March 15, 2013

Adventures In Iowa

The past three weeks have been crazy busy.  Two of those weeks were spent traveling for work and then this past week was spent playing catch up with everything from phone calls to writing reports and planning for the upcoming month's travel.  First up was a trip to Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa.  Iowa is one of my states and they are relatively new to SOAR; their program is somewhat active in Des Moines and the program is just getting off the ground in Davenport/Scott County/Eastern, Iowa; so my co-worker Kristin and I decided to head out there to hold a regionally planning meeting in Des Moines and a full blown forum in Davenport. 
New work travel bag!  It is from Thirty-One and is a great bag for work and frequent travel; it's big enough to hold my SOAR binder (not pictured), lunch, snacks, a book, iPad, various other electronics, my wallet and anything else I need for a trip.  The small zipper pouches (also from Thirty-One) are great help to keep it all organized - I use one for snack (it's insulated) and one for books/electronics!
Now I was warned about attempting to travel to the Midwest in winter and how the weather can be very unpredictable often causing delays, boy was everyone right!  My 2.5 hour layover in Chicago en route to Des Moines turned out to be about 15 minutes which left me nearly running to find and get to my gate on time.  Luckily I made it and arrived in Des Moines without a hitch. 
Snowy Des Moines - view from my hotel room looking forward the capital building!
Later that night we were treated to dinner in downtown Des Moines by our state team lead and given a tour of the city.  I must say that I was VERY impressed with Des Moines - it is pretty much a Midwestern gem!  The city was awesome - it had a great downtown feel, awesome architecture and (it appeared) a bunch of stuff to do.  I enjoyed the tour so much that I may have let it slip to Adam later that night that we should consider placing Des Moines on our list of 'potential places to live in the future' - he quickly dismissed the idea, but I'm convinced that if he were to ever visit he would understand my affection for the city.
The next day we held the planning meeting at the United Way in Des Moines; it was a great meeting, there were a ton of representatives from various community agencies, all who believe in SOAR and want it to see it expand through Des Moines.  After the meeting Kristin and I hopped in the car and began the 2.5 hour drive across the state to Davenport (actually we were headed to Moline, Illinois which is just across the Mississippi River from Davenport because we needed to drop off the rental car).  This was exciting for me because I was able to cross two more states off my travel list - Iowa and Illinois!  It was also the first time I had seen (and crossed) the Mississippi River!
We had a pretty interesting drive before arriving in Davenport for the night.  Iowa had experienced a snow storm earlier that week (Monday/Tuesday) and we drove across the state on a Thursday.  I am not even kidding when I said we saw approximately 15 eighteen wheel tractor trailers and probably 20 cars flipped over or in ditches due to the snow.  And those were the ones that were still there 2 - 3 days AFTER the snow storm, I can only imagine how many were there immediately after.

Tractor trailer in a ditch!
And another one about to be towed out.  We probably had to slow down four or five times to make room for eighteen wheeler tow trucks.

Before we left Des Moines the state team lead had mentioned that Iowa is home to the World's Largest Truck Stop and that we would be passing it on our way to Davenport - we decided immediately that we had to stop and check it out.  It turned out to be just that - a HUGE truck stop, lit up like the Vegas strip along Interstate 80!  It is also home to the National Trucking Museum.  We palled around in there for awhile and were able to find some souvenirs (stuffed corn anyone?).

World's Largest Truck Stop on Iowa Interstate 80!

 Kristin in front of a huge (and rotating) truck.

Along the way we ended up eating at The Machine Shed which was another recommendation from the state team lead.  It bills itself as 'A Tribute to the American Farmer'; the restaurant is all about good, down home Midwestern food - so of course I had to try the stuffed pork loin with mashed potatoes and gravy.  It was delicious!
Now doesn't that look like some good Midwestern grub?!
So after a stop at the World's Largest Truck Stop and dinner at The Machine Shed we hopped across the Mississippi River to drop off our rental car.  We then headed to our hotel in downtown Davenport.  I didn't get a chance to explore Davenport too much because it was late when we arrived and we had to be up bright and early the next morning to head to the forum, but luckily I will be back in Davenport in late April to observe the area's first training.  I am really excited because not only does Davenport seem like a fun town but it also sit right along the Mississippi River and I saw an excellent jogging path right along it that I fully intend to take advantage of!
The forum was a complete success - there were so many agencies and representatives at the table that I know SOAR will soar (haha - get it) in Eastern Iowa!  After the forum Kristin and I headed to the airport in Moline looking to get on an earlier flight to O'Hare - both of our original flights were tight and left only about a 30 minute layover in Chicago, which anyone who has flown through O'Hare before knows that that is not nearly enough time.  When we got there though we realized that our flight out of Moline was so delayed that we would miss our connecting flights back home.  We arrived to the airport at 3:35 PM and were able to get on the 3:57 PM flight to O'Hare - needless to say we sprinted through the airport, raced through security and just made the flight.  Kristin was able to hop an earlier flight back to Denver but I was less lucky - my flight to Albany ended up being delayed about 4 hours and our gate was changed four times!  Luckily I ran into my friend John who was on the same flight so we were able to chat and commiserate.  I finally arrived back in Albany around 1 AM, but overall it was a great trip both experience and work wise!
You know you're in Iowa when ... me and some corn!
Next up - a quick turn around and I was off to Orlando, Florida.  Stay tuned!

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