“Wisconsin is a special place.” – Brett Favre ♥
This trip is flying by so quickly already! Monday I left Rapid City. I made a stop in the Badlands, where I’d been before, but I figured it would be nice to have some Badlands pictures from this trip, too. I’m only using my phone to take pictures and I haven’t the least background in photography knowledge so, you know, you get what you get. I will maybe attempt to remedy that situation before I go to South America.
I drove about 5 hours east to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I couchsurfed with a nice young attorney and his girlfriend. He had to go to bed early and I had to leave early in the morning so I didn’t spend much time chatting with him. I’d been to Sioux Falls a few times before, but only for work. I’d never seen the waterfall, which is actually called the Falls on the Big Sioux River, so I took a quick detour to check it out and was duly impressed! It’s in a big, beautiful park in the middle of the city.
Then I made the arduous drive through Minnesota into Wisconsin. Somewhere in Wyoming I had decided that I wanted to listen to an audiobook set in one of the places I was visiting on my trip, and the obvious first choice was Wisconsin, since I’d never really seen anything there before. I typed ‘Wisconsin’ into my audiobook app and the first book that came up was ‘A Son of the Middle Border,’ by Hamlin Garland. I’d never heard of him before, but it looked alright, so I downloaded it.
I was hooked right from the beginning. The book was written in 1917, and it’s the author’s autobiography. He was a successful and prolific writer, and he ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize a few years later for the sequel, ‘A Daughter of the Middle Border.’ He writes about growing up in Wisconsin in the early 1860s as his dad arrives home from the Civil War, and the family’s continual moves westward. It’s very much like Little House on the Prairie from a boy’s perspective, and written for adults rather than children. He’s a really talented writer.
I googled Hamlin Garland to find out more about him, and I noticed that his hometown, West Salem, is just a few miles off Interstate 90, east of La Crosse, WI. I was ready for a break when I reached Wisconsin anyway, after long stretches of windy highways and construction zones through southern Minnesota.
It was a bit surreal to find myself standing on Garland’s grave just after listening to his stories about his life. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a light breeze, and the cemetery was quiet and peaceful. I stood there for a few moments just taking in the day and feeling like this was a very nice place to be buried.
His parents are also buried there, and they’re portrayed so warmly in the book, I felt like I almost knew them. Garland’s father has a veteran’s grave marker for his civil war service.
The rest of the tiny town is dedicated to Garland, with various street names relating to his name and life. There’s a plaque outside his former home, which I think gives tours in the summer, and there’s a lovely large sign overlooking the nearby lake explaining Garland’s life and significance to literature.
From West Salem I went further east to Stoughton, Wisconsin, which is just south of Madison. My friend Suzann and her husband Brian live there. I met them originally when they couchsurfed with me in South Dakota in 2013, and she was delighted to have the opportunity to return the favor. She was a lovely host, and took me touring a bit the next morning. I didn’t have much time to stay since I was heading to Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon, but we enjoyed the morning together. She even treated me to lunch at a restaurant in what we called the ‘granola’ neighborhood in Madison, where I was able to order a tempeh hash and tofu scramble with fruit. Who knew Wisconsin had awesome vegan food?
My favorite thing to see in Madison was the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. It was a warm, sunny day, just perfect for traipsing around a garden. By far the most impressive part was the Thai Pavillion, which was made in Thailand and shipped to Wisconsin for assembly. Photographs don’t really do it justice. The walls are patterned with real gold leaf, and the ceiling is embedded with amber stones.
After Madison I headed toward Milwaukee, which after driving such long days for the week prior, felt like it took no time at all. My couchsurfing host wasn’t home yet when I got there, so I walked around Veteran’s Park on the waterfront of Lake Michigan and watched the sunset over the city skyline.
My couchsurfing host in Milwaukee was really nice. She’s a teacher in her late 20s, and she has an entire room dedicated to couchsurfing! It has two beds and a couch, power strips for charging all our gadgets, and the wifi information is posted on the wall alongside two huge maps: one US and one World. Of course all the guests have signed where they are from – there were even a couple from Rapid City! She had the ugliest dog I have ever seen…one of those dogs that is so ugly it’s adorable. Her name was Porkchop. I tried to make friends with her but I don’t think she warmed up to me. She was not happy about taking a selfie so this was the best picture I could manage.
Thursday morning it was on to Chicago…more about that in the next post!
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