time reversal

the stories of four physicists separated by the whims of fate

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I-90 West

July 10th, 2008 by liz

I-90 is one ass-long road. It didn’t really occur to me when I started out on this journey from Boston->Bozeman, MT. The first leg of the trip was actually from Boston->Michigan, and we cheated a little because we took a shortcut through Canada and saw Niagra Falls (it’s really cool, check out the picture). However, after I said goodbye to Dave I was on my own, and after a few short hours of driving down the coast of Lake Michigan, I was once again on I-90 West.Niagra Falls from the Canadian side.

Day 1:

I’d forgotten about the time change leaving Michigan, so I was unfortunate enough to hit Chicago at 5:15pm on a workday. Someone had told me that I should avoid Chicago like the plague during rush hour, but since I-90 is a toll road there, it wasn’t horribly crowded, and in fact was far better than Boston during rush hour even on a good day. After getting though Chicago though, I-90 became flat, straight, and boring. I was traveling alone, and only had the radio for company. The sky was overcast but still bright, unchanging. After several hours of this, it became almost trance-like.

Suddenly, everything went dark. I thought the sun had set, but it was only 7pm. I looked behind me and saw the bright sky beyond the edge of a coal-black cloud which I was now under. The sky above me looked like it was boiling, and I noticed that intense lightening was crackling throughout the immense cloud. There was a car pulled over on the side of I-90 with a woman standing on top with a camera. It looked exactly like a scene out of the movie “Twister.” Then the rain started. It was like someone was dumping buckets of water from the sky. Just then, the classical music I was listening to was interrupted by a radio announcement that there was a severe thunderstorm warning for all of southern Wisconsin, capable of producing “damaging winds up to 60 mph.” Wonderful.

I was supposed to camp that night, but pitching a tent in that inferno of a storm was not my idea of fun. I decided to keep driving. At least the storm broke up the menotiny of I-90. After a couple of hours, I saw the faint glimmer of bright sky beyond the edge of the could. There also, was Minnesota. I pulled into Great River Bluffs state park around 10pm. My air-conditioner seemed to be struggling, and the humidity made my car windows all foggy. I was the only person in the park. I set up camp and then dove into my tent to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes. I have seriously never seen so many mosquitoes in my entire life.

Day 2:

I woke up with a plan to go hiking in the park. This park is very pretty–it sits on top of a bunch of bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The second I crawled out of my tent I was attacked by hundreds of mosquitoes. I didn’t have any bugspray, so I packed up my tent and drove away from the park as fast as I could.

After breakfast at a truck stop nearby, I confirmed my worst fears. My A/C was broken and it was going to be a hot day. So I got back on I-90 with the window down and the radio blaring to block out the sound of trucks passing. My dad called and told me that it could be worse. When he drove across the country in a VW beetle with no A/C when he was my age, the interior of his was black.

After a few more hours of mind-numbingly flat I-90 surrounded by cornfields, I got to Luverne, MN, which is right near the border of SD. I went in a grocery store to get some camp food, only to come out and find that I had locked my keys in the car. I called AAA, and they said someone would be there soon. I walked back in the store to get a plastic fork to eat lunch with, and when I came out there was a dude on a scooter with a bright pink wire thing opening my car. Sweet. Back on I-90 W!

As soon as I entered SD, I started noticing signs for Wall Drug. There were about a billion of them. I was curious, but the town of Wall wasn’t for hundreds of miles. The next interesting thing I came to was the Missouri river, halfway across SD. I stopped for a bit and went for a walk along some bluffs overlooking the river. It was much bigger than I’d expected, and the landscape on the other side of the river had hills! Back on I-90, I found that the road was less flat–but still very very straight. The river signified the border between cornfields and cow pastures. The West side of the river was ranch country.

Finally, I came to the badlands of Badlands National Park, SD. Now after driving through the plains for 2 straight days, the badlands were the coolest thing I’d seen for hundreds of miles. I arrived about 20 minutes before sunset, so all the peaks were lit up with a red glow.

Badlands Glowing Red

I also began to notice that my left side had a red glow. A consequence of leaving my window open was that there was no longer glass to protect me from the sun’s evil rays. I determined that I would need lots of sunscreen on my left side the following day.

Liz at Badlands National Park, SD

Me at the entrance to Badlands National Park


I set up camp in the park, and fell immediately asleep.

Day 3:

I woke up at 7am to a burning sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was going to be hot. I finished driving the loop road in the park, and just as I got back to I-90, I noticed that I was in the town of Wall, SD. I decided to stop and check out this Wall Drug thing. It was mostly a giant tourist trap, but they did have some delicious homemade peach ice cream. I highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in the town of Wall, SD.

After some more driving on I-90 W, I took a detour to see Mount Rushmore. Warning: they only take cash at the parking area for the monument. I would say I hiked along the presidential trail under the monument, but it was more of a boardwalk with a lot of steps than a trail. It was very pretty though, and I got to see the monument a little closer. I also noticed that there was what looked like excellent crack climbing along the left side of the monument. I wonder if they would get mad at me for racking up and checking it out?

Liz at Mount Rushmore

After this quick detour it was back to I-90 W. The black hills of SD faded away, and I was back to fairly flat cow pastures. Rod, a friend from Montana, told me that I could cut off about 50 miles from the trip if I took US-212 through Wyoming instead of I-90 W. This “100 mile cutoff” turned out to be 200 miles, which I discovered when I saw a sign saying “Jct. I-90, 104 miles” when I expected to find I-90. This wouldn’t have been too bad, but there are approximately 3 places to buy gas along this lonely 200 mile stretch of road, and it would be bad to run out halfway through. Also, it was the same menotiny and super-high speed limits of I-90 W, except now it was a 2 lane road with oncoming traffic. I think I’ll stick to I-90 next time.

Shortly after Billings, MT, I had to stop and lie in the shady grass at a rest stop. Despite my constant intake of water, massive sunscreen application to my left side, and leaving the window open to cool down, I was starting to get heat sickness. The combination of dry air, hot weather, and burning sun was too much for me. If you are driving on I-90 W in the summer with no A/C, you should be drinking 4 liters of water a day. I’m not kidding. After recovering for a bit, I got back on I-90 W and headed for Bozeman, MT.

Finally, mountains began to appear. I was in the Rockies! I have no idea how this is possible, but the sky actually is bigger in MT. About 50 miles from Bozeman, the road begins to wind along the Yellowstone River shadowed by large mountains, some of which still had snow (or glaciers?) even in mid-July. Montana is beautiful. I can see why people move out here. Even the boring parts of MT are pretty. Driving along I-90 is like a sightseeing tour–it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road.

When I arrived in Bozeman, I was a barely functional wreck. Luckily, Alex was there to meet me, and he took me to find some pizza and beer. Upon arriving back at Alex’s place, I crashed and slept for 12 hours. I-90 West had taken it’s toll on me.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Terry Oliver Jul 11, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Hi Liz!
    Reading your journal is a real trip for me as well- after I escaped from high school I journeyed across the US in my little car, passing thru some of your route! I am looking forward to future installments as the days-and miles- roll on! Have a blast and be safe! xoxoAunt Terry

  • 2 fred jones Jul 12, 2008 at 6:16 am

    Thanks for sharing your travel log, Liz. Man, can you write! You could be a travel writer with your wonderful descriptions.

    The summer that I graduated from PSU, I drove my Dad’s ’69 Ford LTD with a 350 hp engine, all the way to California and into Mexico. 85mph was the norm on the interstate with gas hovering around $.48 per gallon. Spent most of my time in AZ and CO.
    I missed not seeing you this summer pestering me to come into the 62 degree water in Lewes. It’s strange (or I’m strange) but the time that I most enjoyed in Lewes was the week it rained for the entire week and we spent a lot of time catching critters.

    Look forward to reading more. If you come by this summer, we have a trampoline out back for you to sleep on. Much love – Uncle Fred

  • 3 Ruth Jul 12, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Wow, I took the exact same road trip when I was a kid! This brings back some memories. Maybe I should see if I can dig up a few goofy vacation photos from that. What’s your plan after Montana?

  • 4 Liz Jul 12, 2008 at 10:59 am

    My plan for after Montana is to drive to Berkeley, work on some detectors, and then go to Antarctica. Let’s hope things go according to plan!

  • 5 randy switzer Apr 19, 2012 at 11:58 am

    me and my wife are going to wash state by way of i-90 west from mi by car i read your story and is it really that boring or would taking i-80 be better