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Northern USA

May 22nd, 2024

USD:   $1.37 CDN

Gas: varied by state – we paid around $3.40 in Michigan, closer to $4 in Illinois and in Wisconsin we managed to get $3.19 – in Minnesota we got $2.94!

We took the freeways all the way from the border of Sarnia, Ontario to Port Huron, Michigan to outside of Chicago (Schaumberg) and hit a few construction slowdowns but no major backups around the city.  We have a NY EZ Pass transponder on our car now and this took care of all the tolls for us.  Last time we came through this area, you still had to go through toll booths so things have improved.

The drive was mostly sunny; hit a bit of grey sky approaching Flint, Michigan and about 30 seconds of rain but after that it was quite nice.  We passed through northern Michigan, a piece of Indiana and crossed the state line into Illinois.  After a few stops for gas and bathroom breaks, we made it to our hotel outside Chicago by 1:30 – so very good time.  We are now on Central Time so an hour behind Toronto.  Our GPS had said 7 hours and it took 7.5 so that was great.  We are staying at a Radisson Hotel that is now part of the Choice Hotels chain that Doug belongs to.  This cost us $86.

We had an okay night and after morning exercise, we hit the road around 8:30.  It was a gloriously sunny day – great day for a drive even if it was going to be mostly freeways.  Today temps reached 25C / 78F. Everything is quite green and today we left Illinois, crossed diagonally through Wisconsin and then crossed the St. Croix River into Minnesota around 2pm.

After our last gas stop at $3.19 a gallon, we saw 15 dead deer in a 60 km / 40 mi stretch on the side of the freeway!

We arrived at our former neighbourhood in Eagan (the best we’ve ever lived in) around 2:30 and Christine and Matt were both home and greeted us with open arms.  We’ve stayed good friends since we left Eagan back in 2008 and have done some trips together.  They were both working from home today and around 4 they got Christine’s son’s three children for a few hours.  Doug had fun making balloon animals for them and some of the neighbour kids; Christine’s son, James, came and joined us for dinner and they all left by 8pm.  The four of us chatted for a while and then we all went to bed.

Friday we were woken up by thunderstorms complete with lightning and cooler temps.  It’s the long Memorial Day weekend here in the US so that sucks for people wanting to go camping.  Christine and Matt are going away for the weekend themselves but not until tomorrow and have offered us their house to stay a third night while they are away and we will cat sit their Snipit.

View behind their house from our basement bedroom:

For lunch today, we met a former coworker of Doug’s who is nearing retirement and has bought a truck and trailer to travel and he and his wife, wanted to pick our brains about the “overlanding life”.  We had a pleasant lunch at Zupas and then returned to Christine and Matts.  At 3:30 another neighbour, Lori, came by and took Fran and Christine to Schultz Lake for an hour long walk.  It was nice to catch up with her too.

We then took Christine and Matt out for dinner to thank them for letting us stay after which we played some cards before bed.

Doug went for a long run on sunny Saturday morning and enjoyed going on his old running route in this area and Christine and Matt left for their long weekend around 8:15 am.  At nine, Fran joined Lori again with another neighbour friend, Julie, (who moved in the year after we left) and we went to Holland Lake and did a 75 min hike which was very nice.

After returning, Fran went to do a bit of shopping and we had a quiet rest of the day.

Sunday morning we left Eagan before nine and had a sunny drive passing lake after lake; for those who don’t know, Minnesota is called “the land of 10,000 lakes”!

Just before we reached at today’s destination in North Dakota it clouded over and we had a few minutes of rain.  We’d booked a hotel in Jamestown – the home of the world’s largest buffalo:

“Dakota Thunder” as it’s been named is  8m / 26’ tall; 4.2 m / 14’ wide and 14 m / 46’ long; it weighs in at 60 tons!

We got to the hotel about an hour before check in and after a short wait they told us the room was ready.  We booked this Doug’s points and got a king room with AC and Wi-Fi.  Fran went for a walk (Doug had done his early this morning) and we had an okay night but we had to run the AC to be comfortable (it also blocked the highway noise!).

Doug went for a “sprints” run next morning while Fran did her strength training and we left the hotel around 8am.

As we drove deeper into the state of North Dakota we began to see oil derricks.

After we turned north off the I94, the rubber moulding on the passenger side of the windshield came loose and began to flap.  We stopped right away and secured it with some duct tape before doing research to see what we should do.

It had rained overnight but today we had a sunny drive for the most part.  It only warmed up to about 19C / 69F and it was rather windy.

Heading west we passed the “Enchanted Highway” which is supposed to have many metal sculptures along the route but it’s going the wrong way for us so we only saw this one at the turnoff:

It’s called “The Flying Geese”.

Next we saw the world’s largest Holstein up on a hill on the south side of the highway:

Our main stop today was the Theodore Roosevelt National Park – we’ve been before but only to the south unit off the I95 interstate.

Today, since we are heading north anyway, we visited the north unit near Watford City.  The south is all about the grasslands and the bison; the north is about badlands and the Little Missouri River – very different.  This is actually also a third unit which is the Elk Horn Ranch where the President used to ranch himself.

We picked up a park map at the entrance and drove the 23 km / 14 mi Scenic Drive stopping at various pullouts with both badlands and river overlooks.

Almost immediately after entering the park, we encounter buffalo on the road.  We took lots of video and photos and the weather was great until we left the park when it rained hard for about five minutes and then on and off a bit for a little while.

After stopping in Watford City for a fill up, (we are SO impressed with the mileage this 19 year old Civic is giving us.

Today instead of dead deer on the freeway (of which we did see two today), we’ve seen way more dead raccoons – different ecosystems already.

We pushed on another hour or so into Montana this afternoon as we had gained another hour due to crossing into Mountain Time and booked a motel in the small town of Culbertson.  We have a queen room with a fridge and microwave, private bathroom, table and chairs, a lazy boy (!) and Wi-Fi for $75.   The bed only had two pillows on it – enough for only one of us – so Doug went to ask the manager for two more and he actually gave us one to keep (and it was nice and firm)!  Said that was all he had but upon sitting down for dinner, we noticed a third pillow above the closet so we were all good. It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and fit the bill.

We went to bed a bit early as we had a long drive tomorrow.  Fran slept well till 4:30 am and then got up at 5:30 and showered.  Doug woke up as she was finishing and we hit the road before 7.  We wanted to make it across the border and to Medicine Hat, Alberta today.

The drive along the Lewis and Clark Trail highway was great because it wasn’t a freeway and there so little traffic on it.  The speed limit was 70 mpg as opposed to 75 on the I94 and we made good time.  Passing through one of the dozen or so small towns, we saw an auto part shop and got some adhesive to fix the moulding on the windshield.  We stopped a few more times for drinks/pee breaks and gas and made it the city of Havre where we stopped at a Walmart to stock up things before going into Canada.

We stopped on the roadside to have some PB & J sandwiches roadside and moved on.

We crossed the border just after noon and we’re sure this is the ONLY time we’ve crossed the US/Canada border and been the ONLY car in either direction!

We travelled a total of 3032 km / 1884 miles in the US crossing seven states to get from Ontario to Alberta.