Winging it

Day 23: Fergus Falls, MN. 6,201.5 km.

Wait a minute…Fergus Falls? Where's that? What happened to Rogers?

Well, this morning, Ali and I decided to cancel our third night in the Holiday Inn Express in Rogers, and get a head start on our drive home. See, we were going shopping at the outlet mall in Albertville, and we figured that wouldn't take all day, so rather than drive 20 minutes in the wrong direction to get back to Rogers, we'd just keep going west and stop somewhere else.

So, we packed up, checked out of our hotel, and went shopping!

We got to Albertville right at 10:00, when the stores opened. The outlet mall was alright, but nothing outstanding. We got a good deal on shoes at the Converse store: I got two pairs and Ali got one, and a pair of shoes was the one thing I was really hoping to get. Other than that, we bought some kitchen stuff and clothes at a few different stores. To my surprise, I ended up with more clothes than Ali!

It's an American store, but they know who shops here!

Once we were done shopping, we got gas, stopped at another Caribou Coffee for dark hot chocolate (yum!) and pastries, and then started driving west. We passed St. Cloud, Sauk Center, and Alexandria, and finally pulled off the interstate at Fergus Falls. As it turns out, I chose the wrong exit, so we got a bit of a tour of town as we meandered over to the retail area of town. We stopped at a Target where Ali did some more shopping while I used Target's wifi (thanks, Target!) to look up local hotels. I'm glad I did, because the advice online was that the AmericInn was the best hotel in town, and that's where we are now!

Nice place, but I'm easily bribed by the free cookies and hot chocolate with flavour shots 🙂

Oh, one other thing…it's COLD! It was chilly and windy in Albertville, but the farther west we drove, the colder it got. It's -27°C here; even colder than Winnipeg's -25°C! I'm not looking forward to repacking the car tomorrow morning…with the shopping we did, we need to rearrange some things.

But, if all goes according to plan, tomorrow we'll be sleeping in our own bed!

 

Pictures of the LEGO store

Since I was asked…

The store with the Pick-A-Brick wall at the back

Just some of the LEGO sets available

Some of the giant LEGO sculptures on top of the store

Another view. I meant to get better pictures later but forgot 😦

 

A quiet Sunday

Day 23: Rogers, MN. 5,909.4 km.

Today was, in a way, our “day off” from our trip. There are only a few days left on our vacation, and they're scheduled for shopping and driving. Today was our day of rest.

After breakfast (no waffles, but fantastic cinnamon rolls!), we were hoping to watch the Grace church service on my iPad. Unfortunately, the wifi in our room is extremely unreliable, and we could only watch about five seconds at a time. After struggling with that for a bit, we resigned ourself to it not working, and decided to get out of our hotel room.

We found a small coffee shop nearby (“Caribou Coffee”, which is a chain we've seen in a few places) and went for a coffee and snack. We ended up sitting at our table for 2-3 hours, talking, using the coffee shop's wifi on our phones, and playing checkers (Ali won).

A decisive victory

We also realized that we hadn't thought about what we'd do for supper today. We ended up going to a grocery store (actually a Super Target) and picked up some food to eat in our hotel room. In the parking lot, I gave a boost to a local with a dead battery, whose wife declared “Well, Minnesota Nice failed but Canada Nice came through!” (She also said she could hear my accent; I haven't really noticed the locals speaking differently than Winnipegers/Canadians, but Ali says she's heard a difference.)

Caribou Coffee

After we got back to our hotel room, we napped, watched a bit of a movie, read, and generally relaxed. After supper we went down to the hot tub for a bit, and now I expect we'll probably turn in a bit early.

 

Hitting the mall

Day 22: Rogers, MN. 5,905.7 km.

Today (the 18th) was planned as a nice short drive, in daylight. We had breakfast at our hotel in Madison (waffles, mmm!), and only needed to drive about 4.5 hours to Minneapolis (well, Rogers, where our hotel is).

When I checked the weather in the morning (just wondering how warm to dress), though, I found a weather warning: 1-5 inches of snow for the Minneapolis area! Not something we'd want to drive in, so we figured the earlier we got going, the better.

We left the hotel around 9:00, stopped for gas, and headed west on the interstate. Then we saw this:

So, we stopped to buy cheese for dad…unless Ali gets hungry on the drive home and there's nowhere to stop for lunch 🙂

Back on the highway, we had a bit of snow, but nothing treacherous. The pavement was clear and dry; in fact, we passed a few plows that seemed like they were just wasting Wisconsin's money, because there was hardly anything to clear. One of them was even making things worse, by kicking up a huge cloud of snow from the shoulder that was blowing across the road and temporarily reducing visibility to just a few meters.

Halfway to Minneapolis, we stopped at a rest area; Ali wanted some fresh air, and my shoulder was bugging me (for some reason, over the last two days I've gotten a sore neck and shoulder while driving). We ended up taking about a 20 minute break there. They had a TV showing weather maps, and it looked like the weather around Minneapolis was clear, so that was good news!

And, as it turned out, accurate. By the time we got to the city, everything was clear and dry, though there were signs that there had been a fair bit of snow in the recent past. From talking to people later, we learned that it had snowed heavily in the morning, but it was all over and done by the time we got there.

It was early when we arrived — around 2:00 or so — so we decided to go to the Mall Of America before going to our hotel. This was a bit daring, because we didn't have a map or directions to the mall. We navigated on the basis of me knowing that it was in the south end of the city, remembering a highway number from looking at a map way back in the Wisconsin rest stop, and assuming that there would be signs when we got close.

And it worked! There were a few signs, and then we drove for a while without seeing any signs, and then just when we were thinking we might need to pull off the highway and ask for directions, there it was!

Nice mall!

Finding parking, though, that was another question. We drove into the first parkade we saw, ended up in a turning lane that forced us to go to a particular level, and drove in circles until we saw someone leaving and took their spot. Then we walked across the walkway to Nordstrom's, entered the mall, looked at a map…and then I said “I don't remember if I locked the car or not”.

Tempting, but I decided against it.

So I went back to check, and good thing too, because it was indeed unlocked. By the time I got back (it wasn't long) Ali had a list of stores we might want to check out, and off we went.

Ali did not find this nearly as attractive as I did.

There's not much to talk about, though. We went shopping, had supper, walked through a bit of the amusement park, checked out a little bit of the aquarium that we could see for free, and eventually left again for our hotel. We saw some neat stores — Alpaca Connection, the LEGO store, the Victorinox store — and had a nice walk around, but didn't buy much. Before leaving, we stopped at the “eBar” in Nordstrom's for a couple of excellent iced teas and a chat with the barista (?), and browsed around Norsstrom's a bit on the way out ($120 ties!).

At the LEGO store.

One weird thing: at the LEGO store, we overheard a mom talking to a security guard about her missing child: giving a description, asking if she should stay where she last saw him or go searching, etc.. And by her tone of voice and demeanour, she could have been discussing the weather — she was totally calm and almost bored-sounding!

Am I the only one that thinks this is creepy?

Anyway, after we left the mall, I successfully navigated us back to the interstate, where we could follow our printed-out directions to our hotel. It's in a suburb named Rogers, a little bit northwest of Minneapolis. When I looked at the map, I thought the hotel was in a weird place…the street layout looked residential. And sure enough, our directions took us through an industrial area, into a residential area, with not a hotel in sight!

We retraced our steps, drove to an area where we had seen other hotels, gave up, and I asked for directions at a gas station. The directions were very simple and worked perfectly. It turned out that there are at least two pieces of “135th Ave N” in Rogers, and they're not anywhere near each other, and they're not connected, and our directions took us to the wrong one.

Our room...at least, for now.

Once we got to the hotel, though, we checked in, found that our room was very nice…and then found that it had no bathtub, which was something I specifically checked for when booking! After talking to the front desk, it turns out they overbooked, so they “upgraded” us. The upgraded room is the same price, and seems to have all the same amenities except no tub, so, not really an upgrade. We might be able to switch rooms tomorrow…we'll see.

And now, we stay put for a few days before the final drive to Winnipeg!

 

Made it to Minneapolis!

Despite this ominous warning this morning:

I'm too tired to blog, though; I'll write more tomorrow morning.

 

Back on the road

Day 21: Madison, WI. 5,399.5 km.

There's no way to deny it: we're definitely on our way home now. In an approximate mirror image of our day 3 (!) itinerary, we drove from Strathroy into the US, went through Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, and ended the day in a nice suite in Madison, Wisconsin.

We've mastered the art of taking our time to get places, though. We left Strathroy around 8:30, and finished the “7.5 hour” drive about twelve hours later.

We got started a little later than planned, partly because we were visiting with Kelly and Lars, and partly because I had to shovel out the snowbank that the plow left behind our car. First order of business was a proper Ontario breakfast from Tim Horton's, and then, onto the highway! The heavy snow from yesterday had stopped, but soon after we started driving, it started again. So it was slow going to the border…around 70-80 km/h most of the time. On the 70 km drive to the border, we saw five cars in the ditch — four of which were recent enough that people were still with them. The roads were definitely a bit slippery, but we stuck (mostly) to the slow lane and didn't hurry.

Getting across the border into the US was no problem (though the border guard looked into our very full back seat and asked “So…are you guys moving?), and we immediately headed for the first stop of the day: another trip to Hobby Lobby. Ali was inspired by Erica's six-hour (I think?) marathon and wanted another kick at the can :-). It was a good idea, though, because after we finished wandering around (and bought a few small things) and got back to our car, the snow had stopped! Yay!

After that, the roads started to dry up, and before too long they were fairly dry. The temperature dropped, too, from about -2 °C in Strathroy to around -8 °C, so the remaining flurries that we hit during the day didn't make nearly as much of a slushy mess of the roads.

Our third stop was for gas, lunch, and a visit to another craft/hobby store, Jo Ann's Fabrics. We stopped in Kalamazoo, because that was when we needed gas, and we were hungry, and it seemed big enough to have a Jo Ann's, and Darryl liked the name. Unfortunately the city turned out to be a bit dingy, and our lunch was at the sketchiest McDonald's I've ever been to (we didn't even really want McDonald's for lunch, but we needed wifi to look up the store and we knew McDonald's always has it). Jo Ann's, in the end, was also a bit underwhelming…not nearly the selection (or attractiveness) of Hobby Lobby, and not particularly good prices either.

Oh well, it wasn't far out of our way, and we got back on the interstate. And then Ali realized that the various stops and delays and the time change meant that instead of getting to Chicago in early afternoon (as we had hoped), we'd be hitting it bang in the middle of rush hour! Whoops! But there was nothing to do but plunge on and hope that the toll roads we had decided to take would be less busy than the route we had taken on the trip east.

That…sort of worked out. The toll roads were still very busy, but there were way fewer entrances and exits, so traffic flowed quite well most of the time. We didn't have an “I-Pass” for automatic toll payment, so we had to pull out a few times to pay with cash (total cost, $10.90, in six stops). And then, after we passed Chicago, we found out that some of the exits from the tollroute don't accept cash! Since exits from the tollroute are few and far between, we would have been in a bit of trouble if we needed one of those exits, but happily, we just drove along the highway, passed through a final, normal, cash-accepting tollbooth, entered Wisconsin and it turned into a normal highway, no tolls required.

By then it was getting late, and we were hungry, but we were also looking forward to just getting to our hotel and not driving any farther, so we decided to suck it up and go nonstop to Madison. After we found our hotel, we ordered supper at a nearby Pizza Hut, checked into our hotel, and then I picked up our food and we ate at the coffee table in our suite (which even has a balcony!).

And now, we're beat. Good night, everyone…tomorrow's a much shorter drive!

Getting a head start

Day 21: Strathroy, ON. 4518.4 km.

We spent most of today slowly working on getting the car packed: laundry, emptying and repacking things so we had the space we needed, and so that we don't have to unpack everything as we drive back.

We got a couple other small things done too; I installed another light for Erica (with Kailynn's help), we planned the drive back home, that sort of thing. After the boys were home from school and we said our goodbyes, we went to the mall (needed to get a refund on a bill that we were overcharged on), had supper (Moxie's; delicious!), got gas (we were totally empty, whoops!), and left for Strathroy.

Home renos with help from Miss K

This was a change from our original plan; we had talked about spending another night in Guelph and leaving from there in the morning, but when we were in Strathroy a couple weeks ago, we decided to spend the night in Strathroy instead, since that's two hours closer to the border, and makes the drive shorter.

Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. It snowed most of the way, fairly heavily at times. I was in the middle lane on the 401, going 80 km/h, and hardly anyone was passing me…and at one point I was behind a semi that was doing 40. The blowing snow on the road made it hard for me to see where my lane was, which resulted in me accidentally exiting into Kitchener! No big deal…we turned around in a parking lot and got back on track.

This picture is too ridiculous to leave out, even though it has nothing to do with anything.

After Kitchener, the weather started to get better, though we did see one accident (one vehicle that had somehow gone head-on into the guardrail). We had heard that Conrad was stuck on the shoulder with two flat tires, and sure enough, we saw him…in the opposite lane. Nothing we could do to help, though, so we silently wished him luck and carried on (if he had been on our side of the road, we would have brought him coffee!). About 25 km from London, the snow stopped and the roads were clear…and then we turned onto the 402 towards Strathroy and the snow started all over again!

But, the main thing is, here we are, safe and sound. In the end, we never slipped or slid, and the only thing I was really nervous about was merging onto the 401 in low visibility and moderately heavy traffic. It was a longer drive than expected: we left the Guelph mall at about 6:30 and finally made it to Strathroy just after 9:00 — 2.5 hours for a drive that's normally closer to 1.5.

Our first stop was Owen's house, where we got a tour and visited with Owen and Arlene for an hour. Then we went to Trevor and Kelly's, where we chatted with Trevor (Kelly and Lars were in bed) for probably longer than we should have, given that we're planning to leave at 7:30 or 8:00 tomorrow…weather permitting.

 

Success!

It fits! Good thing, too, because we didn't have a Plan B.

 

My birthday, again

Day 21: Guelph, ON. 4,338.9 km.

Our day (the 15th; late post again!) started bright and early, with Ali telling my “Happy birthday!” at 3:00 AM, when Kailynn woke us up by crawling in bed with us (something we were told to expect while Erica was gone). Ali got up at around 7:00 to send the older boys off to school, and when they were gone, she went back to bed and I got up and watched Davin and Kailynn (and fed them breakfast).

Then it was mostly just another day around the house. I cleaned out the car in preparation for the drive home, and measured it to see how (and if) our cabinet would fit in it (turns out, it should fit no problem, with room to spare).

After the boys came home, we watched Despicable Me 2 (because it was my birthday), and Ali and Kailynn ran out to Walmart for a bit of shopping. We had spaghetti for supper, I went downstairs and played Mario Kart with the boys for a bit, and then when Erica got home, I got to open presents!

Mom's home!

Kailynn picked the card.

Everyone wants to see

Hey Pamela, look what *I* got!

I got spoiled with tea for our new Keurig, a widget for brewing loose tea by the cup, and a gorgeous Doctor Who graphic novel collection (from Ali, who knows what I like!). Then it was bedtime for the boys, and, before long, for us.

Auntie Ali has been busy these last few days. I think it's time to bring her somewhere quiet. (Photo credit: Davin)

 

Playing house

Day 20: Guelph, ON. 4,332.5 km.

Today was probably the quietest day of our trip so far. All four boys had school today, so it was just me, Ali, and Kailynn for most of the day…and Kailynn went and lied down with Ali for a bit after the boys left on the bus. So we slept in (sort of), did some laundry, went shopping (I bought a board game at a thrift store), and generally hung around. Oh, and I hung a chandelier, because it needed hanging, so why not?

Kailynn made sure we weren't bored, though, with her nonstop nattering about everything around her and a frequent sing-songy call of “Un-ca DAR-ryl!” And then the boys got home from school and any chance of silence vanished.

And now the boys are all in bed (Johnny left for bed as I was typing this), it actually IS quiet in the house, and I'm sure we'll be heading to bed too before too long. I booked our hotels for the return trip to Winnipeg today…this long (and enjoyable) trip is slowly wending its way to a close.