I am embarking on a journey to the wild west. My trusty steed (the Winnebago) and donkey (Chubbs, the Suzuki) will take me to all kinds of wonderful places. I will try to post here as much as possible, that will depend on the WIFI availability (tonight is the first time in 4 nights that it has worked at this campground.
Originally the plan was to start with a leisurely weekend of watching top tier roller derby with some peeps in Montreal. Then I got an email saying there was an opening to be a photographer for the tournament. What kind of fool would pass up being track-side with cameras in hand to shoot some of the best teams in the world for hanging out in the stands. Not this fool, not this time. So the beginning of my vacation became a “work” weekend rushing to get things figured out, making sure things were packed and charged, forgetting that I need to drink water to live…you know, work. So I’m considering that the adventure starts tomorrow, Sept 5th 2016.
Tomorrow I break out of Montreal and head west. A quick stop in Brampton for a visit then it is further west through Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming. From there into Utah, Montana and Colorado. Then I start back through South and North Dakota up to Winnipeg for work meetings. Then from there it is the long trek back. Coincidentally there is another WFTDA playoff tournament in Madison Wisconsin that I may or may not stop at. There are a number of factors at work here with home sickness being one. Time and money are two others. We’ll see, it is an adventure after all.
Day 1, 2 and 3
So I was off to kind of a slow start on Day 1 of the post roller derby part of the trip. Traffic on the 401 through Ontario was ridiculous. I only made two stops of about 20 minutes each, once for gas and once for food/restroom and it still took me 9 hours to get from Montreal to Brampton. I still made it in time to get supper with John and hang out for a bit. It was good to catch up and kind of odd to think he will be the last familiar face until I get to Winnipeg.
Day 2 found me fighting with the 401 for a little while as I headed west again even though I got on the road at 6:30AM. I couldn’t live in a place where the bumper to bumper traffic starts at 6AM and pretty much goes all day. Once I got to the 402 traffic cleared up a lot and the travel was pretty good. A mild interrogation at the border and I was in the US of A. I knew the tires were getting worn on the car dolly so I’ve been keeping an eye on them and sure enough they started to show belt so it was time to track down a tire shop. Two hours and two new tires later I was back on the road heading west. I got to my destination for the day in western Michigan around 8PM.
Day 3 was pretty uneventful until the skies darkened and the monsoon hit and I had to pull off the interstate to wait for it to pass. I tried to drive through it but between the wind and reduced visibility it wasn’t worth it. It was one of those storms that you know is only going to last 5 minutes anyway. I didn’t even have time to switch my phone to video before it stopped. After the rain I stopped into the “Worlds Largest Truck Stop” to get coffee and bumper stickers. I also stopped at this fancy Iowa rest stop with WIFI to get this posted.
The heat and humidity have been hard to deal with. I mean it’s September in the northern US and I’ve been in an extreme heat warning for two days now. At least the thunder storm took the temperature down a bit but the humidity is still a little much, my glasses fog up every time I get out of the RV.
Day 4 finds us with the first of our shortened driving days to allow for some exploring. I saw signs for a Danish windmill and the Museum of Danish America so of course I had to go. It was an interesting stop with the history of the immigration of the Danish to the US and info on their history as a people and nation. Of course no talk of the Danes would be complete without some Lego. And a whole floor of the museum dedicated to sports. The grounds were quite impressive with a rooftop garden above the curatorial center and other design elements to showcase the variety of flora in the area. It seemed to attract lots of grasshoppers, the one pictured below was about the size of my pinky finger (the last 2 segments anyway). In one pavilion it sounded like rain due to the grasshoppers bouncing off the sides. On the way through town I also stopped at the windmill but it is only open on Saturdays.
The big disappointment of the day was the World’s Largest Covered Wagon. It was just a wagon shaped building that looked like at one point was a gift shop/tourist info stop. Now it is apparently a place to collect old stuff. More thunderstorms later in the day and ridiculous humidity but overall a pretty good day of vacationing.
This morning started off rough, I went to a chain restaurant that advertised RV friendly parking. That’s only once you get in the parking lot. The driveway to the parking lot is uphill so from the street. I could see that there was a delivery truck at the back of the building but I couldn’t see how much clearance there was to get around the truck. Didn’t matter I had to turn in because the entrance to the restaurant parking lot was on a dead end court so my options were to turn into the restaurant or unload the car from the trailer, get the RV turned around then reload the car. Turns out the truck was making the driveway too narrow for me to get past without dragging the dolly and car over the curb. So I was committed, no way to back out and now being on an uphill slope unloading the car off the trailer would have been horribly dangerous. I sat in the driveway for 28 minutes waiting for the delivery guy to finish unloading. He finally left and I went in to get breakfast. All together breakfast took an hour and a half.
So we made it into Nebraska and I found my first real wild west attraction. The pony express station in Gothenburg. http://www.ponyexpressstation.org/ It was an interesting little place in the middle of a large park/square. There was also a more formal museum across the street but I had to park the RV partially blocking a driveway to tour the little building so I didn’t want to stay there too long. Again got some neat information and saw a little bit of history.
And I finished Nebraska today with pretty strong winds, so much so that the lady at the campground in Wyoming said “You look like you’ve been fighting with the wind” as soon as I walked through the door. The picture of the wolf/coyote silhouette on the hilltop is at the Wyoming state line.
The moral of today’s story is that sometimes travelling with 50 feet of vehicles with 2 pivot points can be challenging.
Got a good, long, cold night’s sleep after a couple very hot and humid days. Camping in Cheyenne for a couple nights so I could take the car south into Colorado for a little touristing and get cleaned up and rested for the rest of the trip. Discovered the solar panel isn’t getting the job done in charging the batteries so next spring I will be looking at other solutions. I can get through 2, maybe 3 nights on a good charge.
Went to Fort Collins CO to see the giant Campbell’s soup can that was designed by Andy Warhol and built by the Colorado State University’s Department of Art. Got to see the can and have my picture taken with it, by me. While I was putting my gear away a bug decided it wanted to use my tripod as a jungle gym. It stuck around for me to take lots of pictures and even let a guy that was walking by take a pic with his phone. I had to take the tripod over to the grass and give it a good shake before the bug flew away.
Fort Collins is probably one of the best looking cities I’ve been to so far. Lots of parks and green spaces, mountains off in the distance and art installations all over the place. Probably because it is a university town. While I was taking pictures of the truck sculpture the real thing drove by and I met a guy with a horse head on his recumbent bicycle. Oh yeah, there were bike lanes everywhere, even on the Interstate. And a lot of these fancy bike racks. And painted pianos on the sidewalks for people to play, there was a guy playing one but I didn’t want to disturb him by taking his picture.
While touring around I also found the less pretty side. In the north end of the city I turned down a side street to go back where I had come from and found about half a dozen cars with towel and t-shirt curtains that you may be familiar with if you’ve ever stopped at a highway rest stop. These were not quick overnight campers, most of the cars and one trailer looked like they hadn’t moved in a very long time. Pretty much all had at least one flat tire, one was completely missing a tire and fender.
Day 7 – Altitude Adjustment
Today we moved this travelling circus from Cheyenne to Rawlins which was to be my base of operations for the run to the salt flats. Not a lot to see or do in between these two cities but I did stop to see a lone tree, take some pictures, and learn a little bit. The tree was part of the story of the Sherman Mountains, along a stretch of the highway that took me up around the 8,000 ft above sea level mark. For those of you following my life you may remember that my home is 31 ft above sea level and I’m in horrible shape so the difference in the thickness of the air got quite noticeable here.
After I got to Rawlins I went on a little tour. I was looking for a drug store to primarily get some nasal spray as the altitude was hard on my lungs and the 8% humidity had my sinuses plugged. If I wanted to have any hope of surviving the 1400 km trek ahead of me tomorrow I needed a good nights sleep and that means nose breathing. Never actually found a drug store but of course there was a Walmart. I did also get a little tour of the downtown that I like to call downtown anywhere USA. Not that it wasn’t an interesting place but it is the stereotypical downtown from any movie about a small town. Little storefronts (a quarter of them closed “for the season” or permanently) with the angled parking along the sidewalk. A spattering of US flags on the lampposts. Quiet after 5:00.
Then I went to bed.
Day 8 – Disney, Utah
Really, it’s only day 8 (Oh yeah, I didn’t count the 4 days in Montreal)? Today was kind of the ultimate goal, one I have regretted crossing off the list for my 2011 trip because it was “out of the way” which is kind of a silly thing to say when you are doing an almost 19,000 km coast-to-coast trip around a continent. But this time I made it happen. It involved almost 1,400 km and a 15 hour day on the road (19 hour day in total). But I finally got to plant my feet on the salt of the Bonneville Speedway and I managed to resist the urge to get down and taste it. It is very odd to stand on, it is hard like concrete, bumpy like a curling surface and slippery but not as bad as ice, more like ceramic tile.
The Utah Salt Flats Racing Association (USFRA) was having the World of Speed Week https://saltflats.com/, and yes I bought the t-shirt. It was so much more than I expected and incredibly expansive. After I paid my admission and got my pit pass there was about a 5 km drive from the “gate” where the pavement ends and the salt begins to get to the pit area. The start line for the long course is about 1.5 km from there and the short course is about another 1.5 km past that. I saw cars coming and going from the pits to the courses and could hear the engines but spectators have to stay back about 1 mile from the courses so you can’t really see the cars/bikes making their runs. You can get a little closer to the start areas but after a while in the sun touring around the pit area and chatting with some of the regulars I figured I should get started on the almost 700 km back to where the bed was. Some year I will take a trip that is solely for the flats and I’ll bring sun protection for me and my cameras. This was definitely the top highlight of this trip.
On the way back I stopped for my souvenirs and discovered that some cheeky monkey had come to the realization that the abbreviations for Salt Lake and Utah spelled out SL,UT.
Day 9 – The Sickness
Another relocation day, this time from Rawlins to Buffalo Wyoming. I was either getting a cold or the effects of the altitude and dry air was getting worse. I choose to believe I was getting a common cold so lots of OJ and I booked a second night at the campground in Buffalo to take some of the pressure off and have a chance to rest after the long day that was the run to the salt flats. I saw a little bit along the way and determined that I was in fact sick so the touring was limited but I got to Buffalo, had some food and a good night’s rest and felt better in the morning. Could have been the OJ/rest or the fact that I came down 2000 ft in altitude but I felt better.
Day 10 – Standing
Today it was off to see what Montana had in store for me. No real plan just drive north past the “You Are Now Entering Montana” sign and see what there was to see. Mostly I wanted to drive and find some historical markers, small town claims to fame and somewhere local for lunch. Instead I found the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Lots of historical markers there but no lunch. Also the park road passes through private land with horses roaming freely, I’m not sure if they were wild horses or just free range. Either way they were pretty.
It was interesting to learn more about what happened there since I’m Canadian and it wasn’t part of my school learning. The official statement was that the battle was over the Natives not wanting to live on the Reservations but instead continue their nomadic way of life. The park was quite informative and well marked so you could see where the different encampments were and how the movements (at least in hindsight) were pretty logical. Another example of being on your home turf giving you a big advantage over the visiting team. The thing that struck me the most was that there was very little cover anywhere in the battlefield area, it is mostly open pastures with the occasional tree. The encampment where the Natives were was on the other side of the river and I suspect had some tree cover at the time. You’ll see in the pictures below that there is now a fairly lush forest there, at least by local standards.
It would appear that the graveyard is still an active National Cemetery as I saw markers with dates as recent as 2007.
By the time that tour ended it was after 4:00 and time to resume the search for lunch so back to Wyoming. By the way this return to Wyoming marked my having entered the state from all four directions.
Day 11 – The Eastening
Today it was time to officially start heading east. 😦
The first stop was at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. It has been under construction since 1947-48 and will probably not be completed in my lifetime. There was a guy in the gift shop that had been there in the 60’s before they built the museum and sculptors workshops. By the time it is done it will be almost 600 ft tall and will include a small lake at the base. According to the models it will be a spiritual center with different features and things to do. The museum was quite large and well done with plenty of information and artifacts not just related to local Native history but to all of the people native to what is now the USA. I found myself getting quite emotional while touring around the grounds partially from remembering my step father Lorne and partially from the information and inspirational quotes from Crazy Horse.
Next stop was at Mount Rushmore. Less emotional here. Probably because I’m Canadian and it was awash with US patriotism, which is good, it is a monument to some of their most important historical figures. The monument itself was a little smaller than I expected but the grounds were much more than I thought they would be. To begin when you drive in there are two multi-level parking garages, then you walk through the courtyard towards the monument itself passing the book store, the ice cream shop and restaurant, the gift shop, and the flags from all 50 states. Then you end up at an observation deck with the amphitheater below and between you and the monument. There are trails and stairs that take you past the amphitheater to the base of the monument. Interesting to see the monument and on the way out at the gift shop I met another traveller that is collecting shot glasses from each state he goes to. My count is at 46. I’m still missing Idaho and Kentucky from the lower 48 and Alaska and Hawaii from the outlying areas.
Then it was time for supper and a place to sleep for the night. (Side note: if your dog can’t go more than 5 minutes without barking maybe your dog is not a dog that you should take to a packed campground…or any campground.)
Day 12 – I’m a bad, bad-lands
Just do it! So much pretty! The Badlands National Park in South Dakota is coming a close second to my time at the Bonneville Speedway. I got to see Bighorn sheep and elk. So many cool and colourful rock formations. The fossil trails at the east end! There was so much more I could have seen but as it was it took me about 5 hours to cover 26 miles of road. If you get the chance you should go. If/when I get back here it will be for a couple days just in the park including some golden hour shooting of the rock formations. There are many photos to go through but for now here are the ones I shot with the Hasselblad H2. Some of these are obviously from my time at the salt flats and a couple are from Montana but the rest are in the Badlands.
Day 13 – Still Happening
Today was mostly about getting the miles in and there wasn’t a whole lot to see in eastern South Dakota or North Dakota. I guess all of the fun and interesting is west of Pierre (they pronounce it Peer). I did take a couple shots.
Today’s highlight was an anxiety attack while trying to have lunch. They put me in a small section (about 12×30) with a group of 20ish people, a few other tables of 3-4 and only one table free in this section even though the larger part of the restaurant was virtually empty. It was an enclosed patio, very crowded and very loud. So loud I couldn’t hear my server asking me questions. I managed to order and sat there for a while but felt the anxiety growing. I finally had to get up and ask to be seated somewhere quieter which was just about anywhere that wasn’t that enclosed patio. After I moved I finally stopped shaking enough to eat my meal but it wasn’t until I got outside and on the road that I finally felt OK again. I usually only get the attacks when I’m stuck in a large crowd with strangers close enough to bump into me or a really crowded elevator. This was the first time it was brought on mostly by the noise of people talking and laughing. Maybe it was the contrast between that and the last couple weeks of solitude and quiet nature. Overall just a bad way to end the vacation. Gonna focus on the good and avoid eastern South Dakota in the future. Off to Winnipeg in the morning.