Day 24: Winnipeg, MB. 6,660.4 km.
I guess I can't end this story in Fergus Falls, can I?
Morning started with a quite acceptable breakfast in the hotel, and then I re-packed the car in the frigid cold…it was definitely below -20°C; closer to -25, I think. But I had made a bit of a mess of things while unpacking the previous night, and the extra bags from our shopping in Albertville had clogged the rear window, so I spent a little while rearranging things and then bringing everything from the hotel room to the car.
The car, I should mention, was very reluctant to start. But, start it did, and off we went in the general direction of home…with a few stops on the way.
We stopped in Fargo, to visit Kohl's, Target, and JCPenney. We didn't buy anything at any of them, but the JCPenney turned out to be attached to a very nice mall that we wandered around, and ended up picking some stuff up at The Gap. Then it was a quick lunch at the food court, and out onto the I-29 north to Winnipeg.
Unfortunately, while we were shopping, it got snowy, and there was a lot of blowing snow on the road, combined with less-than-ideal visibility. But traffic was light, and we made decent progress, with the worst problems (again) being caused by snow plows plowing the shoulder. One of them was kicking up so much snow that I couldn't see the road in front of my car, and didn't know if I was going straight, veering left (towards the snowplow), or veering right (towards the guardrail and dropoff on the side of the bridge)! I actually came to a complete stop briefly, and when the snow cleared I had two wheels over the dotted line! We passed that plow safely, as well as another one a little while later.
Then, after two quick stops (gas in Grand Forks; duty-free in Pembina), we were home! A weird feeling, after so long away, but it's nice to be back.
And that's it: over three weeks on the road, over six thousand kilometers driven, and ten different cities slept in. We've had a lot to be thankful for: we visited lots of relatives and friends, had some great experiences, and were safe and healthy the whole time. It was a great trip — the longest either of us have ever been on — and we don't know when (or if) we'll have the chance to take another one like it.
Thanks for reading along with us; I hope you enjoyed it!
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!
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”.
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.
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!).
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!
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.
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!
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!
Day 2: Gary, IN. 1,520.3 km
Today was possibly the biggest drive we'll do on this trip. (We haven't planned the drive home yet so I don't know for sure.)
We had a small breakfast in our hotel, left Alexandria at around 8:30 in the morning, and drove until we got to our hotel in Gary, Indiana, passing through Wisconsin and Illinois along the way. We stopped for gas in Minneapolis, had a sit-down lunch in Tomah, WI, and stopped for gas again in Durand, WI, ending up at our hotel pretty much twelve hours after we left the previous one.
I drove the whole way, to my own surprise. The one time I was getting tired was around lunch, and Ali was tired too, but after our lunch stop (probably around 45 minutes), I was more awake and good to go again,
Once again the weather was on our side: mostly dry roads, and no rain or snow. It would have been rain, actually, since it was above freezing the whole way — our high temperature today was 6° C!
Traffic, on the other hand, was not quite as nice as yesterday. We hit morning rush hour in Minneapolis and afternoon rush hour in Milwaukee (I just can't get away from that place, it seems!). But that meant we went through Chicago well after rush hour, and with up to seven lanes on the freeway, we were glad of that! And we had a fantastic view of the Chicago night skyline as we approached. (Also a good view of all the planes approaching/leaving/circling O'Hare!)
The only reason that traffic was a concern at all was that, starting in Wisconsin, we noticed drivers being VERY aggressive with their lane changes after passing on the interstate. I would be driving along with the cruise control on in the right-hand lane, someone would come up behind and pass me, and then pull RIGHT back in front of me as soon as they passed, often leaving less than a car-length between us! Slightly unnerving at 65-70 mph! And then, after we were used to that, we got to Chicago, where people seem to merge on the assumption that other cars will just get out of the way for them.
Oh well…we were startled a couple times but it was once again a pretty uneventful drive. We had a small supper in our hotel room, and we expect a shorter drive tomorrow morning. And we're glad we're on the east side of Chicago and won't be driving through morning traffic there!
My favourite local attraction that we drove past: in Wisconsin, the “Deke Slayton Astronaut And Bicycle Museum”. And I couldn't help but think of Pamela when we saw a billboard for a scrubs warehouse store!