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Wrapping things up

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.

Mmm!

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.

West Acres Mall in Fargo

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!

 

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!

 

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!

 

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.

 

Back to Guelph

Day 17: Guelph, ON. 4,267.6 km.

We went to bed last night with a forecast of freezing rain, so we didn't know what the day would hold. We awoke at around 9:30, and while we ate breakfast, we learned from Uncle Andy (who had been out on his morning walk already) that there was definitely rain, but what little ice there was had already melted. Thankful for this, we packed the car (a bit sloppily, I must confess, because the rain was cold and I didn't think to bring a rain jacket on a January vacation!), stopped to get gas (still low from yesterday's misadventures, but happily there was a gas station nearby, and cheap too!), and headed for the highway before noon.

The drive today was the only inclement weather that we've hit so far. All day it rained, and for most of the day it was foggy, with both the fog and rain varying significantly in severity as we drove. The rain was sometimes a fine mist and was briefly a significant downpour, but generally it was a light drizzle. The fog never got terrifyingly thick, but at times I could only count about 8-10 seconds from the time an object appeared through the mists until the time I drove past it, so I wouldn't have wanted it much heavier! Ali and I were surprised by how many people were driving in this weather with no lights on; it seemed dangerous, but common.

With a high temperature of 10 °C (this is January, right??) we had no worries about freezing rain, and the wet roads didn't pose a problem for us, but we passed a couple of accidents. Fairly early in the day, we saw a car on its side with a completely smashed windshield, apparently having rolled across almost the entire median (a minute later, we saw a police car presumably on its way to the scene). And somewhere around Toronto, one or two eastbound lanes were blocked by a multi-vehicle accident, backing up traffic for a long way afterwards.

We had good traffic, though, and no problems with slippery roads — not even any scares. We left the fog behind in Toronto, and the rain stopped sometime after we arrived in Guelph, which was nice for unloading the car.

And here we are! In a weird way it feels like coming home, after adventures in Hamilton, Montreal, and Ottawa, and in other ways it feels like we never left. But we are definitely on the return leg of our journey now…though we're in no hurry, and we plan to remain here for the next few days!

Oh, and a piece of trivia that we picked up from Aunt Carla and Uncle Andy that we've agreed deserves to be blogged: their Ottawa church congregation, which has been around for 53 years, has never had a funeral! Apparently nobody has passed away while they were a member of that church. I think they should advertise that; that should attract members!

 

Catching up

This is a blog post from the past! I'm writing it in bits and pieces and don't know when I'll get internet access to post it, but here goes:

On Friday, Ali and I said goodbye to Guelph and drove to Hamilton, and, ultimately, Brantford, where we're staying with Ali's friend Rachel. Ali used to live in Hamilton/Ancaster, so she's somewhat familiar with the area, and so she started doing some of the driving. We didn't do anything super-exciting…a little quick shopping at the mall, then homemade pizza for supper, and some visiting with Rachel and her friend Conrad. I did get to see a bunch of old pictures of Ali hanging out with her friends from Carman, all before I knew her. Kind of weird!

Pizza toppings, tastefully arranged!

On Saturday, we slept in, took Rachel out for breakfast at a little diner place that's practically next door to her house, and then Ali and I went to a flea market (bought nothing), visited Dundurn Castle (bought admission), and went to the mall again (bought some clothes).

Upstairs in Dundurn Castle

Dundurn Castle isn't a castle; it's really just a big old maison that the locals called a castle. It's all restored to what it would have looked like around 1830-1850, and you get a tour of a big chunk of it, seeing where the family lived, where the servants lived, and getting a feel for what life was like. It was pretty interesting, and the first “tourist” thing we've done on this trip!

The great big dining room, all decked out for Christmas dinner

Dundurn trivia: the guy who built this place was the great-great-great-grandfather of Camilla Parker Bowles!

Saturday evening, Rachel's sisters and a couple of friends (including, confusingly, one named Rachel!) came to visit. I went and lied down super early (around, oh, 9:00 or so?) because I was weirdly tired, and wasn't feeling social at ALL and figured I'd just get cranky if I tried to stay up.

Sunday started warm (-1° C) and snowy. We went to church, and went for a drive to see some of Ali's old haunts, like the houses she lived in in Hamilton (and some of the ice storm damage as well). Then we had dinner with Rachel's parents/family, which was nice. We knew bad weather was coming so we were thinking about getting a head start on our drive to Montreal, but after the snow and freezing rain, the consensus was, better wait till morning and play it by ear.

So, here we are: Monday morning, in a Starbucks, getting a quick bite and wifi for the first time in a few days, so I can post this post :-). It sounds like the highways are slow and messy but certainly driveable, so we're hoping to make it to Montreal today. We'll keep an eye on the roads, though, and if we have to stop somewhere along the way, we will.