Sep 20, 2023

Driving the Road To Nowhere – North Dakota

When it comes to road trips, I’ve lived most of my life by the motto that getting there was half the fun.  In other words, the travel from Point A to Point B can be just as memorable as the destination.  This is especially true when you’re perfectly fine without having a set destination at all. 

That was my thought process when I set out to choose a route for my first solo road trip in many years.  I wanted to go where few others would think to travel.  I also wanted to have a true sense of solitude on the highway, where I could be alone with my thoughts for hours at a time.  So, after a combination of modern-day Google searching and old-school researching good ol’ Rand McNally, I decided to conquer what has been coined by fellow travelers as the “Road To Nowhere” … or at least most of it.

Officially designated as U.S. Highway 83, the Road To Nowhere stretches from the Canadian border just north of Westhope, N.D, to its southern terminus at the Mexican border crossing in Brownsville, Texas.  Yes, there are zigs and zags along the way, but until the route takes an abrupt turn along the Rio Grande at Laredo, it’s a fairly consistent north-south trajectory. 

How it became known as the Road To Nowhere is pretty apparent if you look at the route long enough.  The vast majority of the highway runs through some of the most sparsely populated parts of the country – the heart of the Great Plains and the Texas panhandle.  How few people live there?  Consider this:  The largest city between my starting point at Minot, N.D. and my end point at Laredo, Texas is Abilene, Texas, with roughly 125,000 people.  The distance on U.S. 83 between Minot and Abilene is about 1,240 miles.  In between, there are just five cities with a population greater than 10,000 – Bismarck, N.D. (74,000), Pierre, S.D. (14,000), North Platte, Neb. (24,000), Garden City, Kan, (28,000), and Liberal, Kan. (19,000).  

I chose my jumping on and jumping off points based on the amount of time I had to not just driver the route, but get there and back. 

Sep 8, 2023

A commoner drinks (and dines) at Neumann’s Bar, North St. Paul, Minn.

To be a well-traveled commoner, one’s travel research beforehand may come from many different places.  For instance, when I began researching my first solo road trip in many years to drive the length of U.S. 83 (aka “The Road To Nowhere”) from the Great Plains to the Mexican border, I knew I might have to use some unconventional resources to find a few good pitstops on my way to my jumping off point in Minot, N.D. 

Fortunately, I had received a book called “Bucket List Bars” as a gift – a great guide to historic dive bars across the United States.  Within that book, one pub in particular in North St. Paul, Minn., spoke to me due to its historical connections to Hamm’s beer.  So, I knew I couldn’t pass through the Minneapolis-St. Paul area without stopping at Neumann’s Bar.      

Serving since 1887 (yes, even during Prohibition when the “official” drink was “near beer” and the speakeasy upstairs provided other options), Neumann’s was founded for the main purpose of supporting the nearby Hamm’s Brewery.  It was common practice in the 19th Century for breweries to support or even operate their own saloons to sell their own products.  Good way to cut your distribution costs, no doubt. 

Today, Neumann’s Bar claims to be Minnesota’s oldest continuously operating bar, and I’m extremely happy to report from first-hand experience that their support of Hamm’s beer remains very strong.  

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...