Day 31: Madison, Lake Michigan, Chicago, Grand Mere & finally Cleveland

Day 31 dawned gloomy and hot with 80% humidity in Madison, Wisconsin. I checked the weather for Point Beach (our campsite for the night) as soon as I woke up at 6 a.m. and saw “isolated thunderstorms” predicted.

I’d made a deal with myself last night that if the campsite was rained out, then I would slash the next week of my trip and head straight for Brooklyn and Molly & Sean. So as soon as I saw that weather prediction, I cancelled Point Beach; booked accommodations in Cleveland for a quick sleep & shower pit-stop; pinpointed the first predicted sunshine along the shore of Lake Michigan (Chicago); and booked a route in Google maps that would hit

  • downtown Madison
  • a place with cheese curds (because I’m not going to Wisconsin without getting cheese curds)
  • Montrose Dog Beach in Chicago
  • and, finally, Cleveland

It was going to be a tight day, but I was determined to reach Brooklyn by nightfall on Thursday!

As soon as I checked out and got the car packed up, we headed for downtown Madison. And as soon as we reached downtown, the sun came out.


Seriously, not even a cloud in the sky. It was ridiculous. And also ridiculously pretty.

Point Beach also cleared up by the afternoon. At first, I was upset, especially after the debacle in Chicago. But I’m left with very little nigglings of regret because I just checked the weather in Point Beach, and they’re having heavy rain and lightning storms right now. And I’m slated to be in Brooklyn by nightfall tomorrow.

As luck would have it, I parked next to a cheese shop called Fromagination. Best name ever. I had to go inside.


I had one sample and knew I had to get out of there. That one bite was so good that I would have walked out with eight pounds of various cheeses that I had nowhere to store and nothing to eat with. And I told myself that I wasn’t going to be the kind of person who breaks open a block of Wisconsin cheddar as a snack on the highway.


But, if I’m honest with myself, I might one day be that person if I come back to Madison.

We didn’t have a lot of time in Madison, so I stuck with exploring the side streets around Capitol Square.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to resist a city whose food trucks include a popcorn wagon. Why don’t we have this in San Francisco?


I also found statues of this guy everywhere.

His name is Bucky Badger, and there are apparently 85 “life-size” (that is a direct quote; I’m terrified that means badgers get to this size in Wisconsin) Bucky statues around the city.

Here’s a detail from the bottom right Bucky. He’s a mosaic — the only one I saw — and glitters!


After wandering the side streets around the capitol building, we stumbled upon a farmers market, just a block down from Capitol Square, on Madison’s MLK Jr Blvd.

I didn’t see a sign while we were there, but I did some digging online, and it had to have been the Dane County market.

The best news of the morning was the fresh cheese curds available to sample and purchase at the Murphy Farms tent.


As a Curd Newb, I asked the guy who makes them for a recommendation, and he tried to convince me to buy all thirteen kinds. Not too helpful. But the lady who was buying a bag next to me said “I always go with the white, dear, but that’s just me. Oh, and you’ll need something sweet after. I get the molasses cookies.”

(She pronounced molasses the way they do in Louisiana. It warmed my heart a little just to hear it.)

So I got two types of curds: Cajun & original White. And I picked up a gluten-free iced pumpkin bar because…well, pumpkin bars. How do you say no to those?


See, the plan was to take the curds with me to try with Molly & Sean in Brooklyn as a thank-you-for-letting-my-dog-and-I-crash-on-your-sofa gift. So I was only going to have a couple of the White to try. But then I ate a couple and that teeth-squeaking goodness was too much for me.

I’m ashamed to admit that I opened both bags. So shameful.

I was too embarrassed to go back to the first guy when I’d only been there 10 minutes before, so I found another vendor and got a Garlic & Herb Curd. Hopefully, those remain untouched. It’s only one day. I can’t possibly fail that badly, right?

But the sample he gave me was so good…

I don’t know what they grow flowers with in Wisconsin, but we need some of it in California. Look at these beauties.

I mean, California flowers are gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But these were absolutely gigantic on top of being gorgeous. And you could smell the flower tents from half a block away.

Sadly, after I bought my third (THIRD…good grief) bag of cheese curds, we had to go. Madison was my fastest stop in a city yet. We managed to do all of that in under a single hour.

A little before noon, we got on the road pointed toward Montrose Dog Beach in Chicago. But the closer we got to Chicago, the more started to go wrong.

First it was just slightly gray clouds.

IMG_1115 2

Then they started to cover large swaths of the sky.


And then is started to rain (because of course it did).

The rain was kind of a moot point, though, because the closer we got to Chicago, the longer the red streak in the highway on my map began to grow. I watched the estimated time keep ticking up…and up…and up…

When we left Madison, it said it would take us 2h & 38m to get to Montrose Dog Beach. By the time we reached Belvidere (1.5h from Chicago), the Googs was saying it would take 2h & 15m to reach Montrose. By Elgin, it was at 2h & 22m. Finally, I gave up on the beach in Chicago because at that rate we wouldn’t reach Cleveland before midnight.

We left Madison just before noon. We didn’t get through to the other side of Chicago until after 4 p.m. Then we hit Indiana, and we lost an hour to the Bermuda Triangle of the Eastern Timezone line.

I still really wanted to spend a little time on a Lake Michigan beach, though, since I was still disappointed about the Point Beach confusion. So I consulted the Googs for the next sunny spot on the shoreline that allowed dogs. It was in a place called Grand Mere, Michigan. So I added the stop, aware this pushed our arrival in Cleveland back to 9 p.m. Worth it, I decided.

We got to Grand Mere State Park, and it was indeed sunny! And warm! And even more humid than Madison. Tako and I set off determinedly for the beach.

We hiked about a mile into the park before we hit the mud fields. Still, I pushed on with Tako giving me very concerned looks every few seconds — I think because his paws were sinking into the ground, and I guess that’s a little concerning when you’re only knee high to a grasshopper.

When I sank into the mud up to my ankle, though, I finally called Uncle and turned back. (Tako practically ran for the car.)

I’m not upset about it, though. The hike was gorgeous.


And we came across this random water pump.


I tried, but either I’m not strong enough to work it, or it’s no longer connected to a well. It was pretty cob-webby, so I don’t think it’s only pride that makes me think the latter explanation is the more likely.

When we got back to the car, I wiped Tako down, and we buckled down on the road to Cleveland.

By the way, tolls are serious business in this part of the country. I spent over $30 in tolls today, guys, and other than the stop in Grand Mere, this was the most direct route I could have taken from Chicago to Cleveland. We were on I-90E almost the entire way. It is expensive to drive through these states.

My advice: Have both cash and coins on hand. Even some of the attended toll booths don’t take credit cards, so cash is essential. And some of the toll booths are unattended, which means they only accept coins, which I did not know was a thing in 2018. I used pretty much all of my baggie of parking change today. Grumble.

Most were attended, though, and if you have an I-Pass (a Fastrak-style thing used state-wide in Illinois…oh, and 15 other states via this thing called the E-ZPass System! What???) then you don’t have to worry about any of that.

Technically, I went to Indiana today. I think I got out of the car and pumped gas. That’s about it.


In Michigan, cornfields and grape vines grow right next to each other, which was very cool to see…and I didn’t take a picture. Sorry about that. But I want to try Michigan wine some time. (Indiana has wine, too! But I only found that out by Googling it just now.)

As our evening entertainment during the remaining 4+ hours of our drive, I watched the sunset throw pinks and oranges across the sky, and Tako did what he does best when he’s anxious: he slept.*

We didn’t get to Cleveland until after 10 p.m.



#1 The sunset in Ohio.

#2 Actually having cash for the first surprise toll booth.

#3 Hiking through Grand Mere (until the mud attacked).



#1 Traffic in Chicago, but it’s hard to complain about it when I feel like I should have known it would happen?

#2 I saw Lake Michigan from four different states today and still didn’t get to dip my toes. That’s just bonkers.



Driven: 6693mi

Hiked: 54mi

Written: 12k

Listening to: “Ohio” Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness


*I’m not sure why Tako has been so anxious the past couple of days. It could be because he’s feeling cooped up, too. It could be that he’s feeding off a vibe I didn’t know I was emitting. Either way, he has been a puppy mess. I tried to leave him in the AirBnB in Minneapolis to run to the car for his kibble, and got three feet down the hallway before he started howling. Actually howling. As if he thought he’d turned into a tiny wolf. It was bizarre, and not something he’s ever done before.

He’s also clearly pissed off at me, which is causing him more anxiety because he can’t let me out of his sight, and he seems to want me as far away as possible.

He’s very conflicted right now. And possibly crazy.

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