V1’s adventure duo explore the full range of local sugary drinks
This has been a big summer. The issue that will define the latter half of the 20-aughts and potentially the next several decades, the future of energy, has revved up, and everyone has started to pull into the lanes they will follow throughout the period of adjustment. Some have opted for quick fixes, buying up mopeds and fuel-efficient cars like iPhones on launch day. Others are being a little more cautious, watching the miles and fancy coffee purchases while hanging on to the pick-up trucks and SUVs. And, of course, everyone is talking about this issue, from complaints about gas prices to boasts about mileage. Hardly a summer issue of V1 has gone by without some discussion of bike lanes or walkers’ safety.
So, to cap off the summer, we (Eric and Ian, intrepid adventuring writing duo) wanted to take a trip for the magazine. In the past, we’ve driven around to parks, swimming holes, and other local attractions. These were intense, dangerous trips, fraught with daring. This time, we decided to shift gears and commemorate the energy issue. We decided to take a walk.
That sounds incredibly lame! We know! Why didn’t we visit local sporting goods stores and pawn shops and purchase firearms at each one? Or maybe we could have tried scaling the five tallest local buildings. Perhaps we should have pioneered the best local roads to bury the needle on your Camry. But we wanted to take a different route. Having conquered the adjectives “adventurous,” “brave,” and “attractive,” we wanted to add “thoughtful” and “introspective” to our repertoire. A contemplative walking travelogue seemed like the way to do this.
I’m sure you are thinking, this is really an article about taking a walk? I’m not reading it. So, how about this. To add a narrative hook, we decided to incorporate some gastrointestinal exploits. We stopped at six convenience stores, and imbibed a slushie at each one. It took a lot of fortitude, and the recovery time was significantly longer than any previous adventure. The whole trip sounded like a great idea, even as we headed to our first stop…
Words by Eric Rasmussen and Ian Jacoby
Photos by Hanna Agar / Design by BMOEN
After dropping off Ian’s car at the end of our route, we drove back to my house for the first leg of our journey. The day that had finally worked for both of us to complete this quest was hot and humid – the hottest and most humid day of 2008. But it was overcast at noon when we started, and we had hope that Mother Nature would smile on our quest with gentle breezes and a few peeks of sunshine.
So, if the jist of this little jaunt was to take a walk to make a bigger point about walking while reporting on the area’s selection of sugar-blasted frozen drinks, our walk from my house on Keith Street to the Brackett Kwik Trip was a terrible way to start. The sidewalk on Brackett Avenue is not separated from the street by any sort of boulevard, and that can be a little scary – one text-message induced slip from ten and two and Ian and I would be gym-short-and-walking-shoe-clad stains in the Culver’s lot. And there is no walking access to Kwik Trip, so walkers must bounce off Papa Murphy’s customers’ cars to make it to the front door. That little exchange is a tremendous example of how so much of the commercial and industrial parts of our cities were designed exclusively for cars. As walkers, we felt unwelcome. Our first philosophical point was this – if by walking one is made to feel like an outsider, then only outsiders will walk.
As for the iced beverages, I had a grape icee-style drink. It was delicious – the foamy icy sweetness was a tasty start to the journey. Ian opted for a more slushie-style, electric Blue Moon concoction with some indiscernible fruit flavor that we both agreed was quite disgusting.
The Brackett Holiday Station suffers much from the same thing that troubled Kwik Trip, namely that it is surrounded by fricking cars. The walk from Kwik Trip wasn’t exactly scenic, although we did see a couple of kids parked on bikes outside of the Culver’s while we were on route to our second slushie haven. They spit, they laughed, they flaunted their youthful glow… a lot. It was at this point that I truly started to have my first crushing doubt about the whole idea behind this hike. Was this truly to serve the people of the Chippewa Valley (and beyond) with an informative and entertaining guide for alternative transportation, or were we just grasping at the straws of youth – staring wide into the inevitable, gaping maw of death while we tried in vain to run from it? I wasn’t sure, but I did know one thing – we were only one gas station in, and I already had a wicked, sugary migraine.
Yes, I had made the rookie mistake of not eating a solid, healthy lunch before embarking on our quest. After only one slushie (that seemed at this point to be made entirely of corn syrup, bits of cotton candy, and that stuff inside of gushers), I was ready for something savory to go with slushie number two. Luckily, Holiday has a more than ample selection of gas station sandwiches to mop up some of the syrupy sweetness that had already coated most of my insides. The gas station sandwich is something of a ritual for me, as it tends to signal the start of an adventure. Sure, you could be only driving to Coon Forks with a few shirtless yahoos, but a well placed muffaletta can make you feel like a young Hemingway (but you know, less drunk) on his way to spear some leviathan off the coast of Cuba. Eric then tried some sort of raspberry psuedo-smoothie, while I went with a nontraditional iced coffee approach. They were both varying degrees of refreshing.
Allow us to explain what happens biologically when one ingests a massive amount of iced sugar on a hot day. The refreshing beverage goes to your stomach, which is all like, “Mmmm, liquid, this will be great for replenishing the moisture lost through sweating and breathing.” So, it just goes totally nuts with the absorption (“goes totally nuts” is a technical medical term which indicates rapid uptake.) But then there’s all this sugar in there, which stimulates some zymogens, races past your pyloric sphincter, takes a left at your hepatic portal vein, and your pancreas is all like, “Holy crap! What are you doing to me?” and you get all jittery, which is another medical term that means that after two slushies, we realized we had overestimated our abilities to ingest that much sugar.
Thankfully, Johnny’s does not sell any iced-drinks, so instead we bought the biggest ice pops imaginable – twelve ounces. It was like sucking on a baseball bat. They contained slightly less sugar than the drinks, so it was a welcome break.
One other interesting byproduct of this journey, in addition to the near diabetes and the intimate knowledge of local convenience store selection – we had a lot of time to talk. We are pretty good friends, but we don’t see each other a lot. We cross paths at the library (where Ian works), at Volume One events, and at local shows, although my recent offspring has lessened my concert attendance. On this excursion we discussed jobs, movies, music, mutual friends, and many other topics. It was almost as if cars are walls that separate us all – when one turns off the ignition, one can put the key into the steering column of human relationships.
At the risk of one horrible pun to start off this paragraph, I believe that the Water Street Holiday station is where we truly hit our stride. It was by far the longest distance between gas stations, giving us some much needed respite from wave after wave of glucose. It also helps that the walk between Johnny’s Market and
Holiday has some of the nicest real estate in Eau Claire. The Third Ward has a charm that is part northeast college town, part frat house, and overwhelmingly quaint. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean quaint as in, “Oh, you decided to go with a teal colored Dodge Neon. How quaint.” It’s more in the vein of, “I love how the Third Ward is its own autonomous community of deep thinkers and guys puking in bushes. It’s quaint.”
Eric and I hadn’t yet run out of things to talk about, but it was at this point that we started to worry about what Water Street drivers would think of us. I could almost see what passersby seemed to be mouthing at these two slightly oafish twentysomethings chugging along in mind-numbing heat sucking back freezies the size of a ten-year-old’s arm. “Those boys,” they seemed to say, “Those boys must be writing another stinkin’ Volume One article.”
Once we got to Holiday, we looked for iced drinks that we hadn’t tried at the previous one. This was a no-go. Holiday is nothing if not consistent. We decided to try the next best thing, a whole package of old-school popsicles. I had a cherry, Eric had some orange, and we both tried hard to steer clear of those damned bananas.
Walking into the Madison Kwik Trip is akin to when the heroes of some fantasy movie have to travel to the flea market inside of a space station/alternate reality/strip mall to find that elusive item that will put all of the pieces of the plot together – that will make the world seem whole again. There’s a sort of focused frenzy inside Kwik Trip’s walls that I don’t experience at other gas stations, and rare is the visit where there aren’t at least five to ten other people in the store, mulling over the cheese tornados, or eyeing up the ridiculous sized boxes of doughnuts.
This trip was no exception. Eric and I had to wait an abnormally long amount of time for the Mountain Dew slushie machine to de-ice itself, and consequently had time to talk to a lot of the regulars who frequent Kwik Trip. The most memorable was a young man who loudly shouted that he “messed up” when talking to the judge at his recent court case while he showed us how to correctly use the flavor bursts that are injected into any Kwik Trip soft drink. While I’m not sure if we can print what he said it would taste like if we got these minute flavor calculations wrong, let’s just say it rhymed with “gas water.”
Eric’s Dew slushie was completely worth it. It was by far the most refreshing and interesting of the frozen drinks we’d had that day. I went with a chocolate shake, partly because I wanted it, and partly because I wanted to show Eric how the futuristic shake machine presented your drink like it was the last of its kind. The only thing missing was the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. After the fun, we hiked up our trousers and got ready for the last leg of what had become a surprisingly long day.
It was hot. We were nauseous. Ian had to work in an hour, and I had to pick up my four-month-old son. We trod into our last stop with a slight renewal of spirit – the BP’s selection of slushies had inspired Ian to plan this journey, and even though the previous five treats were sloshing in our stomachs, the prospect of the best drinks yet carried us along.
Ian picked up a 1919 Root Beer slushie, and I opted for the Crush Orange Dreamsicle variety. We hopped into Ian’s car, which we had dropped off earlier. Ian boasted of how fast his air conditioner can start pumping out the cold air, and he was not lying – the speed of the airy refreshment was uncanny. Symbolically, driving the last part of our escapade was very fitting – while Eau Claire has made tremendous strides in its walkability, this is still a cars’ city. Try parking at Oakwood Mall and walking to Best Buy or Panera. Try strolling to a grocery store. Try seeing a movie without wheels. It’s all a little challenging.
As for those last drinks, we really tried to enjoy them while we sat at Ian’s house and listened to some music, but, although we love you all, this article was not worth further ravaging our gastrointestinal tracts. They were by far the sweetest drinks of the trip, and most of each of them went in the trash.
We guess you’re at the point where we were when we wrote this story. Namely, what’s it all about? Is this a story about friendship? Is it about trying to walk around a city completely built for driving? Is it about slushies or politics or religion or death? You know what? We’re not sure. We think it might be about all of that stuff (maybe not politics or religion, but we definitely felt like dying a couple of times.) It might also be that for one day, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, call an old friend, and do something completely dumb in the city where you grew up. The older you get, the easier it is to forget why you love this city. We complain about schools, roads, even the fact that the library isn’t open as often as we’d like, but how many of us actually take the time to enjoy Eau Claire for what it really is – a living, breathing thing. Maybe it’s just poetic waxing, maybe it’s the sugar finally unlodging itself from our brains, but that’s what we came to realize throughout this whole sugary mess.
The energy crisis is going to bring us together in a way that hasn’t been seen in a good fifty years. More people are taking the bus, more people are riding their bikes, and now more than ever you see families walking together (usually sans slushie). For one afternoon, we felt what it was like to be a couple of goofballs with no real itinerary, a few bucks in our pockets, a stupid idea, and the enjoyable feeling of the wind on our faces and the gravel under our feet. Thanks summer, see you next year.