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Prime Time: A bittersweet holiday drive there and back

At 9:45 a.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, I reset the car's mpg indicator while moving up the western ramp onto the Highway 2/71 bypass.

Sunshine was melting the frost on the road, and roads were good all the way to Cambridge, though overcast would have been better for heading south toward a bright sky. "Thanksgiving Eve" traffic was lighter than I expected, allowing me to cruise at the speed limit most of the time.

No road construction or other major delays anywhere, and I was off early enough to ensure full daylight the whole trip. Also, Classical MPR reception was good, first from Bemidji, which gets iffy someplace north of Motley, then from Brainerd until close to Little Falls, then from Collegeville to around Princeton, when I finally switched to St. Paul. These and MPR/Moorhead are of course preset on the Prius radio.

I'd driven this route many times, but this was my first solo trip in ages, which was troubling. As usual, there was wildlife. Shortly after turning off Minnesota 200 onto Minnesota 64 (the "Dickinson cutoff"), I slowed until a doe decided she'd move away from the roadside. Later, north of Chamberlain, a large bird flew west from above some pines, but was in view for only a second: just a silhouette against a sunny sky, likely a red-tailed hawk or bald eagle. Saw crows occasionally, some blue jays, and of course rock doves (European pigeons) around the Motley grain elevator. North of Motley, I remembered where Elaine and I once slowed down while a patrol car steered an adult bull bison back toward the farm it had escaped from.

Moving from 64 onto U.S. 10 in Motley is a breeze since MnDOT put in a stoplight. Pit stop at Morey's, where I always buy something. Since daughter Kathryn was going to be at Stuart's for the feast, it was a tin of smoked oysters. They have been a Christmas stocking tradition since she was a pre-teen, even though she now buys her own at will.

The speed limit is 65 from Morey's to Rice, but this time I decided not to reset the mpg indicator, and to read off the cumulative average when I refueled. (It flips back to zero then.) Traffic began to pick up south of Little Falls, and around there somewhere, snow on the ground ran out.

At Rice, I go east from 10/371 on Benton County 2, the road where we had the accident in September 2010. In hindsight, maybe Elaine was already ill when she lost control of the car that day. Sometimes on the Rice/Gilman/Foley segment, we'd see pheasants, but none this trip.

Could probably have gotten to Cambridge without refueling, but decided on Foley. Paper sign on the pump said computer troubles required paying at the pump or prepaying, but, for the inconvenience, have a free 16-ounce coffee. I had brought half-and-half, so I prepaid for 5 gallons and filled my thermos cup. It holds only 12 oz., but that was plenty. Average 47.1 mpg for the Bemidji-Foley leg of the trip.

The MN 25/95 junction is now a four-way stop with flashing lights, another boon because 95 is always busy. My impression is that anyone who lives in one town on 95 works in a different one and is always anxious to get home. If you drive at the speed limit, everyone passes you. But, again, MnDOT has put a stoplight at the corner where I turn north from 95 onto Isanti County 14 to get to Stuart's. Getting off has been no problem, but waiting at the stop sign to get on has been tedious and therefore dangerous. Average 52.9 mpg Foley to Cambridge.

Carol had said we'd have only snacks that evening, but I'd prudently eaten a low-fat breakfast and lunch anyway. Good thing: "Snacks" included two kinds of sausage, three cheeses and pie from one of the three choices for Thursday's feast. Kaf et al. couldn't arrive from Chicagoland until real late, and Kandy didn't get off work at Sanford/Fargo until 5, so only Stuart, Carol, Anna, Anna's fiancé and I scarfed down snacks. I also restrained myself at the continental breakfast at the motel Thursday morning.

The 11 of us had a grand time Thursday and early Friday, and ate too much. Domestic goose and duck, by the way, not turkey, and I brought home leftover giblets for stir-fry.

The drive back Friday was equally pleasant and uneventful, but traffic was heavy all the way. Why should Black Friday entail much cross-country driving? Saw one skein of 15 or more honkers near the turn from 95 onto Benton County. 2. Bought sardines at Morey's for my breakfast one of these days, and gassed up at Akeley. Average 49.7 mpg Cambridge to Akeley and 52.6 Akeley to Bemidji.

Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month.