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This blog post is at N41.507694 W90.928388

The sun gently rose, arching its beams of warmth through my hotel window slowly rising me from the slumber of my comfy king-sized bed. The birds outside landed gently on the privet bushes by the fountain in the front garden of my 5-star hotel, and sung me their pleasant morning call. And the smell of eggs & bacon and fresh bread and coffee slowly wafted up the corridor and invaded my nostrils tempting me to get out of bed and dine in the waited restaurant below.

Unfortunately, that would have been the preferred scenario as the reality was far far from it. For last night : I slept in the back of the car.

I remember when I resolved to set out on this trip, that I would sleep in the car all the time, and then maybe check into a cheap motel/hotel every third of fourth night. I remember my friend Dan laughing at me saying “No! You’re going to need a tent”, and rapidly I realised that he was right, and camping was the way to go.

But logistical planning of having a campground in the right place at the right time, a tight budget have all played a factor, and the fact that I’m by myself all this week with a lot of miles to drive means that I just pushed on late into the night, and after failing to find a suitable place at The Iowa 80 Truck Stop (The World’s Largest Truck Stop), I pushed on and found a 24 hour Walmart Supercenter that I could park in.

Well, I say “found”, and with that one word dismissed a whole hour of agony battling with my GPS to find it. I punch in ‘Walmart‘ into my points of interest and it found nothing. Shit! Then I remembered that TomTom likes to spell it ‘Wal-Mart‘ (hyphenated), and sure enough it found one 11 miles, and a 30 minute drive away.

Half an hour to cover 11 miles? Yeah .. because it took my down non-paved gravelly roads which at gone 11pm last night, dark and gloomy was slightly scary to drive down. “What if I get a flat tyre now?” I thought, and then tried not to think about it.

29 minutes later (for the TomTom does not lie), it took me to an address on a Highway .. where there was nothing. Nadda. Zilch. Not even a light of any civilisation. Yet again, I realised that the Point of Interest database provided by Teleatlas should not always be trusted.

No worries … I fired up my laptop, shit! It’s only got 20% battery left, and so parked by the side of the road in a ditch, as huge trucks rumbled past be inches away rattling the windows as they did, I got my AT&T dongle out, and got some veeeeryy slooooow (no 3G) internet bandwidth. Used the store locator on the Walmart.com site to search for the nearest store. I found one … punched in the address on the TomTom – only for it to helpfully say “You’re already there”. Fuck.

I was not already there. I got out of the car to make sure. In the now midnight darkness I could make out cornfields – just. The cloudy sky covered up the stars, and for the first time in weeks I felt a little chilly and wrapped my sweater around me. There was nobody out here in the fields of Iowa.[1]

I got back in the car, and sought the nearest gas station. 6 miles away … further down the road that I had already come, and I plodded on. This time noting that the gas in the car was actually quite low, and said that it would run out in 20 miles time. I really hoped that database was up to date and that the gas station was 24 hrs.

(It was about this time that something occurred to me. So many people have GPS/SatNav devices now that give and can go to exact Longitude/Latitude coordinates – [N80.12345 W79.78654 for example] that it would make much more sense if ‘Store locators …’ for ALL business on their websites just offered up those coordinates instead, and you could just punch it in that way, rather than relying on an address which might be incorrect, or will certainly never change)

And then … finally, a little luck. As the 6 miles approached, it turned out to be the local town of Muscatine, IA which – at the first intersection I came across had the Uncle-Sam own’d mega “man” chain glowing out from the dark at me. I gleefully pulled into the parking lot – into the area which you could see they’d specially designated for overnighters and parked up.

A quick dash inside to use the facilities and some bad snack food, and I moved most of my stuff from the back of the car, onto the front seats, locked myself in with an unfurled sleeping bag and settled in for the night.

I think I actually slept quite well all things considered, except for the rain that started about 6am, the hard ‘patter’ on the car roof waking me up and continually waking me as I tried to doze back off properly and not get up for real before 8am.

Eventually, I gave up, ran inside to use the facilities again, and then drove across the street to the gas station for a kick of coffee to get me on my way for a very long drive, during which the rain did not let up once.

It’s very glamourous this road tripping business, isn’t it?

5 responses to “This blog post is at N41.507694 W90.928388”

  1. geofftech says:

    [1] I find reading back that sentence to be strangely exhilerating

  2. tami says:

    Glad you werent murdered in the car by some crazed lunatic!!! I googled alittle about Walmart (Wal-Mart) and thought you’d be interested in this….Here’s the scoop from a fulltime RVer. Many WalMarts allow RVer’s to spend the night in their parking lot. The RVer should go into the store and ask permission from a person who has the authority to say yes.

    Many do not and that will be because of a local ordinance. Campground owners feel WalMart is cutting into their money. WalMart will be the most expensive campground you have ever stayed in. You park your rig out of the way, go in to replinish supplies and you come out with an entire buggy load.

    In our travels, we will plan our route, check our road atlas we purchased in WalMart for $4.95 to see if there is a WalMart wecan spend the night at. By the way that road atlas is the same one, Rand McNally that other stores sell for $12.95. The one WalMart sells lists all the WalMarts in the US by city & state. Since the phone number is listed, I’ll call to inquire if overnight parking is allowed.

    Every RV Caravan, by an unnamed RV Tour Company, going into Eastern Canada, starts in the Augusta, Maine. Most of the caravaners will spend several nights there. There’s also a Panera Bread, out where the RVer’s park, so you also have free WiFi.

    In 2003 my wife and I circumnavigated the US and stayed in WalMarts in Rome, NY, Des Moines, IA, Mitchell, SD, Billings, MT, Bend, OR, Livingstone, TX and many more I can’t think of.

    Last year while returning from five months in Alaska, we spent several days in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. A trip over to WalMart, we saw a station wagon, off to the side, with a tent pitched. That’s going a little far.

    Family Motor Coach Association, The Escapees and The Good Sam RV Club have guide lines for their members to use while staying in WalMarts, K-Marts, Cracker Barrels, Home Depots, Lowes and just about any place that allows RVer’s to spend the night. They ask their members to limit their stay to one night, do ot put leveling jacks down, do not set-up camp, no outdoor cooking. Purchase supplies where you shop, leave the area cleaner than you find it. I go around a pick-up carts and trash.

    Yes I agree, why should you stay in an over priced campground when you are going from point A to point B? If there’s nothing to see in the place you spend the night, stay in a parking lot, always ask permission, and leave in the morning. Do not unhook your trailer or towed vehicle if possible

  3. Raineth says:

    I LOVE that truck stop! Folks are really friendly, and if you can’t find it, you probably don’t need it.

    Wiiiiide open spaces…

  4. Oliver says:

    Finally, after 25 years, I’ve bothered to find out why Pete Townshend’s solo concept album “White City” was called that. Here’s the promo video for the lead track, if you’re interested:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvRjGLRQQVk

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