Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving Trip 2013

A view of 1000's of people waiting in line  for hours barring the freezing cold outside one of the many Target Store's around Auburn Hills, MI waiting to Grab their  black friday Deal.

Let me start of with an impressive Quote:

“Not all those who wander are lost.” 

As i read, reread the above lines, i imagine what amazing experiences and memories has travel given me, the tag wanderer is  a title certainly a coveted one. 

Although the recent one year has seen me doing nothing i have been talking off, yet its a new beginning to a total shift or rather a flip in my lifestyle. Anyways with no room for any straying away from the topic let me jump straight.

My Second thanksgiving in America was here and this time a lot of things were different when compared to the last year's thanksgiving week. Yes i was an year old at USA, did better job in putting up a fake US accent(Honestly, i don't, i would hate myself to do that ) Yes, my sister was here after her marriage just roughly 600 miles from my state. I was now a proud owner of a luxury Car, or rather to be honest i was still a proud owner of a luxury Second hand Car, but in really crisp condition.

The Nissan Altima 2.4 i had bought over the summer was three times the power of my dearly Maruthi 800 i drove back home. luxury of a large size sedan, amazing handling and the mighty engine that dolled out enough power that i couldn't have asked for more.  It did guzzle a lot of fuel in the process, but after all being in USA, Fuel prices was the last thing in my mind.

Wrapped up a homework on friday night and got all excited about the week long break. The recent snow meant that the car was under thick pile of snow, which meant i had to spend an hour taking out all that mess, trust me on this one its a painstaking exercise :-(

Although i was not sure about the Trip until Saturday morning due to other commitments, Saturday morning 4 AM something struck me hard, it was clear, i was going to go ahead with the trip. The chores of friday night which was just like any other fridays meant that i hit the bed very late at 1AM. With just over 3 hours of sleep in the basket, no skepticism would hinder me from driving confidently for this first leg of the journey which was over 350 miles which i probably covered in over 6 hours.

Destination: Wisconsin

America's Dairy land 

I left home at about 4:20 AM in the morning(I agree, that was a co-incidence), With a thin layer of ice still sticking hard on the windshield,  i had enough view good enough to soon zip through I-35 and deviate towards US-20. With a major chunk of the journey not being on interstates meant that i was imposed a speed restriction of 65mphr. An early saturday morning ensured that the roads were empty. If driving on  a bad road, trying to speed as much as possible was a pain ,driving on a good road and being asked to drive slow was a pain in no less magnitude. 

As sun started rising up the horizon beautiful landscapes greeted me with a white blanket of snow evenly spread across them, occasionally i came across frozen ponds that froze with a wavy surface of water on them. 

Soon i was at the border city of Iowa, Dubuque . This harbor city with mighty bridges constructed along the Mississippi and its charming port were a good watch along the drive.

I enter Wisconsin, the roads here were not as flat as the case with Iowa, but in overall the place gave the same appeal. With the Cruise Control doing much of the driving for me, and the need of breaking was rare even once in 100 mile distance ensured that i was only busy steering and enjoying the nature while being on the move.

Soon i was in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin and an hour drive from here meant that i reached Brookfield, WI exactly at about 10:45.  Here i was to meet my cousin Deepti and her husband who were here for a holiday and a business visit respectively(grammar high there!!!! ).

Had a quick breakfast(Aloo Poha) here prepared by my cousin and with no time to waste, we set sail on a local sight seeing trip. 

Wisconsin Sight Seeing : 

Kettle Morraine Scenic Drive, Pike Lake , Holy hill 

 Photo Source: Flickr, Phlewete's Photostream

Photo Source:

Do not get deceived by the photos, the places although the same were no where close to their appearance now vs their appearance in these photos which were taken in the Fall Season. So we were in for a surprise. The trees on the way having lost all their leaves wore a barren look. The drive was still enjoyable with steep trails, beautiful village houses, horse barns, etc encountered on the way. The pike lake although beautiful, calm and peaceful was clearly out of bounds for Indian souls who were not even appropriately dressed to handle the chill in the temperature around the lake.

We did go out of our league to try hard and have a quick stroll around the lake, but we were back in the car in no time clearly having given up on our abilities to bare the cold. If i could recall the feel factor in the air that day was clearly below minus 10 C and certainly not anywhere close to even show any form of heroism.
The church atop the holy hill was a good find, The view atop was one particularly enjoyable including the carvings inside the building and the scale of the building in itself.

Milwaukee City: 

After a good italian lunch in the afternoon we headed towards Milwaukee city. Started with a brief visit to the GE HealthCare MRI campus at the city outskirts, we then headed to the Michigan lake. The city was big, with huge buildings dotting the skyline. This was yet another showcase of country's prowess, wealth. The area around the lake was beautifully maintained with many attractions like Children's play area, Art Museum, Discovery Museum and  a boat harbor for the affluent few who would maintain their own boats and used for leisure. The other parts of the city appeared mostly cramped in areas around the flyovers and downtown.

After another treat of Custard pudding in a nearby fast food joint, we were done for the day and headed back to the hotel. Thank you Deepti and Sunil for all the treat. I did rest in the hotel for an hour, where i may have had a SOUND sleep, after which i was almost brimming with energy for the second leg of the journey, this is probably also the reason i couldn't get to sleep any longer. I bid bye to my cousin and her husband, i think we did have a good time through the day. I Had to collect some Masala Powders she had got from Bangalore and after which i was now kick starting a more daunting drive to Michigan to visit my Sister. I could see it coming imminently upon me.

Wisconsin-Illinois-Michigan :350 Miles

I did start towards Auburn Hills, MI at about 7:15 PM. The Short 90 min ride from Brookfield to Chicago was full of traffic on the way and totally unknown. But with a GPS inside the car, and enough gas in the tank, i just don't have to look back or forth before taking on a new road. The feeling of riding alone is still fun at times, a new destination, a new path every time ensures i always have enough attractions along the way to make the drive enjoyable. Like they say "No journey too long when the driver is determined to reach where he wishes to go". (Disclosure: No such quotes, a set of words, i came up modifying another quote i saw)

The feeling i was passing through when zipping in one of those interstates between 74-77mphr is probably best kept to myself, the closest i would come to giving a description would be through this ad. 
A must watch " Bajaj Avenger" ad

After having put more than 7000 miles of driving in USA, i was confident enough of the roads here. With many miles out of this figure coming out of the night drives, i didn't have to think twice before making a decision to drive all night. 

I am not one of those individuals who doesn't loose an opportunity to brag about this country after coming here, i must admit that i have the zeal to boldly distinguish between White and black and call them out of loudly. If i was ever given a chance to appreciate their infrastructure, then i would clearly go ga ga over their roads. For someone who was slowly poisoned seeing his soulful city from being a Garden City, a paradise in all aspects to slowly become a junkyard full of automobiles choking it day by day, seeing the transportation infrastructure here is truly marvelous, welcome relief.

I soon entered the Chicago city, the vehicular density was up by many proportions. I had cars within 5 meters of my vehicle both front and back, we were all simultaneously cruising effortlessly at 70 mphr within the city limits while the speed limits were somewhere in 55. This was a kind of an adrenaline rush. The drive, put together with the view of this vibrant city, quickly disappearing skyscrapers all dazzling in bright colors in the night. The whole experience was probably something that stood out during this entire time on the road that had begun close to 20 hour back in a modest state of Iowa that is probably no frill and fancy

I soon left Illionois after passing through a couple of Toll Gates and bid bye to this colorful city. Next i would be crossing Indiana for a short distance before entering the Michigan State. The miseries for the night were still getting ready to descend upon me now .

Brush with a Snow Blizzard: Benton Harbor, MI

I thought i was all set , i was driving on I-94 and i wouldn't even want to take a turn in the next 200 miles and just had to follow the road as it took me . I remember having passed about 50 miles with no worries and suddenly i noticed sudden heavy winds along the road, this was followed by snow flakes crashing on the windshield to be immediately blown away by the wind owing to the speed of the car, i am slightly worried at this point. But on a lighter note, they were enjoyable companions along the drive as luckily it was still blowing snow at the minimum and didn't pose any difficulty to drive.

Here's a small video capture of the snow 

But soon  things are not the same as they started off to be. The road in no time cover up in snow, and the snow flakes hitting hard from all directions accompanied by heavy winds make the driving not so easy anymore. I no longer felt the need to be driving in this risky conditions and exited in next available exits to enter a city called Benton Harbor.

I pull over at Mc Donalds so that i could park for a while and have my favourite Mc Donalds menu (The french fries and the Chocolate Cookies). For those of you who are startled!!, let me tell you there are exactly 0.000 vegetarian items to eat at this food joint or practically most of the other joints that you find literally in every nuke and corner of the country(What a turn off!!, They advertise big about their hollywood actors turning vegans but do not want to serve a single veg item in their list of 100's of items). 

A random act of Dumbness followed a random act of Kindness

I quickly reach out to the trunk to grab the anti-freeze solution that i wanted to smear and wipe the windshield and windows that would help me avoid the hazzeles of clearing the snow later on. 2 mins into the job i am done and then a tragedy welcomes me.

the keys of the car are still clinging by the steering and i am locked out. GODDDDD!!!!!!.

What an act of dumbness and what a time to get dumb!.

If ever one could make a list of things that could go wrong in such a situation, then the situation i was in had all of them at that moment. In fact it was so bad that there was no possibility of anything else having gone wrong, because everything that could have practically gone wrong have already did.

1. I am locked out the car, 
2. My mobile phone also inside the car, so i cannot easily reach out for help,
3. Its 12:30 in the night,
5. A Saturday midnight on a weekend
6. The place that i am stuck is itself caught up in a snow blizzard
7.To top it all, its freezing outside and i am lightly dressed.

I always carry a spare key for the car, but today just to make matters worse, this spare key was in my laptop bag kept in the car. With no moments to spare i quickly reach out for help at the Mc Donalds food joint that had been closed for dine in and only been operating drive through. The young guy among the staff was kind enough to help me, he reached for town municipal for help and they get the details from me and send a cop to help me out.

Enough of the dumbness, the kindness starts from here. A cop rolls in 5 mins in his dashingly black Dodge Charger. He greets me and offers to unlock the car by sneaking in a tool through the window bushes.
Although it may be part of his assigned duties to help people locked out of their car, but for an alien like me, i am really pleased to get help from a cop, from whom you have a limited expectations back home. When i later shared this experience with my roomie he shared another instance he was made aware of a cop actually volunteered to change a flat tyre of a car driven by 2 Chinese students here in Des moines because the girls apparently had no clue of how one would go about changing a flat tire(Expected!!! :-))

The bad news soon  follows the kindness, The cop was not skilled enough or his tool was not good enough to sneak in and unlock the car so he gives up after trying 10 mins. He quickly contacts the control room and assigns a towing company on the job all by himself, he gives me details of the towing company and exits the scene after advising me to stay back at the Mc Donalds until they arrive. 

I was so high with the joy of getting helped by a cop to this extent , that the sorrow that followed when towing company who got the car unlocked in 2 mins and charged me straight 55$ for 2 mins display of his skills never struck me(Although i did later get back to proper senses to realize the intensity of the loss, I was worried for a little while, but i didn't loose any money as my Car insurance company payed the entire 55$ dollar upon producing the bill given by the towing company. Yes, i was covered in their road side assistance plan for which i may have been coughing additional dollars in the monthly premium all this while).

The place where it all happened

I may have lost 100 mins in this entire episode and soon after which me and my car was restored to last stable state. The tasks that lay front of me were get back on road as soon as possible and reach my destination. With the blizzard no where in mood to stop and having found no restaurants open through the night, i decided i would spend the night at Benton Harbor until the snow stopped. I pulled over at a gas station, with an attached general store that was open 24 hours. This is by far the safest place to pull over your car. The gas station is well lit and has a surveillance camera always on.

Trying to keep the car warm , i give in to a good sleep and awakened by 4 AM. I am delighted that the snow has now reseeded and i loose no time and join the interstate and start heading the rest of the miles i had to cover. I am greeted by a road that is half covered in snow and half cleared. Realizing this is no moment for speed i reduce the speed to less than 55 mphr, Given to the driving conditions, even changing lanes on this road meant you need to be really cautious and made sure you held your steering wheel firm. With all this in place , i could always feel the car sliding. 

Here is a video of the drive:

I keep up with the road and finally exit the I-94. After this point i had to make a number of exits taking on different highways and finally i make safely to Sister's home at about 7:30 AM morning on Sunday.

It always feels good to be back here. The condition of the Car just like a warrior having torn from a fierce battle field was full of snow stuck on beneath . I do remember the Snow that was attached melted over a period of 3 days.

Now just for the numbers i had driven about 980 Miles in a little excess over 24 hours.  this was possibly my new best record for most distance covered in a short span of time.Converting these figures to a fond SI System into Kms i would easily come up a figure close to 1600kms. On a reality check i had never travelled these far from Bangalore anytime in my life, of course until i flew here.

Pampered Thanksgiving Break:

The next 4 days was spent peacefully in the mood of pamper, From Indian Restaurants, Indian Chats, South Indian breakfast, The Idli Vadas, The Masala Dosa, The Bisibele bath, etc etc. If this was not enough the endless movies from their home entertainment ensured i had very less reasons to turn back into books and all the impending work planned for the Fall break. Thanks Sindhu for all the various specialties you made.

BlackFriday: The Showdown

The blackfriday was finally here, the doorbuster sales on all shopping malls are just more talked about than they actually exist. Apart from the handful of big chains like Wallmart, Bestbuy, Target,  few famous shopping malls, etc, The concept of huge discounts or throw away prices for shopping doesn't really exist. The best discount one would ever see was a 50% off on items whose price tags were already inflated. 

Nonetheless, its a great event and opportunity to see crowds of people in high spirits patiently waiting in long Queues front of malls and outlets to pick up their black friday magic deal.  We did go to a Big Mall in the outskirts of the city supposed one of michigan's biggest mall . I bought a few items from PUMA and GAP and so did my sister. The important item that needed to be bought for the blackfriday was a NIKON DSLR camera part of Target and Wallmart Door buster products. We were unsuccessful in buying either of these and had to finally order it online for an equally good price.

PANIC BUTTON: Get back to Work

Among all these days of roaming, shopping and days of doing nothingness, the mercury levels were slowly rising up and alerting me of an impending work that need to be submitted immediately after thanksgiving break. I quickly realized that the more joyful environment was not helping me study so i come up with drastic plans and forcefully make my sister and BIL agree to me leaving early on Friday, a full 2 days short of spending the entire thanksgiving break. There i was all set to leave, Had a delicious lunch at 1:00 on friday afternoon and all set to leave Michigan . The return journey as  i feared would be the hardest of all as i had to cover in excess of 600 miles with no breaks or halt in between.

Had everything packed, left the home by 1:00 PM , set the destination on the GPS and in no time i was back on the road. The forecast for arrival was about 10:00PM CST. Filled about 10Gallons of Gas and set back on the I-94. The road this time on a friday evening was more crowded than when i came. 

BUMMMMM: Flat tire

With about 250 miles into the journey and in no mood to slow down, i came across a random bridge with about 60 miles away from Chicago. Hear a loud noise, i am immediately shocked and after the Crash noise, i notice persistent loud noises coming back from the back. I immediately realize there is some definite damage from the back, i immediately pull over to the side and notice a 4 inch  or more long nail over 1 cm or more in width having pierced through the back tire vertically and come out from the rim. This evil nail had eaten away my brand new tire in no time and i knew for sure when i saw it that the tire was itself dead. 

Heartbroken but no time to spare i immediately get into the task of changing the wheels, I am lucky that the previous owner of the car was kind enough to ensure all the tools were in place. Changing wheels for this huge a car was no joke but i got on to the job immediately.

The Evil Nail that ate away a new tire and drilled a hole worth 130$ straight into my pocket 

More Acts of Kindness:

5 mins into the job, while i am making quick progress in a nearly freezing temperature of about 2 C, a cop quickly pulls over. I am startled, for a moment. I know for sure i have parked away from the road and put on my parking lights on while i was changing the wheels, i am slightly perplexed if there was any more procedures to follow in such a circumstance. But again i had more kind surprises to expect. The cop quickly inquirers if i had all the tools and the spares required for changing the wheels. I am comforted the very moment, the next moment he offers to stand behind me with the flashing lights on so that the vehicles speeding from behind have enough time to take notice of my car and switch lanes. This was really required. A person with himself standstill never gets to see how vehicles cruise on freeway as your not allowed in there, unless someone is in my condition or gets pulled over. I did get to see the road in close proximity and i must admit that there is nothing normal about their speeds. There are huge trucks cruising effortlessly at 70 mphr. They create huge disturbance in air behind them as they zip through you.

I was done changing the tire in next 10 mins and greeted the cop. I was then back  on the road for the rest of the journey, back in full throttle , zipped through Chicago in no time and took an exit towards Iowa and eventually made it to I-80. With couple of more 10 min break for food/fuel, i continuously rode for the next 6 hours and made it splashingly fast into Ames at 10:40 PM in good shape.

Rolling down the Curtains:

The total distance i had covered in this thanksgiving break over 2 days of travel was over 1660 miles. which when translated into kms once again turns out roughly 2671kms . For a fond curiousity  i looked up  distance between Bangalore to Leh and it gave a figure lesser than 2600kms . What a moment of Joy.

Few Excerpts:

Distance travelled in total : 1660miles

Mileage rendered per Gallon : 29-30 miles    (This is where you know i am an Indian  :-))

Price per Gallon : $ 3.2-3.3(Depends on the State)

Total fuel spent on the trip: You do the Math.


55$ : Towing Company for unlocking the car, reimbursed by insurance

130$: Damaged Tire, nobody reimburses this :-(

Priceless$: The risk of driving through a snow blizzard.(Although this penalty doesn't apply and was only a risk)

So even though the Penalty's turned out to be big and may come close to the money i have spent on the fuel
Am i pinched ? : yes  i am.

Was it a better decision to travel by bus or air finding a cheap ticket instead ?

Hell, NO!!!!!!
The experience of having gone through the entire trip is something that i would crave for any day. Whats the fun in finding short paths that take away so many essence in life and make it look so plain.

The trip had now ended and i have 2 weeks for the semester to wind up, not a great time to write a blog on this thanksgiving trip. But i guess i found it worth while to be pinned down. Hope anybody who reached this far reading the entire blog found it worthwhile for your time.



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