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.
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.
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.
Day 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
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.
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.
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?”
“Long way, eh? Why were you out there? How long did it take you?”
“… I don’t remember …”
“Haha, ok, welcome home.”
Finally 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 …