and movies blazing out their weird neon messages into the darkness of swirling leaves – and snow.
Yes, there is one more test on the hero’s journey: poor visibility and driving snow, where I have to almost tailgate the guy’s lights in front of me, as does the guy following me. After 30 minutes of this, I am praying quietly when it slowly eases and we make the run into Grand Rapids.
There’s a very welcome sign: Super 8, Four Minutes Away. They’ve had people like me come here before. I make it to the car park and the desk where Jan checks me in, offers me cookies, shows me some pics of the mascot moose in the lobby on her cellphone, and I’m gone.
I can’t believe I made it, 7.45pm and thirty minutes from Hibbing. Hallelujah!
‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When darkness was a virtue, the roads were full of mud.
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form,
Come in she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.
Shelter From The Storm, (Blood on the Tracks), Bob Dylan.