The journey began on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 (Day 1) with an overnight stop on public lands (Bureau of Land Management (BLM)) outside of Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
It was good to get out on the open road. And it was open too. I would drive for miles without seeing another car.
Notable Stops Along the Way
Jolly Green Giant: Visited the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Notice he is wearing a mask in his job as a role model for all the fine people of the world eating their daily five servings of fruit and vegetables.
Pipestone National Monument: Came across the Pipestone National Monument in western Minnesota. This site is currently still in use, by local Indian tribes, to create stone pipes used in various spiritual traditions.
Childhood Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder: Checked out Laura’s home and school.
May 27, 2020 (Day 2)
Badlands was overrun with bison all over the place. They would wonder out into the road and have no concern for any vehicle that may be sharing that space.
I have a love for fat biking and camping – well, fat biking and bikepacking! Camping is a means to an end in that it let me venture further away from home in a cost-effective way. To make camping a little easier, I decided to convert my 2008 Honda CR-V into a mini-camping-mobile last summer. Out came the back seats, and in went a custom-built platform that allows me to stretch out completely. The design also allowed me to carry a lot of camping and biking gear. However, I had to empty the car to provide room to sleep. Unpacking the car and leaving things outside turned out to be inconvenient, especially when it rained.
With an impending move in early 2020 half-way across the country and the relatively high cost of moving, I thought it might be an excellent opportunity to acquire a Sprinter van. I could use the van for moving and then convert it into a recreational vehicle. My research led me to select a high-roof, diesel, Mercedes Sprinter with a 144 wheelbase. I also wanted a 2019 model, as I liked the interior redesign and safety features. And so the search for a used 2019 Sprinter started.
In shopping for a Sprinter, I discovered three types – passenger vans, crew vans, and cargo vans. Passenger vans have windows all around and a lot of seats. Cargo vans have no windows and only two seats. Crew vans are somewhere in-between – with additional seats and some windows. I narrowed my search to a 2019 crew van.
I found a low mileage van at a dealer on Long Island, New York. I did the entire transaction over email and the phone. I flew to New York on the evening of January 16, 2020, intending to pick the van up on Friday morning and drive it back to Minnesota. I picked up the van and made it as far as Ohio the first day, just in time for a winter snowstorm.
Overnight it rained and then snowed a couple of inches, covering the hotel parking lot with snow with a lovely foundation of ice. In the morning, I had a rather difficult time just getting the van up the slight incline of the parking lot. I hoped the weather would improve, and if it didn’t, I could just pull over and wait it out.
Perhaps I was a little optimistic. The weather didn’t improve, and I just kept going. Driving a rear-wheel-drive unloaded van is not fun. Traction becomes an issue. I had a slow drive across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I had an even slower drive once I hit the Minnesota border and tried to climb the hill outside of La Crosse, Wisconsin. I couldn’t get the van over 35 miles an hour because the rear wheels would spin and fish-tail up the hill. I was lucky that it was late and there were very few cars on the road.
I was worried my new Sprinter would only be good for summer and utterly unusable in winter. That is until I discovered the magic of snow tires. Who knew? Throw on a set of Bridgestone Blizzak tires, and the van just sticks to the road. Check out Youtube (https://youtu.be/NSNVm0UHSao). I purchased another set of rims, so now I have both summer and winter mounted tires.