Sunday, July 10, 2011

Canada: Empty Highways, booked cities

On the third day, Mel and I crossed into Fargo, North Dakota (avoiding any wood-chippers) and hooked north on I-29. We stopped briefly in Grand Forks for a pit stop but ultimately passed through the remaining continental US without hindrance.

At the border crossing we were asked to pull to the side. I thought at first that they would inspect the entire car (not a problem except it would eat up a lot of time and it would be a pain to repack everything after) but they merely wanted to confirm everything. I hear crossing back into the US is a little more thorough so it may come to that, but not now.

A word about my Garmin: it sucks but it's still useful at times. When attempting to locate a bank to change our cash, my GPS claimed every one was at least 80 miles south. We were in Winnipeg, a city, it seemed impossible that there would be no banks. Then I realized: it's search functions didn't work for Canada except for New Brunswick. (We were in Manitoba heading west. Check a map if you don't know where the two are in relation to each other to illustrate how absurdly useless that is.) On the plus side, it still could give me vague directions like "turn Northwest." I still used it for a general guide and marker for where we were, but it's lost all use for helping us find nearby gas, banks, stores and other places.

So on we went down strange Canadian highways. Unllike the US interstate system, you can turn left and even U-turn on the highway at certain intervals. They also have intersections and stoplights. Granted, in Manitoba and Eastern Saskatchewan it's so flat and empty that it's rare those things ever slow you down.

Our attempt for the day was to reach Regina or a little after it. Mel discovered that our guides made no mention of places to stay between Regina and Saskatoon. In other words, we either would need to stay in Regina or drive 200 miles before we could stop for the night with a roof over our head (save risking some small-town, middle-of-nowhere place.) On the way to Regina, we began running very low on gas. My hope/expectation was that we'd have just enough to get to Regina but before we arrived the gauge was sitting pretty solidly on E. After a few nail-biting minutes we found a station on the side of the road.

An older man came out of the store as we pulled up. "Oh, we were just about to close."
"Are you?"
"Don't worry about it, just fill up what you need."
I went inside to prepay.
"You don't have to pay first, folks around here are honest... okay, maybe not."
I laughed. "It's the presumption at least."
He saw my New York plates. "Long way from home aren't ya?"
His wife ran the counter, it looked like one of those old crowded corner stores from decades ago--the kind you see in old movies.

We arrived at our motel about twenty minutes later. The lady at the counter delivered some bad news.
"Sorry, we're totally booked."
"Oh?" I said. "Do you know of another place nearby?"
"The whole city is booked tonight."
There was a big sports match-up in town that night plus a series of weddings. Just when we thought we'd be done a little early, we would have to drive an extra 200 miles.

Forging on into the night, we passed a bunch of tiny farm towns but nothing even close to developed. When I get tired, I get paranoid. Earlier, in broad daylight, I saw a coyote or something very similar dart out across the highway just as an eighteen wheeler was passing. He made it through okay, but it gave me a sense of just what the animals in the area were capable of. Seeing a series of Moose Crossing signs in the middle of the night made me worry a moose would try the same thing.

A few hours later, we arrived in Saskatoon. It was a bigger city than we were anticipating, probably the biggest city we'd seen since at least the Twin Cities in Minnesota, maybe even Chicago. We managed to find a place that was, thankfully, not booked and thus here we are this morning. We are a little more than 2200 miles into the trip. That's halfway through! Onward we go: the rest of Saskatchewan and Alberta await. We haven't checked to see how far we'll be by the end of the night but it's possible we might reach Easter British Columbia. For now, we'll just keep moving on.

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