This is a continuation of our family trek from Fort Mill, South Carolina to Fairbanks, Alaska. For other parts in the series, click on the links below:
Day One (Part One) – South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee
Day One (Part Two) – Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri
Day Two – Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota
Day Three & Four – South Dakota (Mount Rushmore)
Day Five – South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana
Day Six – MONTANA
Finally, we were able to experience some of the Montana you read about in books. The curved roads cutting through jagged terrain. The winding rivers and mild canyons. Then just as quickly as we kissed this fantastic scenery, the highway veered back into hazy nothing. This was surely a disappointment but one we should have seen coming if we had simply looked at a map. Our route only bumped into the Rocky Mountains before running along the Eastern edge of them. There would be no more sights to see, unless, of course, you were looking forward to seeing Shelby, Montana (editor’s note: there must be a town named “Shelby” in every state and every single one of them I’ve ever seen, including the one in Ohio twenty miles from me, have been cluttered junk heaps.)
Day Six – ALBERTA, CANADA
When crossing the Canadian border, my past experiences have been generally poor. In each instance, the border agent grilled my coworkers and I about who we were, what we were doing, why we were going there, what our blood type and in-seam were, how many ounces were in a quart, and more. My wife was the one who drove us through this checkpoint at what is considered “the most heavily travelled port in Montana” and boy was it ever. There had to have been eight of us in line to get into Canada. No lie. I’m used to going through Detroit and Buffalo where half of the country is jamming through. Not in Sweetgrass, Montana, though. I suppose that offers some insight as to why the border agent happily let us pass through. That and a pretty lady was driving as opposed to a bunch of greasy 20-something guys in a van.
Canada was still as spectacular as I remembered it – that is, it is not. Canada, by and large, is the same as the United States in terms of geography. Most of it is flat, boring farmlands that, while important, are the most awful thing to drive through for eight hours straight. To further express how visually unpleasant Alberta Canada was for the rest of our drive up to Calgary, see this image below. I won’t say where it was taken because it doesn’t matter. The entire province, short of Calgary, looks like that. It could have been any road at any point and it would have looked just like that. It would be another day and a half before we found out what the ‘beauty of Canada’ meant.
There had been a sign back at the border that popped up unexpectedly saying “last exit” or something like that. Of course, we missed it, and so we were stuck in Canada without Canadian dollars so we went in search of a bank. We also went in search of a gas station. Naturally, when we found a petrol pump, we had no clue what we were actually getting because the sign read “133.9” for Regular gas. Regular 133.9? Turns out they meant 133.9 Canadian cents per liter of gas. I didn’t feel like converting all of that in my head to make sense of it so I wasn’t sure if I was getting a deal or being robbed. I was in my third time zone and the temperature was 24 degrees Celsius so you can understand, right?
After getting some cold, hard Canadian cash from an ATM (+3% fee), we drove towards Calgary, a town that cultivates hockey players and professional wrestlers from the mud like orcs in Lord of the Rings. It was there that we saw the most terrifying sky of our lives. I don’t know how storms usually look in Alberta, Canada but what I witnessed was near-apocalyptic. The sky, literally in all four directions changed to a DARK gray, to the point where cloud and sky were indistinct. The heavens opened and rain poured down. The view was so ominous, with rain and traffic everywhere, that we didn’t even stop to get a picture of it … so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
Our initial plan was to camp out again since the weather showed only a 10% chance of rain. I’d hate to see what 100% looks like if 10% blotted out the sun. Once we encountered the storm of the century, though, we altered our plans and found a nice Hampton Inn to rest our heads. For dinner we went out and had a Canadian gourmet meal of poutine and Canadian cheeseburger (which was inherently the same as an American cheeseburger, Jordanian cheeseburger, or New Zealand cheeseburger). I had poutine before, but it was important to have my entire family indulge. To say it another way, it is akin to going to Philadelphia – you have to have a cheesesteak, even if you don’t care for it.
Amongst a few other things noted in Canada:
- When you get gas, you insert your card and then select the ‘maximum allowable amount’. There is then a ‘pending transaction’ in your bank account for that full amount until it is later adjusted for the actual amount you pumped. Oh, Canada.
- Speaking of transactions, they are called ‘settlements’ in every place I stopped. What?
- At restaurants, when you pay, they bring a card reader to you and never handle your credit card. I had forgotten this from my previous time in Canada but was quickly reminded.
- Road signs are small and succinct. This is in opposition to the USA where we make signs the size of your car with lettering that can be seen from the international space station.
- Available food flavors are odd. There are the usual (nacho cheese, chili cheese, sour cream, etc.) but then there are Sweet Chili Heat, Guacamole, and Dill Pickle everything.
- And, of course, everything has to be written in both English and French. Ahoy, Capitaine Crounche!
Day Seven – ALBERTA, CANADA
I decided to toss day seven in here because the drive to British Columbia continued to be rather uneventful with few notable moments (which is both good and bad). We stopped at a gas station and had some crotchety old lady tell us to move our car right when we were done pumping. I stopped at a rest area to go pee and it turned out to be a glorified port-a-potty with walls built around it. It continued to rain. We passed several strips of land that warned of Moose but since I was driving through in the afternoon rain, I expected to see none (and did not). I saw a Public Security Peace Officer, which is Alberta’s fancy way of saying ‘cop’.
After Calgary, the traffic again died down to near non-existent. The eight-hour drive taking us to Dawson Creek (yes, I know) again felt lonely and somewhat eerie. The roads were well-maintained and so it wasn’t as if we had found the edge of the Earth or anything like that. It was just … steadily less people.
Yes, we finished the night off by resting at an RV/campground in a town called Dawson Creek. There was no firewood available and the attendant at the front desk said she’d get us some. Turns out that meant various logs that were soaking wet and/or with mold on them. So much for a fire or eating anything other than cheese sandwiches for the evening. Determined, I struck a fire starter and grilled a sausage wrapped in tin foil over top of it. The meat was burned beyond recognition but I ate it with great pleasure, regardless.
Next up: We journey through British Columbia and witness nature on its most impressive display. Pictures galore on this one, folks.