This was not your typical Thanksgiving. At least, it was not for me.
It began with a Jeep: A Wrangler Unlimited Sport, to be specific. It is a familiar steed, which may need some explanation.
Two years ago, I rented a green Wrangler Unlimited Sport for Thanksgiving. I did so to attend a friend's family's feast in Brooklyn Park. The family noticed the 2011 Jeep outside and asked for a ride. We did so after the feast as the roads were caked from a substantial snowfall earlier in the day.
For the most part, we enjoyed the Wrangler as we meandered along the Mississippi River and back. It also took my friends back to their place in downtown Minneapolis later that evening.
This year, I had no real plans for Thanksgiving. The invites were there, but they were too far away or some other reason that would put me in an awkward position professionally. I figured I would go it alone – and I was OK with that.
During the week, I had two vehicles to review. One of them was the 2013 model of the Wrangler Unlimited Sport with the Pentastar V6 installed compared to the older 3.8litre V6 from the 2011 model. With another Jeep at my disposal, I figured I would take it on a little adventure.
The goal of the adventure is to not only take the Jeep to its paces, but to finish at a restaurant for the feast. I went online to find OpenTable – the website that facilitates reservations for various restaurants across the country. Given I had a Lexus the week before, one of apps used in the GS's infotainment system was OpenTable. Sadly, I did not have the app on my Blackberry.
I went online to find a place for Thanksgiving using OpenTable and found a place I never dined before – The Liffey Irish pub in downtown St. Paul. All other places were quite expensive, while The Liffey was more reasonable in the end. The reservation was made and a plan was set.
Getting to St. Paul would take a long-winded direction. Something that would de decided on a coin-flip, than anything. Ultimately, I pointed the Dozer-colored Wrangler towards Anoka and hit US-10 westbound towards St. Cloud. This was a familiar route, but I had an idea in mind.
When I set off from the V&R Garage, it was 51 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny.
The mighty Mississippi River runs through Minnesota towards its headwaters in the north central part of the state. It serves as a visual point of beauty for all of the communities it serves. In St Cloud, I looked around for a great photography spot for the Jeep. South of the St Cloud State University campus was a park with a boat ramp. I noticed that a couple of vehicles were around and went for it.
The shots were made with the Jeep forward and back on the ramp. In backing up the Wrangler, I found I had a concrete step between the spare tire and the waters of the Mississippi. You could not get any perfect than that! The result was part-humor, part-illusion…all utterly fantastic.
As I got the Jeep away from the river, all of the sudden, the air became colder and sky was stuffed with clouds. When I reached a Caribou Coffee in Waite Park, the temperature reading in the Jeep stated it was 39 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The air remained calm – for the moment.
Normally, a Minnesota Thanksgiving would be either on the verge of winter, or already cottoned with snow and crisper air. This had been an unusual November for us – similar to the past winter where every significant snowstorm passed up the Twin Cities for other parts of the Midwest. Then again, I was confident that the Jeep would manage anything the universe would throw at it.
I was wrong. I left the coffeehouse for Minnesota Highway 15 with the idea of catching a southerly highway to bypass the two downtowns. What I did not count on was a cold blustery front attacking the right side of the Wrangler. As time grew on with the miles, droplets of precipitation followed. Eventually, those droplets became flurries.
Understand that the Wrangler is not an aerodynamic vehicle. It is also higher off the ground than mere mortal SUVs. The odds were not on my side. I could have abandoned the adventure and headed back into The Cities. No. I pressed on, wind and anything else from this front be damned.
If I retreated, I would have missed some gems along the way. In my youth, I never witnessed an old automotive retail form where the gas station sold cars. In Kimball, a small town south of St. Cloud, I noticed there was an auto dealership with a gas station. It may have appeared that the dealership outgrown the gas pump, but kept them anyway. Ironically, it was a Chrysler dealership. No, they did not have any Wranglers in stock.
Once I reached Glencoe, I turned east on US-212 towards The Cities. The wind was not exactly on my back, but rather attacking the Wrangler from other side. The winds may have turned up the wick, as I had to fight for stability on the highway. Keep in mind I had not switched to any 4WD setting at this point, since the roads remained dry.
My arrival into St. Paul lacked real drama. Unless, you considered the change in road conditions and the presence of snow on grass and a few spots on concrete surfaces as lacking any real drama. I reached the restaurant – an hour before my scheduled reservation. I was hungry and tired – ready to eat a gourmet interpretation of one helping of the traditional Thanksgiving feast at an Irish pub attached to a hotel across the street from the Xcel Energy Center.
For the foodies reading this, I had a boneless turkey breast with stuffing in the middle, laid on a bed of mashed potatoes, steamed cut carrots and collared greens. For dessert, it was a pumpkin mousse. Yes, it was delicious.
The story could end here, but I would not bore you with the drive home in the wet while the air temperatures danced around the freezing mark. The point of this adventure is for those of us who end up spending the holidays alone could do something adventurous for a change. Such an adventure gives you perspective on the world, on human nature and how one interacts with a changing planet.
Perhaps it was an excuse to avoid the drama of traditional Thanksgivings, whether it is family, friends or complete strangers. Then again, I would prefer going through the traditional rigor of the holiday – next year.
NOTE: For the incidental purpose of this article, the vehicle used in this piece was provided by Chrysler Group LLC.
All photos by Randy Stern