Chippewa Herald * August 22, 2007   Visitor
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With one state left to visit, we drove to Fargo...on purpose

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

After enduring a summer last year with NO ROAD TRIP, and only a short trip during the last Christmas break (okay, short by days but not by miles), we decided we'd better take a "normal" vacation this summer.

Due to numerous conflicts, we had to squeeze it into a three-day weekend. No problem; that is still enough time for -- wait for it -- a trip to FARGO!

Yes, we drove to Fargo, North Dakota this summer. On purpose. Just for the thrill of it.

Actually, we did have an ulterior motive: North Dakota is the ONLY STATE our kids had never been to! (Please don't mention Alaska and Hawaii, like the kids try to do sometimes -- those are far enough away to be foreign countries, not states.)

We didn't originally plan to visit every normal state.

Our "road-trip mania" started seven years ago, in the summer of 2000, when we took advantage of a sabbatical from SGI to rent an RV and drive out west. We called this the "Mother of All Vacations" (MOAV), and it truly was the trip of a lifetime: 7000 miles, six weeks, five kids. Traveling by RV was great, especially with five kids under ten years old.

The MOAV brought us to all the states in the northwest, as well as California and Nevada.

Four years later, we drove to Colorado for a wedding, and took an extra week for some camping in our pop-up camper. That brought us to Four Corners, where we got credit for four states at one time, along with Texas and Oklahoma on the way back.

The southwestern states were now covered, but we still weren't thinking big goals yet.

By the next year, 2005, it was time for another sabbatical. This one was only three weeks instead of six, but that was still plenty of time for a long tour with our pop-up. Realizing that our kids had never been east of Chicago, we decided to head to the big eastern cities this time. We called this trip our "DAUGHTER of all vacations" (DOAV). (Interesting side note -- if you Google for "DOAV", our recap is in the top five web hits!)

Our primary DOAV targets were Washington, New York, and Boston. But we went a little out of the way to see Rhode Island.

That's when it dawned on us -- we could actually see EVERY state in the northeast! We had started our long journeys just after our youngest (Simon) was born, but we realized we had only three years before our oldest (Ben) left for college. So we spent an extra day driving through all the upper New England states.

Now we were on a mission.

Last Christmas, in a caffeinated stupor, we drove to Miami and back in our GOAV (yes, the "Granddaughter of all vacations"). We were careful on that trip to hit the states our kids had never been to, diverting to Louisiana on the way down and North Carolina on the way back.

When we returned from that 4200-mile drive, safe but still shaking from all the coffee, we had nearly conquered our goal. There was only ONE STATE left -- somehow, we had never yet crossed the border of North Dakota.

Our quest was imminent: We knew we must make it to Fargo this summer. The only question was when to do it. Between Boy Scout campouts, bike trips, family reunions, and Ben's college-searching trips, we figured we'd better do it as soon as we spotted a glimmer of light in the schedule.

Of course, we couldn't drive STRAIGHT to Fargo. We took a slight diversion to Itasca State Park, to camp at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. According to the literature there, it's a rite of passage for Minnesota parents to take their kids to Itasca. As native Minnesotans, Beth and I have now fulfilled our duty in that area.

In Fargo we got to see a true world-class attraction: the Hjemkomst Viking Ship. This replica of a 1000-year-old Viking ship was the brainchild of Robert Asp, a school guidance counselor. After building it for eight years (in a former potato warehouse, no less), Bob died just before it could be used. But his four kids actually sailed it 6100 miles from Duluth to Norway in 1982, a 72-day voyage! (Hmmm...future vacation possibilities?)

Obviously, we couldn't drive straight home, either, so we exited I-94 and headed to Darwin, Minnesota. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that Darwin is home of the World's Largest Ball of Twine ("made by one man"). (Yes, even the T-shirts for sale carried that parenthetical clarification.)

Alison, our 15-year-old daughter, was a little skeptical about stopping to see a twine ball, but her eyes lit up when she saw the guest book. (Yes, visitor centers for twine balls have guest books.) A few years ago, this very site was graced with the presence of her hero, Weird Al Yankovic! Photo sessions ensued.

It is fitting that our Fargo trip was only three days long. It seems that as our kids get older, our trips get shorter -- we went from a 41-day trip in 2000, to 21 days in 2005, to nine days in 2006, to three days in 2007.

I suppose our future vacations will be one-nighters.

(And I'm sure the kids will remind us that that's still enough time to fly to Hawaii.)

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