From the moment I returned from Asia and Europe last Spring I couldn’t wait to get back on the road. Even though I’d just spent several months traveling, a solid month at the cottage and had a great time catching up with friends and family, no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about getting back out there.
For some time now, years actually, I’ve wanted to live in British Columbia. Vancouver to be more specific. So, after a bit of planning, I decided to take the first steps towards doing that. Now, although I haven’t moved there permanently yet, I have moved my car to the west coast. So, it’s a step in the right direction. These are some of the highlights of getting it there. In just over two weeks, I drove nearly 7,000kms/4400mi through 2 countries, 4 provinces and 7 states. The road trip of a lifetime…
For those of you who haven’t attempted a solo journey by car of this magnitude, let me tell you first hand, it’s a marathon. Although I stopped along the way to visit friends and family, I wasn’t in any one place for more than a few days. I had my route roughly mapped out, mostly in my head – GPS was a lifesaver. I had decided to take a route through both Canada and the US. Granted, this had me take a much longer path than most people driving from east to west would be comfortable with, but I had things to see and do that helped justify it.
So, early one morning in August, I loaded up my car and headed west. The adventure started out in the Gatineau hills near a little tourist town called Wakefield. It’s tucked into the hills along the Gatineau River not far from the Quebec/Ontario border. This is where my family has had a cottage for over 20 years. It was hard leaving the place behind with so much summer left to go, but I had a schedule to keep.
The route I had chosen took me through Ottawa, up over Lake Superior and into Manitoba. For anyone who hasn’t done this drive, I highly recommend it. I have now had the pleasure of doing it twice. It’s considered by many a must “do before you die” kind of experience and is one of the best motorcycle trips in North America. There is almost nothing but open wilderness once you get past Sudbury. Be warned though, you won’t have cell service from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay (a solid days drive). The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and in many ways you feel like you’re driving along the coast.
I spent a few nights in Winnipeg visiting family and then it was time to load the car back up and head south. Southwest actually. I know, I know, I’d just driven 2200kms northwest, but I had a friend living in Minneapolis and I’d never been so I figured I’d pop in for a visit. I have always wanted to drive through the American Midwest anyway, so this seemed like as good a route as any. I spent a few nights in the Mini-Apple and really enjoyed it. The Mall of America is absolutely obnoxious, especially for a guy who doesn’t like shopping malls. I did find some of the best food trucks I’ve ever come across though – amazing tacos, Indian spiced mini-donuts and a few healthier options as well. Minneapolis also has the cheapest beer I’ve ever come across. Pitchers were $3. Incredible. Minneapolis is definitely worth a detour.
Off to Sioux Falls, SD. Now, it should be said that the drive from Winnipeg to Minneapolis and then on to Sioux Falls was awful. There is nothing but flat, boring countryside. This is what I imagine driving the rest of the way through Canada would have been like. The city of Sioux Falls was certainly nothing to write home about either, but I did get to try something I’d never even heard of – Broasted Chicken. If you’ve never had this stuff, try it. Once is probably enough if you want to live into your 50’s, but it was amazing. It’s basically a method of cooking chicken and other delightful meats in a deep fryer/pressure cooker. Incredible. Bob’s Carry-Out and Delivery is the place to get it.
The drive from Sioux Falls to the Black Hills is where things finally got interesting and started to look like what I imagined a drive through the Midwest should look like. The land started to take shape and it was beautiful. Upon hitting the badlands I decided I was pleased I’d taken this route. Just before you hit Rapid City, you come across (you can’t miss it, they start advertising in Minnesota) a little place called Wall. In Wall, there isn’t much, but there is a place called Wall Drug which has been open since the 30’s and has transformed the entire tiny town into a western tourist wonderland without the rides. Kids would love this place, even I had a great time considering it’s mostly meant for families. Great gift shops with local handcrafted items, games and activities for kids and even a 5 cent cup of coffee – the same price it was when it opened. I had a cold beer and their famous hot beef sandwich. Great pit stop.
The two real highlights of South Dakota, for me, were Mount Rushmore and Deadwood. Mount Rushmore doesn’t require much of a description, we all know the giant presidential faces carved into the granite mountainside. I was even more impressed than I’d expected and stayed for the lighting ceremony at dusk. However, I didn’t know just how far into the mountains it was and driving back down at night was a bit sketchy. My recommendation would be to stay in a town called Keystone, nestled right in the Black Hills and only a few miles from the monument. I stayed in Rapid City so I was close to the highway to start up again in the morning. I wish I hadn’t. Keystone looks like a fun little town filled with restaurants, museums and gift shops. Again, great for tourists and families. Deadwood is a blog post all it’s own and I will cover that soon.
Montana was next on the list and is absolutely fantastic. I was expecting big skies and bigger mountains, but the terrain changes more than you’d expect. I ended up spending two nights there, one in Billings and one in Bozeman. Although, given my schedule, I didn’t get to see much in either of these cities, I did get myself to a shooting range in Billings. Three Sights is an indoor shooting range that, as you might have guessed, lets you borrow and shoot as many guns as you can imagine. What fun! For what I considered a fair and reasonable price (under $100) I got to fire several hundred rounds from a fully automatic M16, several handguns and a tactical 12 gauge shotgun with both slugs and buckshot. When I was finished up, they liked me so much (that was my take on it anyway) that they let me shoot the infamous Desert Eagle .50 Calibre hand cannon. A great place with friendly people and a really cool experience. Being Canadian we don’t really have access to this type of entertainment. I highly recommend giving it a shot…
From Billings to Bozeman is only about a 2.5 hour drive, but I had decided to make a bit of a detour and add about 5 more hours to this already rapidly growing road trip to drive through Yellowstone National Park. It was a short drive, but well worth it and you can see some of the pictures I took here. Sometimes it’s a bit of a drag only having a limited amount of time in a place you’re really enjoying. I choose to look at it as a preview for further exploration on subsequent visits.
I began, after Montana and Yellowstone, to see the end in sight – it had been, to that point an incredible (possibly once in a lifetime) trip – but, I was ready to take a break. The rest of the drive was probably the most picturesque and naturally beautiful. Northern Idaho and Washington had some of the most terrifying mountain roads, next to BC, that I’ve ever seen. You begin to think “if I go off the road here, they’ll never even find me”. That aside, it’s a remarkable landscape, just pay attention to recommended speeds…
Back to Canada! I crossed the border just east of a place called Osoyoos, BC. It is, as their sign suggests, Canada’s warmest welcome. It is also, I believe, Canada’s driest and warmest climate and is absolutely stunning. It’s the only place in the country that I know of where you can get a true desert experience. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a reasonably priced room so ended up pushing on to Vancouver, but I anxiously await the opportunity to go back for a few days.
The 4-5 hours between Osoyoos and Vancouver were the best of the entire trip. Rivers, lakes and streams carve their way through the mountains, the peaks of which disappear into the clouds giving you an eerie feeling of personal insignificance. As a Canadian, it helped me realize what a vast land we live in and just how lucky we are. It is an important reminder of how crucial it is that we protect our natural environment and try to minimize our impact, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
What was your longest road trip?