Ain’t Missin’ a Thang in Missoula

I pulled into a smokey Montana on Sunday with the intention of leaving on Tuesday.

I’m now staying until Saturday.

I’m sitting on Asheley’s couch, writing this blog and drinking a local Missoula beer, and am feeling pretty darn relaxed.

After packing a full 8 days in, I got to Montana and decided to stay awhile and take a load off. Despite the haze from nearby forest fires in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, there is a kind of homey feeling here. It reminds me a lot of Kamloops, in an American sort of way. One third gangster, one third country and cowboys, one third hipster university student. There are trucks everywhere and tall men. There are countless breweries and more than 40 quaint little bars to choose from (Kamloops ain’t got that). Whatever your style of bar, you’ll probably find it here.

Some of the spots we checked out (more to come tomorrow, I’m certain):

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I also discovered The Good Food Store, which is the most massive Whole Foods type environment I’ve ever seen (though their granola section was seriously lacking due to renovations). They have a smoothie bar and bakery on the one side of their store, and since this place is 5 minutes walking from where I’m staying well … let’s just say I have a smoothie and baked good a lot.

On Wednesday while I was deciding whether or not to stay until Saturday, I biked my way around the beautiful river trails around here and popped by Out to Lunch – an outdoor music show that they put on weekly at Caras Park.

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After parking my bike next to me in the shade, I pulled out my avocado snack, and enjoyed some live tunes. As I then biked home, I caught a group doing yoga in the park, so I went and did yoga near them (but heaven forbid I actually do yoga WITH them, that would require me to be less shy …) Then after I kept biking, I got lost a few times, but eventually found my way. It was kind of an awesome summer day.

Tonight we’re off to a music festival with all the friends. Should be fun; smoke can’t keep us down and inside (though we might end up with respiratory diseases because of it … oh well).

Missoula’s sucking me in!

Moving for school be like …

Cross your fingers for me these next few days. The last 8 days have included all of the following (and others):

  • Pack my car full of all my belongings.
  • Wait, pack my belongings first.
  • Clear out my veggie garden & clean my space for the new tenant.
  • Arrange (hope to find…) someone to take my cat while I drive across the country and she, instead, flies. Luxury cat.
  • Arrange for someone to pick up Gemini from the Toronto airport, because she will also land before I drive in.
  • FIND A HOME IN HAMILTON.
  • Drive across America or Canada.
  • But first, decide whether I am driving across Canada or America and make a route plan.
  • Wrap up all work at my two jobs.
  • Say goodbye to ALL THE PEOPLE. Try not to cry.
  • Drive to Kamloops for 24 hours to see my brother and friends.
  • Get a tattoo.
  • Get a hair cut.
  • Get car serviced.Sign student loan documents.
  • Keep fit and have fun.
  • Stay classy.

Except for staying classy,  I did it. Now to start the epic road trip journey 4.0 …

To the West

I’ve officially made it back to western Canada. It feels amazing.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve last updated, and that’s because the month of May has been a journey all on its own. I have to start at the beginning, because each story builds on the last, so I will start with my trans-America trip.

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There are two main vehicle ways people travel from east to west; either following the Trans-Canada Highway 1, or via the United States. Given that I was traveling alone, I chose to go through the northern States to save myself a day of driving and, I hoped, keep things interesting. Happily for me, there were other benefits of traveling through the USA instead of Canada:

  • Save a day due to faster speed limits, double-lane highways, and a more direct route (you don’t have to go up and around the Great Lakes.
  • Save money – motels from $30 USD per night and gas prices up to 40% cheaper than in Canada; even with the exchange rate, you’re saving.
  • Save your sanity – New and interesting landmarks, such as Mount Rushmore or the Little House on the Prairie museum in South Dakota
  • Options; you can take the I80, as I did, and go a bit more south through South Dakota, or choose the I90 and take a more northern route through Minnesota. The options are endless! (And by endless, I mean … two. Maybe three if you Google map it in more detail.)

A few pics and captions from my journey home are below. It was a long road, and though by South Dakota both Gemini and I were sick of each other, we did it.

Solo female trip across America – check that off the list.

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Day 1 – I entered Michigan via Sarnia at 11pm. Crossing the international bridge with a car full of my life (mostly clothes, ha, and a cat) was surreal. I paid a toll before getting to the border crossing, where I was greeted by a friendly man in toque and a mean looking blonde border guard with a drug dog. The dog went nuts when it smelled my cat, but really they gave me no trouble. I drove on through the night, passing towns I’d only read about in books, such as Flint, Michigan, and Kalamazoo. I drove into Kalamazoo at 2:30am and decided to call it a night.

I suppose many people don’t drive into the night that way, but I actually enjoyed it. I passed construction cones and zones without a problem, didn’t have speed restrictions, and traffic was light. I’m a night owl anyway, so it all worked out for me.

IMG_0362Day 2 – After some sleep in Kalamazoo, I stole some of the free breakfast and set out toward Chicago, passing through Indiana for what seemed like a minute. I’m actually unbelievably proud of myself for not getting lost in Chicago, especially because Gemini was not helpful whatsoever with directions. I guess once you’ve driven in Istanbul and Mexico City, you can pretty much manoeuvre yourself anywhere.

By the time I got to Iowa the sun was shining and the view was green and beautiful. I turned up my tunes, set the cruise control, and really settled into the trip. Nearly 12 hours after departing Kalamazoo, I waved at Nebraska on the other side of the Missouri river and pulled into Sioux City, South Dakota. Awash with relief, I started to look for my exit … and then, had the sudden realization that the hotel I had booked was in Sioux Falls and not Sioux City. UGH, another two hours north.

That extra two hours was a bit eery. It was midnight. My car was the only one on the road and was enveloped by rural darkness. It probably didn’t help that I was listening to murder mysteries via podcast (I highly recommend the Serial podcast, by the way), but I distinctly remember getting a few chills when I drove into an abandoned-looking gas station to fuel up. I finally made it to Sioux Falls around 1:30am

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South Dakota is cool. I took a little detour onto Highway 240 and did the hour-long Badlands National park loop. Definitely worth the detour. You pay a $15 USD park fee (valid for a week) and tour around the park on your own. There are hoodoos, colourful rock formations, and dramatic and majestic views of the prairies. I met a guy doing the same loop in his car, and we went from viewpoint to viewpoint together to see the sights. If you’re into photography, this place is a goldmine. IMG_0080

Day 3 – In the end, this day turned out to be my shortest, but I was grateful for it. I was exhausted. I had just finished exams, packed my house, packed my car, and had been driving 10-13 hour days for two days straight. By the time I reached Rapid City, SD, it was all I could do to move the cat box and my clothes into the hotel room. At one point, I caught a glimpse of a horrifyingly tired looking old lady. She had bags under her eyes, was sans make-up, had unbrushed hair – oh wait, that was me.

All the same, I was 20 minutes from Mount Rushmore and really didn’t want to miss the chance to see it. So I dropped Gem at the Super 8, and took myself to Mount Rushmore for the sunset. Four US Presidents, six mountain goats, and 17 mosquito bites later I had a beer and fell asleep. Hard.

Day 4 – The next day, refreshed and rested, I set out for another 11 hour day to Montana. To the mountains. I have friends (more like family :)) in Missoula so was really looking forward to seeing them. IMG_0171

This was my favourite day of driving – the views were epic, the sun was shining, and I had added a US call plan to my phone for only $5 per day. I called my friends and chatted with them for a few hours, got through what I think is all the This American Life podcasts, and rolled into Missoula around 8pm.

I had the best visit with J. & A., including fresh brewed home coffee the following morning. Before setting out, I stopped at the local deli store for a sandwich (and a six pack of local beer to take home) and before I knew it I was on the final stretch toward Vancouver.

Day 5 – All the landscape became familiar and nostalgic as soon as I passed Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. As I passed the Squamish Music Festival grounds at the Gorge, I didn’t need a map anymore. When I rolled into the border line-up at 9:30pm, I was deliriously tired and unbelievably giddy.

The border guard interaction went something like this:

“Where are you from?”

“Here! I’m from here!”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Ontario!” 

“Long way, eh? Why were you out there? How long did it take you?”

“… I don’t remember …”

“Haha, ok, welcome home.”

IMG_0796Finally I had arrived in the West! The trip was actually really great. Some other fun facts from it:

  • On day 1, I drove across 6 states.
  • In one of the hotels, Gemini found a tear in the box spring and climbed INTO the springs. I was forced to become a yoga-ninja, at one point lifting the bed on my back while reaching to the side and dragging her out of her hiding spot. That damn cat is smart – she will not go into the travel box willingly anymore.
  • There is free wifi at all the rest stops in Iowa, including the world’s largest truck stop along the I80!
  • South Dakota’s speed limits are 80 mph – that’s fast.
  • You can do this drive on your own. It’s long and crazy, but you can!

I’m so happy to be home. Stay tuned for more updates … including details on three moves, weird homeless roommates, moths and mold, and Squamish child care …