A couple weeks ago, my wife, kids, and I packed into the “family truckster,” i.e., our Sonata, and set off on our Annual Brkich Family Road-Trip Adventure. The first year took us to New England; last year it was the great Southeast. This year we decided to head west—Midwest, to be precise, to see what hidden treasures we could find amongst the cornfields. Having never driven further west than Dayton, I was curious and excited to see what we’d discover in America’s heartland…
DAY 5 – Wisconsin Dells
Today was destined to be a letdown. While the previous day was about sunshine and happiness and ice-cold beers by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Huron, today was about an uneventful, three-hour drive along Wisconsin’s backroads, only to arrive in my very own personal hell: the Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park.
This is the day I’ve been dreading. I hate these mega-waterparks, for reasons I’ll detail shortly. But this day was for the kids. Heck, they deserved at least one day on this two-week adventure where we weren’t boring them to death with cafés, antique shops, and microbreweries. Therefore I promised myself I would do my best to suck it up and at least pretend to have fun.
Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. By the time we arrived at the Wisconsin Dells, “The Waterpark Capital of the World!®,” storm clouds were on the horizon and the temperature was hovering in the mid- to low-60s. But of course once the kiddos saw the waterslides, there was no way we weren’t going to be getting wet. After waiting in a long line to check in to the resort, we went to our room, put on our swimwear, and headed out to the park. Oh joy.
I don’t like to be wet. Or cold. So of course I was thrilled when The Animal dragged us over to the “Lost City of Atlantis,” which is basically a six-stories-tall contraption featuring a water geyser, giant dump bucket, and seven water slides all designed to get you as wet as possible. Within seconds I was completely waterlogged and trembling. Luckily after only one or two times down the slides, lightning forced us inside with the 10,000 other people jammed into this resort. For the next couple hours we had even more fun as we fought with other people, literally, over the way-too-few rafts made available to us. The Lazy River, jammed with vacationers on inner tubes, looked like the Fort Pitt Tunnels at rush hour, and there was even a line for the hot tub, as people were desperate to get their body temperature back up to normal. It was a real hoot.
Eventually, thanks to a little bribery involving ice cream and french fries, I was able to convince the kids to call it a day so that we could go back to the room, dry off, and get warm. There, we downloaded “Field of Dreams” and watched it in bed so that the kids would know where we planned to go the following day. Meanwhile, since we’re such great parents, the kids dined on a $6 bag of mini chocolate donuts as we enjoyed a beer—me, one of the ones I brought into the resort, and Cass, a $7 can of Leinenkugel’s from the hotel snack bar. (Seven bucks!) The Animal ended up falling asleep before young “Moonlight” Graham got the chance to fulfill his baseball dreams. Boogieface, much to my surprise, loved everything about the film, especially when she found out that Terence Mann was actually Darth Vader.
(No extra photos of Day 5. Turns out iPhones and waterslides don’t mix.)
The next day all I wanted to do was hit the road, but the weather had broken and it was both sunny and warm, which is exactly what you want at a waterpark.
So as Cass and The Animal headed off for the go-karts, Boogs and I headed back out to the slides and, amazingly, ended up having a wonderful time together. Since it was so warm out, the indoor park was nearly empty, and we were able to slide with hardly any wait at all. Even outside the lines weren’t so bad, and thanks to the warmth we were no longer freezing cold. Which is always a plus.
My favorite part came around 1 p.m., when we met up with Cass and The Animal, packed into the Sonata, and once again headed down the road. So long, Wisconsin Dells! It was nice knowing ya. (Not really.)
Western Wisconsin was awash with pastoral beauty. There was one point where we were coming over a ridge and could see for what looked like 100 miles into the distance. You just don’t see that among the hills of Western PA. Along the highway, the massive rolling farms were framed by bright blue skies and white, wispy clouds. It was lovely. Then, on a suggestion from my lovely wife, we stopped briefly at the stunning Dickeyville Grotto and Shrines—a stone-and-mortar work of art, incorporating colored objects from all over the world, such as glass, gems, pottery, stalagmites and stalactites, sea shells, and much, much more. Granted, it was no World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. (It was better. Way better.)
Around 5 p.m. we turned off the highway and started down some old country roads toward Dyersville, home of the farm from the 1989 classic, “Field of Dreams.” As we slowly made our way down the loose gravel roads, I imagined long lines leading to just another tourist trap. But then as we turned a corner, off in the distance I spotted the tall ballfield lights, and everyone in the car shrieked with joy. There it was, just like in the movie—a pristine baseball field surrounded by nothing but miles and miles of corn. It was beautiful. (And I don’t even care for baseball.)
We turned onto Field of Dreams Drive and, unbelievably, there were two, maybe three other cars in the lot. Out on the field itself, four people were hitting a little batting practice. Minutes later I was stroking pitches out into the same green outfield that Shoeless Joe’s character was in the movie. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it into the corn, but it was still pretty cool. The kids even hit a few balls and ran the bases. Then we walked out to the corn, which was still low in mid-June, and reenacted the scene of the ghosts emerging from it. The experience was so surreal. I still can’t believe we basically had the place to ourselves.
After that we checked into our room at the Super 8 and then headed to downtown Dubuque about 20 miles away for a wonderful meal at 1st & Main. Dubuque is a small city that still seems to be searching for its identity, but it definitely has potential. They have the historic architecture you want and a handful of hip restaurants on which to build. They even have a charming old incline, just like my beloved city of Pittsburgh. I bet in a few years it will be a real destination spot.
After dinner we headed to our hotel to rest up and get ready for tomorrow’s trip across the Mississippi to Galena, Ill.
Copyright © 2017 Valentine J. Brkich