Over the Missouri and Across the Plains to Grandmother’s House We Go

At night, I sometimes love South Dakota. The majority of the tacky tourist signs have no lights, so they just fade away. . . .It’s nothing but empty highway surrounded by wide open prairie under a starry black sky. 

Thanksgiving for us means loading up our van and heading 950 miles west to Broadview, Montana. Instead of making the trip in two days, we crank it out in one long blur of a night. We load up the kids, luggage, snacks and coffee, and hop on I-90 west.

The kids get “comfy,” which means arguing about foot placement, head space, blankets, heat, and noise, then laugh giddily, yell in tired frustration, listen to several rounds of “shh….it’s time to go to sleep,” and then finally drifting off one by one to a mediocre at best night of sleep in the van.

And then we drive, and drive, and drive…over the Missouri River and across the plains, to grandmother’s house we go.

It’s a long way from SE Minnesota to SE Montana, but we make this trek at least twice a year to see family. Our trek used to start in Montana and end in Minnesota, and for the last year and a half since moving into our new home, we’ve swapped starting points.

As exhausting as it is to make an over-the-road trucker trek with four kids in tow, there is also something exciting about it all. Our home is now in Minnesota, but heading to Montana feels like heading home. After living there for about 12 years, I just get excited when we start heading west. I love the change of scenery, wide open spaces, and the fresh perspective that comes from time hitting the road.

Granted, sometimes that excitement is pretty covered over in exhaustion of packing up a family of six to be gone for a week.

It’s a never ending packing list, combined with four anxious kids that keep asking “Why can’t we just leave NOW?!”, completely oblivious to the fact that we can’t just let the supper dishes and milk sit out on the table for a week or so until we get back.

And by the time we pull in to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Montana, we’re mostly just a shell of our usual selves: fried, edgy, tired.

In the midst of the all-night road trip, though, there is a period of “golden hours” that I really do love.

The golden hours are when we hit South Dakota. Now, if you’ve ever driven across South Dakota, you’d probably agree with me that it’s generally not a state to be excited about. On I-90, it’s a 400-mile stretch of grass land at varying elevations, interrupted with an excessive amount of road signs suggesting you visit a reptile garden, or a pioneer something or other, or a drug store-turned tourist attraction.

At night, though, I sometimes love South Dakota. The majority of the tacky tourist signs have no lights, so they just fade away. It’s nothing but a long stretch of mostly straight highway. At 2 AM, the traffic is almost non-existent. Driving along at the 75 mph speed limit, I sometimes go six minutes before I see a car on either side of the highway. And while the kids and my husband sleep, it’s nothing but empty highway surrounded by wide open prairie under a starry black sky. It’s so peaceful.

That’s when I love South Dakota. It’s when I think I’d be quite content to have a house plunked out in the middle of all that nothingness, where as far as you look, you can’t see a single light but your own headlights.

South Dakota at 2 AM is my thinking time. Driving along at night is one of the few times that I am completely alone with my thoughts. Nobody else is there (awake, anyway), and there are no other distractions to fill my head.

Almost invariably, it makes me think of the very first time I headed west to go to college. Just barely 20, I loaded up my Buick that I bought from money earned working the night shifts over several summers at Lakeside Foods. I drove alone to Bozeman, Montana to start my junior year of college.

When the Buick and I arrived safe and sound in Bozeman, I didn’t know a single person in the state of Montana.

It’s amazing to me to ponder how that trip out west for college started a whole sequence of events that lead me to the point of today. College, marriage, and four kids later, we now make treks to Montana as a family of six.

As I drive along, my head sorts through six months of life since our last trip. If I had some sort of device to convert mental thoughts to words on a computer, I’d have about six weeks of articles all completed. As it is though, by the time the night ends, my mind is fried and I can’t remember all the thoughts I had in my head.

Maybe my mind is slightly fried because we’ve had five cases of strep throat at our house in the last ten days.

The bad news: five of us had strep throat in the last ten days, just before a big road trip.  The good news: my daughter has great imagination and coordination to arrange empty medicine syringes to look like rockets, telling me "One, two, three...blast off!"

The bad news: five of us had strep throat in the last ten days, just before a big road trip. The good news: my daughter has great imagination and coordination to arrange empty medicine syringes to look like rockets, telling me “One, two, three…blast off!”

In the time before I get too tired and switch off driving with my husband, I’m thankful for the fullness of my life. I can’t say I’m thankful for strep throat, but I’m grateful that the sickness in my house is an easy fix with basic antibiotics.

And on this nearly thousand mile road trip, I’m thankful for clear roads, no deer on the highway, and most of all, the families that continually give us a wonderful reason to make road trips back and forth to Montana and Minnesota. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

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6 thoughts on “Over the Missouri and Across the Plains to Grandmother’s House We Go

  1. Beautifully written!
    Glad your trip was safe, and your all on the mend.
    7 years we lived in Moorhead and traveled with a station wagon of kiddos to Southern, MN. Not quite the distance you travel to loved ones….but still a journey that we took quite often when we first moved up there. I understand, that driving/thinking zone!
    🙂

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