Chicago to Windsor

I’m writing this on the VIA train while heading back to Oakville. There’s free wifi available on the train. I’ve never travelled at about 150km/hr (relative to the earth, of course) and had wifi before! Cool.

We slept in a bit the next morning and only woke up at 9. This isn’t usually too late, but we wanted to get a lot done in Chicago today because we were only staying for one day and still had to make it to Windsor tonight. After getting ready pretty quickly and checking out of the hotel we went to the car and put our stuff away. Then we started our walking tour!

Walking down Michigan Ave. we saw the Chicago Tribune building, the Trump Tower, the Chicago river, and many other buildings I didn’t even know the name of. Also, near the parking lot is a Bloomingdales shop, but the outside looks strikingly like a mosque. When I got back to Windsor I looked in a 1961 encyclopedia the Gaspar’s have and found out it was called the Medinah Temple back then.

Our first stop was a hotdog joint right inside the Loop (the tram that floats around downtown Chicago). This one is also pretty famous and making their hotdog is a very precise art. No ketchup allowed! Will got one, but Anne and I refrained. Then we went to go see Grant Park and the Millennium Park. Oh! I forgot to mention, I basically know Chicago like the back of my hand. Psychic some may say, but in reality – I played the Microsoft game Midtown Madness, set in Chicago, so much as a kid. I knew where the pier was, the park, the Sears tower, and a mysterious, red, curvy sculpture sticks out in my mind. I’m determined to find it.

In Millennium Park we had a fantastic time! There is so much to do and the art and sculptures there are out of this world. They really look like alien objects scattered about a lush green park. The park rangers (and police) in Chicago all roll around coolly on Segways. I felt like I was in a live-action recreation of RoboCop. I added a bridge to my list of Frank Gehry designed structures. It’s called the BP Bridge, and is currently highly unpopular in America. That big orb thing you see below had no real sign or marking on it. No idea who made it or why – but it’s awesome. In the amphitheatre in the park they had set up a squash court because it was the US Squash Open. I wanted to stay for a game, but there really wasn’t much time.

Just before we left the park we came across a wonderful fountain. It had two gleaming towers made of glass bricks with water flowing down between them. Each tower had an animated screen on it where it displayed videos of different people’s faces moving slowly! In between was an obsidian battlefield where the water from the two towers met. It took me no time at all to tosss my shoes and roll up my jeans and go running in the water. After a while the faces on the towers purse their lips and water starts coming from a fountain between their lips! Coolest. Fountain. Ever. (Comic book guy voice).

We left the park and walked to dry off. We wanted to make our way towards the Sears Tower because I knew the red sculpture was somewhere around there. Anne and Will humoured me a bit, it’s nice when they do that. Finally I found it! And here it is.

Then I noticed my camera was out of battery. I should conserve! So I turned it off for a while, while we made our way to the Sears Tower. When we got there we realized it was renamed the Willis Tower, so that’s why it didn’t show up on any of the maps. It was also here that I realized that people in Chicago have three things that stand out. In general, they’re all very tall, very fit, and very well dressed. This held throughout the city as we walked through it, not just the downtown park. A huge percentage of people I saw were over 6 feet tall.

After some humming and hawing we decided to pay the $16 and go up the tower to the “Skydeck”. When we got in the elevator I took out my camera to take a picture of the buttons. There was a ground floor, 99 and 103. Thought that was quite funny. When we got to the top I did a quick run around to check the sky for planes (I was actually really paranoid about this because the last time I had been up in a building this big was the World Trade Center back in 2000). Calmed down a bit, I came back to take some pictures with Will and Anne. Clicked the “On” button and … “Please Change Battery Pack”. Noooooooooooooooooooo! So that’s the reason why I don’t have a single photo from the top. Rats! One funny thing we saw was that one of the buildings in the city is actually a prison and you can see people in orange jump suits playing basketball on the roof of the building. Only escape there is a long drop and a wooden coffin. Anyways, here’s the damn picture of the elevator button.

After the tower we decided to walk back to the car. We all stopped at the hot dog place again and got food. It was a really good hotdog, but a bit small. I should’ve ordered two. Back at the car we prepared ourselves for the last long drive. IT was going to be about 5 hours from Chicago to Detroit, and then we were basically back home in Windsor.

The drive was uneventful mostly, and I read Brief History of Time (phew, it doesn’t feel so brief after all this time). I’m almost done it though … it’s very good! I think I’ll finish by tonight. I think I slept some of it to, but I can’t remember. When we saw the highway signs start to say Detroit, about 100 miles away we took extremely preventative measures and locked the doors. After some wrong turns, we finally made it onto the right highway that took us to downtown Detroit, and then subsequently the tunnel to Canada. Not a big hold up on the Canadian side, I handed in my green form which the people in Montana told me to give back when I came back into Canada (or else!). After that we went through the cool tunnel to Canada under the Detroit River. When we came out the other side I finally breathed in some Fresh Northern Air®. Hurray! Back home at last! Well, not for me, but for Will and Anne at least.

When we got to their house we saw there were visitors. Marion (the groom’s mother) was there! I hadn’t seen her since the wedding, so we had some catching up to do. Also Doris’ brother was there as well … unfortunately I forgot his name! Doh! We had a lovely dinner and it felt really good to relax finally.

I think I’ll call the journal quits at this point. I’m essentially home, it will just be a train ride away. I’m going to hang out in Windsor tomorrow. Sleep in, go shopping, and have tea. Then on Saturday I’ll get the train home in time for my Nana’s birthday.

It’s been a wonderful trip that I didn’t expect to go on. From the mountains, rivers, forests, plains, and cities – it has truly been a memorable experience. Oh, and what was our final animal count? 12. I think the bear would have made it an unlucky 13, so I’m glad we didn’t run into him!

G’night! Thanks for listening.

Sioux Falls to Chicago

Up at 8:15. I had a cool dream … I’ll explain it because today is mostly driving so I don’t think there’s gonna be much to talk about. You can skip the next paragraph if you don’t like dream babble 🙂

I was swimming in a glacial lake but the temperature was really quite pleasant. Occasionally in the bottom of the lake I would see a glint of crimson light and I would dive down to find a fire opal. I collected them in a small leather pouch as I went. I looked down and there was a deeper part to the lake and saw a large whale under the water silently floating and looking up at me. Feeling a bit uneasy I swam to the shore and got out completely dry. There was a large cliff of rubble from the glacier right at the shore. So I climbed up the right hand side, a little less steep, and got to the top. Here I discovered a huge landscape of small knee high shrubs. They were a pale olive green colour and very rough looking. In their leaves though, each shrub had about 10 or so fire opals! I was so excited and started picking them all up and putting them in my leather pouch! After a few minutes I heard a rustling in the shrubs to my left. I looked over and saw a whole tribe of aboriginal owls. They were owls dressed as aboriginal people and walking on their little legs. Some had bows and arrows, some headdresses. They all made their way to the cliff and then flew down to the lake. They walked away along the shore. I was so thrilled that I took out my camera to take a picture. As soon as I snapped a shot a ferocious tiger jumped out from the shrubs and slid down the cliff to chase after the owls. I got such shock that I fell down after it. When I hit the bottom it turned around and finally took notice of the bigger prey. I ran for the water and it chased me. I got to the deeper part and started swimming down towards the whale. I could feel the tiger’s claws on my back and that’s when I woke up.

Minnesota is very varied and a nice change from plains. Trees and forests abound. Flooded river banks. Rocky outcrops. A lot of windmills and trucks carrying windmill blades. We did stop for coffee at one point and saw some long horned sheep (animal count +1) Edit: Anne has just informed me that this is in fact a long horned cow. Animal identification skills -10. We also noticed a lot of people leave their cars on with the keys in them for half an hour sometimes. Energy conservation probably doesn’t have much meaning here. Also some jerk in a sports car took up almost three parking spots. He went out to his car and that’s when we decided to drive out the parking lot and stop behind his car to check through the bags to look for a mystery item. After about 1 or 2 minutes of stalling, we felt that justice had suitably served – Mr. Sports Car wasn’t going anywhere fast. Then we noticed, neither were we, and we ended the horrible game of spite.

Annnnnd, that was pretty much the highlight of the day’s drive. You can press Fast-Forward on your VCRs now.




OK, boring parts snipped out and your belief suitably suspended that this narrative is continuous, we can continue. Once we pulled into Chicago we spent about 1 hour in traffic just getting to the downtown. Felt like the Gardiner all over again. Anne had looked in the book earlier, so we knew of a bunch of hotels to checkout before we even got there. We drove around town a bit by accident because we kept missing streets, so eventually we parked in a parking garage. Chicago looks just like a mix between Toronto and New York. I LOVE it. First we went to the Holiday Inn Express, but that was too expensive. While the guy at the desk was telling us about some cheaper accommodation, a random lobby-drifter came up to Will and whispered “Pssst”. Now, I need to tell you that I’ve never heard someone say “Psst” since Grade 5 math class. At first I thought he wanted to sell us some drugs – but it turns out he just wanted to know if we were with AAA so we could “score a deal,” he says. We said, “Nope” and he lurked away. Weird, but apparently trying to be helpful so gotta give him credit there.

We walked down the road to the Red Roof Inn and saw a lot of cool stores, restaurants, and people in fancy outfits. My love for Chicago was growing. By the time we had checked in and gone up to the 15th floor, I was already on the laptop looking at real estate in downtown Chicago. Unfortunately Anne and Will wouldn’t listen to my protests that we just buy a house and stay here indefinitely.

While we walked Will had found a deep dish pizza restaurant called Pizzeria Due, just down the road from Pizzeria Uno. Deep dish pizza is sort of a Chicago speciality. It lived up to its reputation because after 45 minutes our pizza was ready and we devoured it! Our waiter had a great personality; he was from New York originally. He remembered everyone’s names out on the patio which was pretty impressive.

We got changed and then went out to check out some of the town and find a bar where we could have a drink or two. First we went to the pharmacy to buy some nose strips for Will and earplugs for Anne and I (we only got one room at this place and I wanted some sleep!). Finally I found a copy of The Economist in Chicago! I have checked at every single rest stop from Edmonton through to Chicago, and never saw it once. Being on this trip I’ve been mostly cut off from the rest of the world and it’s goings on. Stopping at the pharmacy I was promptly filled in: Selena and Taylor have made big progress.

On the way to the pharmacy we asked this really nice lady who was thrilled we were from out of town in Ontario (Canada, she had to check). She gave us these magazines from her bag for tourists in Chicago. So nice! Unfortunately because she was fussing about with us she missed her bus home. We felt kind of bad, but what can you do? Unbeknownst to us, the tourist book lead us to one of the city’s finest gay bars, so we decided to walk around and find something a little more family appropriate. Timothy O’Tooles was the place. It had more TVs than several Best Buy locations. Tons of beer varieties! I had a Black and Tan, a mixture of Guinness and something else? Not sure. On our walk we saw the Trump Tower at night, it was very cool. I think Toronto is getting one of these soon.

After the pub we headed back to the hotel and then I rammed in some earplugs and my head hit the pillow with meteoric force.


Gillete to Sioux Falls,SD

Today was one of the few days where we got to the place we planned in the morning. We had to cut out the Badlands unfortunately because we would’ve been driving for hours in the dark, and we didn’t want to do that one more time.

We got up early at 8. I’m feeling a bit better again, each day is some progress it seems. Went down to eat some free breakfast. They had a waffle maker which was pretty exciting. The news is on and we hear about a university in Texas where there was a school shooting in the library. I hate hearing about that; I was often worried about some nutcase at Waterloo going crazy in the library as well. Mostly I was worried that it was going to be one of us – Anne, Nate, Tom, Brent, or I! Phew – I’m glad that stress is gone.

We hit the road and it was a loooong drive with nothing but open fields. This is truly a very boring part of the country. I got to read a lot and sleep a lot in the back. I’m enjoying Brief History of Time but I do find it confusing at times. I feel like he doesn’t define his terms a lot of the time, and certain passages are particularly confusing/ill explained. Sometimes it seems like he has a lot of inside science-jokes that I just don’t get. Especially on the particle physics side of things (gluons, mesons, quarks, etc).

Our first planned stop was Devil’s Peak but the sign said 60 miles so we turned back. Too long! Instead, we went to the town of Sundance, SD and we saw where the Sundance Kid got his name, and was in prison for 18 months! There was a little museum there which I thoroughly enjoyed. Lots of authentic 1880’s stuff, as well as a lot of information about the SD Kid. There was a book which a delivery person had been carrying in their truck driving along the road. The book had a bullet hole right through it! Apparently he forgot to turn off his lights at night and another driver shot at him! This may have been acceptable in the 1800s, but did I mention this was in 1981??

(End of foreshadowing from Vulcan-to-Great Falls). I bought a Wanted: $5000 poster with the SD Kid on it. Coooool beans! I loved this small town. We also got to take a picture with the statue.

After Sundance we drove for an hour or so and hit Rapid City finally. It was the biggest town we have seen in day and days. I think since Edmonton? It’s been all small towns for about a week. From Rapid City we moved south towards Keystone (closest town to Mt. Rushmore). Keystone was a very American, bible thumping sort of tourist trap. Styled like 1800’s wild west, it was only really worth it to take some pictures while we drove in the car. Along the 20 mile road towards Keystone there are also hundreds of tourist attractions like caves, reptile parks, slides, etc. but we weren’t really interested in any of it so we just drove on through. Up the black mountains a bit and you can clearly see Mt. Rushmore from the road. In a similar way that the mountains themselves are feats of nature, this is an impressive feat of man. We drove up and apparently just the parking is $10, so we just opened up the sunroof and took some pictures from the parking booth. They try and trap you by not allowing U-turns, but we just went to the booth and said we wanted to go to the exit. Saved $10, sweet! Plus, if you see the mountains from the road or from inside the parking lot I’m sure it’s mostly the same. Pretty thrifty.

I can try name them (keep in mind I’m in the car with no internet so no cheating). Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt hiding in there, and Lincoln. Ok … Will helped me. He’s basically the internet.

In my journal I’ve got written: “drive drive drive“. So we really didn’t do anything other than that for hours. We played a game of Tennis Elbow with some really good rallies until I kept falling asleep when it wasn’t my turn.

I woke up when we were in a small town near Sioux Falls because we had almost run out of gas. There were lots of Amish people there. Pretty cool to see them. On our way out I looked up at the sky from the window and asked Will to stop. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen thousands stars out at night. On our whole trip it’s been cloudy at night, or a full moon so it’s been hard to see any stars. The milky way was clearly visible streaking right across sky. We were all very impressed; you never see this near the cities.

Made it to Sioux Falls around 9pm with the new time change. Motel 6 was the cheapest place around, and pretty good for the $$. One downside to the time change was that most of the food places in SF were closed! We had to drive around for about 15 minutes before we found an open place: Wendys. See – I told you we’d given up McDonalds.

We got back to the hotel and watched Craig Ferguson again. I blogged a bit and Anne fixed one of her sweaters with the sewing kit that I bought to fix my shorts (zipper broken). Will and I had some honey rye beer. I quite enjoyed it. We also watched the local news for a bit, and found out that huge parts of Sioux Falls were completely flooded, with fish swimming up the streets just about 5 days ago! We had no idea. Apparently it backed up a lot of the sewage in town so they had to heavily chlorinate the waste water before the threw it into the river. I decided not to drink any water from there – probably a good idea. We haven’t seen rain since near Vancouver in the Columbia mountains. Pretty lucky for our trip actually.

I made sure I was up to date on these logs for a while and then got to sleep at 2am.


West Yellowstone to Gillette, WY

Up at 7:30am. Not a good sleep. I was constantly awake because of my nose. Feeling better overall at least. Up and at it, we went to McDonalds for breakfast (gaaaaah! they had free wifi, so that’s our excuse this time). Seriously, this is the last time we’re eating there. Anne had a “mcgriddle” which has a bun impregnated with syrup. This is when we started the conspiracy that McDonalds is run by a terrorist organization and is trying to slowly kill the American populace with terrible food. Anyways, here we planned our trip. It’s going to be a long way. Right now the plan is to visit Little Bighorn (a war monument), then to Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Milwaukee and then a ferry across Lake Michigan, and then to Windsor.

In the morning we did some shopping. I bought some postcards and got a nice set of Bushnell binoculars. They’re permanently in focus so you don’t even have to refocus on anything. Nice! They were about $70, but I think they’re a solid set.

Lucky I bought them because as soon as we went back into Yellowstone (the easiest way to move East), we saw big herds of elk, a trumpeter swan, a herd of bison, otters, and a bison about 5 feet from the car! I found a cool trick where I can put my camera lens in my binocular lens. Then I zoom and get double magnification! It’s like I bought a nice expensive lens. Wow!

Near the north exit we got stopped for more construction and the road worker was telling us about a coyote that keeps trying to steal his lunch on the side of the road. He also told us that, “The most dangerous animal in the entire park is the rented RV.” No one knows how to drive them and they just fly down the roads mowing down wildlife and road workers apparently.

After we left Yellowstone (aww) it was a relatively long and boring drive. Anne and Will saw a pronghorn on the side of the road. I missed it though, boo. They’re pretty cool animals it seems. They look like African antelope. Will says that there used to be a North American cheetah which used to be their only predator. The cheetah became extinct and then the pronghorn was left feeling pretty comfortable.

Later we stopped at the Little Bighorn memorial. Will was like a kid in a 200 year old candy store; he’s very interested in history. I was a bit less enthusiastic because I’d never heard of Little Bighorn before. Lt. Col. Custer led the American troops to a defeat in his famous last stand while trying to commit cultural genocide and convert all the Lakota people to Christianity and keep them in reservations. Oh and to take all of their land as well. It made it hard to feel sorry for them, really. Sitting Bull, the Lakota chief is said to have “shunned reservation life” wanting to keep a traditional way of life and led several bands of Sioux and Cheyenne in defiance of the US government. In the other corner we have, Ulysses S. Grant, who is quoted as saying the US military’s purpose here was, “…to Christianize and civilize the Indian and train him in the arts of peace”. Also the monument is dedicated to “soldiers killed … while clearing the district of hostile indians”. It was a very interesting exhibit in the end, but definitely not what I was expecting.

I took over driving at around 6pm and drove till about 9. We ended up in Gillette, not Rapid City as we had hoped. The reason was it was so very dark and the drive was possibly more stressful than Yellowstone. Yellowstone only had the threat of animals running across the road, yet we didn’t see any. This drive, we had one deer run out in front of the car, as well as seeing several on the side of the road. The hi-beams also scared one large male with antlers from crossing the road, so we were thankful for that!

Once we got near Gillette there was a bright light on the horizon. At first we thought it was the light from the town, but once the hills cleared we actually saw a bright red moon on the horizon lighting up the hills. We tried to take some pictures of it, but it was too difficult when driving and too dangerous to stop. This is what you get. Don’t complain, it’s free!

In Gillette we stayed at the Super 8. It’s been good to us so far, so we always use it as a safe bet. Funnily enough, in the lobby there was a vending machine with a Schick razor inside … in the town of Gillette. Reception girl thought that was pretty funny too.

I didn’t eat dinner because I’d had a wonderful chipotle wrap earlier, so Anne and Will ate at Subway. We watched some of Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show and checked out some Youtube videos of David Caruso being ridiculous on CSI: Miami.

Before I went to sleep I checked out what to do in South Dakota. Turns out Mt. Rushmore is right outside Rapid City (where we originally wanted to drive but it was too dark!). So that, and the Badlands National Park are on the route for tomorrow as we head to Sioux Falls.


Great Falls to West Yellowstone

We hadn’t decided last night whether we were going to Yellowstone or just going to move on East, but this morning I got some good, cheap advice and decided that, hell – I never know when I’ll be in Wyoming again (never?), so there was really no excuse to skip it. Our new plan was to go through Yellowstone and see Old Faithful, then head out towards Cody, WY.

After we gathered all our things and packed the car we ate some quick breakfast on the road from McDonalds. Nothing better than orange juice and coffee in the morning. Yum! We then drove around town taking some pictures of the many, many casinos as well as hundreds of signs for an “Ultimate Elimination Event”. The sign wasn’t specific, but we feared the worst.

The road to Yellowstone through Montana is really long. Will drove the whole way and we just took some pictures of the scenery and the landscapes. Lots of fields, bales of hay, black angus cows, and some mountains in the distance. It really is cowboy country. We drove past quite a few flat top mountains (think Table Mountain in Cape Town). I wonder how these are formed? Seems like someone stood next to a mountain and chopped it down with the edge of their hand. After driving for a long time we realized we had missed the turn-off by a long shot! So we were about an hour farther West than we needed to be. We backtracked and started back South again towards the park. Most of the rest stops we hit were populated by mainly farmers and hunters. Lots of hunters actually, all wearing camo-gear and bright orange hats.

Finally we made it to the entrance of Yellowstone. There’s a big stone arch leading into the park. It cost $25 for a 7-day pass into the park. One of the cheapest national parks we’ve been into!

After a short drive you end up in the small “town” with the visitors centre. It was steaming hot by the time we got there! We got changed into shorts and t-shirts and we were still sweating like crazy. Quite a far cry from the 0 degree glaciers and Rocky Mountains. Yellowstone is the first national park in the world, and so when it was created it was actually patrolled by the United States army. This town that we were in, Fort Yellowstone, was the military base which has since turned into a tourist town/information center for the park, after the National Park Service took over in 1918.

Yellowstone has incredible scenery. No towering mountains like the Rockies, but there are huge valleys and the mountains are wide and expansive. There is also a wide variety, from rivers and plains to desert like landscapes. There are a lot of fallen tree logs everywhere and most of the trees in the park are only about 6 -10 feet tall. It looked like there was a tornado. Later in the day we saw a sign that explained it – in 1988 there was a massive fire that destroyed most of the park. Visions of Bambi swam in my head. I’m not sure if it’s accurate, but Will says that they used to have really strict forest fire control policies and this caused the underbrush to overgrow, this is what triggered a far more devastating fire than would be expected naturally. That’s what Will says, but he’s a walking encyclopedia so I trust he’s right.

Our first stop in the park was the Mammoth hot springs. Wildly different from the hot springs we’ve been in so far – these are completely natural and untamed. Steaming hot water runs down a hill forming terraces like rice paddies but of all sorts of colours – blue, green, orange, yellow. The hill has all sorts of crystals growing on it. It kind of looks like the mystery chemical bucket we had in the lab back in Waterloo. The air smells strongly of hard boiled eggs from the sulphur in the air. The ground all around it is cordoned off as “thermal ground”, a concept which is prevalent all over Yellowstone park. The ground can appear solid, but it’s often just a thin covering with boiling water below it. The sign said hundreds had been scalded and over a dozen have died from the burns of walking on these thermal grounds. Not a monument to those wanderers in sight, we decided it best to stay on the trails. I did however dip my finger into one of the pools against Anne and Will’s protestations. It was very cold because it was further down the hill. After not being burned they quickly shifted gears to worry me about the extremophile bacteria crawling all over my fingers now! These bacteria can thrive in the extreme heats of the hot springs eating up all the hydrogen sulphide. Yummy.

We were stuck in road construction for 30 minutes on our way to Old Faithful. Construction even happens in the middle of nowhere it seems. At this point my mind wanders and I start thinking about trying to find the double rainbow guy. He’s somewhere in this wilderness, crying, and awe-struck.

On the way we saw a few elk grazing in a field quietly. Very beautiful. We finally saw some bison right on the side of the road. People were about 15 feet from it … complete idiots, but we took a picture from the car. Animal count +1!

We stopped at some geysers on the way. The ground is multicoloured and steaming there. Some parts of the ground were smoking and looked burnt like a cigarette burn. Oh! We saw a raven killing a snake on the road in front of us. Nature in progress, hurrah! At one of the geysers we saw the paint pots which are essentially muddy geysers. The sound is pretty unforgettable, “blup blup blup”. It looked like a prehistoric, primordial, tomato soup. Later we found a herd of bison on either side of the road. Mothers and children running around and grazing. Cool! Round about this time I started driving because Will was getting tired. Saab’s are really nice, smooth drive and they’re really fast.

Finally we made it to Old Faithful. It was quiet. We waited. After a while we decided to play a guessing game (Price is Right rules of course) as to when it would blow. We got there at 6:40, so Anne guessed 7:40, Will 7:25. I went with the $1, or rather 1 minute. While we were waiting I saw a bison roam in the forest behind the Old Faithful. A few minutes later a coyote ran in front of the geyser apparently too cool to notice the hundreds of people staring at it. All the people who brought yappy dogs with them started getting nervous. Around 7:10 the geyser started to bubble and tease us with an eruption. Right at 7:13 it started at full steam. I win two honour points, to be traded in at the nearest honour store. The water flies up into the air, apparently 200 ft to the sky!

After Old Faithful we went into the lodge and grabbed something to eat. Ironically we found a clock that predicted Old Faithful’s eruption times accurate to 10 minutes. It was set at 7:14. So much for our guessing game.

Then it became dark and Will decided to run off and disappear to look for the hotel after getting in a tiff with Anne. Bad idea. Darkness, wilderness, and splitting up, do not mix(unless in a Friday the 13th horror movie). We couldn’t find him for 30 minutes in the dark. I went out to find him and kept shouting while I was walking around because I was worried about bears. That’s what I’ve heard is the thing to do if walking in the forest alone with bears. You don’t want to surprise a bear – let them know where you are.

I managed to find the inn before I found Will. But unfortunately there were no rooms in the entire park! The man at the desk told me we’d be crazy to head to Cody because it’s about 2 hours through the park in the darkness with animals running out every few hundred meters and then a 2 hour drive through the mountains. Not possible at this hour. So we backtracked and went out the west entrance. The drive was pretty scary with thick forest on each side of the road and the possibility of bison or deer running out into the road. I ran over one mouse and saw one coyote on the side of the road, but luckily no bigger animals.

When we got out of the park it was in the town of West Yellowstone, a small village. We checked into the ‘Ho Hum Hotel’, an aptly named establishment. The owner looked like Norman Bate’s mother and all the license plates in the lot were from Iraq war veterans.

Anne ate dinner at McDonalds (again, gah, because everything else was closed at that time). We tried hard to avoid it. We came back to the hotel and bought some Samuel Adams Imperial White beer and watched some survivalist TV shows (popular in this part of America it seems) until bed time. It might seem ludicrous, but this is how we slept.


Vulcan to Great Falls, MT

Woke up around 9am and I am feeling a wee bit better. Thank goodness! We haven’t done much this morning. I just cooked some eggs and toast that Will picked up. Our plan is to encourage Will get his stuff packed up (it takes more than a carrot and a stick!), and maybe take a day-time tour around town.

Funny small town anecdote: Will’s general repairman is his landlord here in Vulcan, but there’s a notice that any appliance repairs (oven, microwave, etc.) are to be sent to Tom. Tom coincidentally happens to also hold the post of Mayor of Vulcan. Talk about multitasking. I wonder which job he held first, mayor or appliance repairman?

So it ended up at 4pm before we had the car packed and Will’s apartment cleaned. I learned a new skill: how to change a toilet seat. Lucky me. Finally when we were all packed up we took a quick driving tour around town and we went to the pharmacy to take some photos of the mural and pick up some more Neocitrine. I should seriously invest some money in Novartis at the rate that I get sick.

We had some A&W before we left (it was either that or Subway, the only two chains in Vulcan). The town gift shop was closed, but had good sign in the window, “Loiterers will be sent to planet c-12 in star sector 8c194”. They really like this Star Trek thing.

After we hit the road there really wasn’t much going on until we came close to the border. This took about 2 hour or so if my memory is not mistaken. When we got near the border we decided to put on some Johnny Cash and tried our best to look like cowboys. We were entering Montana after all.

At the border things went off without a hitch for the most part. The guy was actually pretty friendly at the booth. As soon as he found out I was British though … I heard “Kid.” And a pause. “We need you to pull the car up to the left there and go in and wait on the bench with the sign above it that says, ‘Group W’. Now kid!“. OK, he didn’t quite say that, but I still had to go inside and get inspected, detected, deflected, and all kinds of mean and nasty horrible things in there. Mostly had to pay $6 and deal with some snotty attitude, but then I was free to go into the Wild West where they shoot each other for leaving their lights on, on the highway (dun dun dun … foreshadow).

After this we had a relatively short night time drive towards Great Falls. Once we pulled into town we had to laugh at the fact that every second building had a casino in it. We stopped at 3 hotels, all of which had casinos, but found they were too expensive so we made our way to the Super 8 finally. The clerk at the desk is probably still telling us about the breakfast special. He was truly the slowest person alive in the service industry. I’m sure there had to be some non-living persons, so he can’t compete there – but in the living category, he takes the cake.

We got set up in our rooms (Will had his own), I took a look through the Gideon Bible for a bit to see what that was all about. It just started as two travelling Christian people apparently and then grew to this whole organization of people putting bibles in drawers. Our stomachs then dragged us around town to find food, and after searching for a long while we ended up at McDonalds. At this time of night McDonalds was the least disgusting thing you could get in Great Falls. I got a salad to eat back at the hotel which was quite nice and had Newman’s Own dressing. That’s all folks!


Edmonton to Vulcan

Woke up sicker than ever. Sucks! I dragged myself out of bed and packed up. We said bye to Josh (Liz had gone to class already). We drove around town for a bit to find this restaurant where we were meeting Will’s other friend, Joe. Joe also works at NINT but doing MEMS and NEMS. More specifically doing magnetic microstructures from permalloy and seeing how quickly they switch polarization after being biased with an outside field. Interesting stuff! He’s also almost finishing up his PhD. The place we originally wanted to have breakfast was packed, so we walked around the block to another place. The staff barely spoke English but were quite nice. I had a bison sausage + eggs breakfast. I found out that bison is not the best thing to have in the morning. Really dry. Makes you feel like you’re turning into a bison a little bit.

We said “Bye” to Joe and then made our way to the West Edmonton Mall, consumer Mecca. WEM is almost funny in terms of it’s size. I literally saw 4 of the exact same hat store, Lids. There were two Radioshacks, two Fido booths, two of most things. It almost seems like they were trying to get big with being big as the only goal in mind. There is no functional benefit to having several of the exact same store in the same building. Unless the bovine shoppers can’t roam to the other side of the mall. Anyways, all insults aside – the mall is fantastic! There are several rollercoasters, a theme park, a water park with a HUGE wave pool, a sea lion demonstration that was actually pretty top-class, a shooting range, oh and did I mention two of every store? There are also a lot of cool stores that you don’t normally see which are more dedicated to a specific brand. There is a Lacoste store, Tommy Hilfiger store, and many more brands. I had a good time there actually.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then hit the road towards Calgary and Vulcan. I am not expecting much from the drive as it seems to be very barren according to Google Maps. We shall see.

The drive turned out to be quite nice, and seeing wide open fields as far as the eye can see is actually a beautiful complement to the staggering mountain ranges. It really is “big sky country” out here. The moon was red and massive because it was so close to the horizon. Usually you never see the moon rise from that close because it’s always obscured by buildings or hills. There weren’t too many stars out though. I guess it’s partly because it was pretty cloudy and partly because the moon was so bright (full moon). I’m reading ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking, and I’ve made it quite a few chapters in. It’s very interesting and so far I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the formulation of our modern view of the universe. The book has a lot of historical information on scientists and theories which is one of my favourite things to learn in science. I like to learn about how scientists came to discover things about the universe; the poor judgements, the brilliant moments of clarity.

Pulling into Vulcan was hilarious because the town is very heavily Star Trek themed. Pulling into town they have a massive starship Enterprise with plaques written in various Trek languages such as Klingon. The visitor center is designed like a starship but looks creepily like a new-age cult’s headquarters. The pharmacy in town has a huge mural of all of the doctors from the Star Trek seasons. “Jim, man, this man’s dying of lurgee! Five lurgees!” –Eddie Izzard

We drove to Will’s apartment and watched some TV before bed. I’m still feeling sick, but fingers crossed this is the last day.


p.s. My cross-country beard is coming along nicely. Well, scraggly as all hell, but that’s nice enough for me.

Jasper to Edmonton

Up in Jasper at 8:30. Feeling more sick than before. Dropped another Neocitrine and then we hit the road. Again we stopped at a grocery store (Robson’s, for anyone curious). This time I had sausage rolls, yogurt, and a carrot cake. We did a bit of back tracking right away to go to Mount Edith Cavell. On the way we saw a Lambourgini and 5 Ferrari’s driving into Jasper. Taking some of those mountain roads in a sports car has some serious appeal. Some of them remind me of the roads down the coast of Croatia. I’ll have to take my Carrera 4S through the Trans Canada Highway one day. One day …

At the start of the road to the mountain we saw a male Elk on the side of the road. Took some photos and moved on up. We got to the parking lot of Mount Edith but we didn’t hike up to the glacier because it was really cold and I was feeling pretty sick. Will didn’t feel cold at all, so it was probably due to me feeling sick that I felt so cold. Another strong deterrent was the warning signs everywhere of a mother grizzly and cubs in the early as of early September. Even without the hike, it was a beautiful spot to stop and we could see the glaciers from where we stopped.

After that we drove down and headed out past Jasper again on the Yellow Head Highway towards Edmonton. We stopped once on the way to see a small waterfall (who’s name escapes me … I think it was Kettlepot or something). We also saw a herd of mountain goats and took a bunch of pictures. CORRECTION: Turns out the “mountain goats”, were actually female and young big-horned sheep! We checked on the interwebs to find that out. Animal identification skills: -1. At least we can tell a horse apart from a moth I guess. Our animal count goes up; but the grizzly remains elusive. Then we decided to go up to the Miette Hotsprings. These are much hotter than the Banff ones and have to be cooled down for human … consumption. I rented a towel and decided to go for a dip even though I wasn’t feeling the best. The pool was incredible! Very nice setting too. More rugged than Banff and seemed more wild, which makes sense because it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. Will was nuts and did the cold dip, where you sit in the hot, 39 celsius, water for a while and then jump out (already crazy because it’s single digits and windy out there) and then go jump in a 10 degree pool! I don’t think my fragile heart could handle that experience so I stayed warm and safe submerged to my chin.

We ate lunch at a little restaurant up on the mountain. I had a Western Denver which is a green pepper and ham omelette on a toasted sandwich. Cuppa coffee and a filled up Lake Louise water bottle, we were ready to go.

On our way down, we saw a motorcycle which had slid out and crashed on a bend. It was barely visible in the trees, but we noticed it because there were a few cars stopped already. I hope the driver was OK! He must have been going too fast round the bend because the bike was facing uphill, and was on the opposite side of the road. Very scary.

After that I slept. Slept and slept and slept. When I woke up, the mountains had been steam rolled into the earth to become flat Albertan fields. The reason for my wakeup was that a deer had darted towards the road from the trees. Luckily the deer ran back before we came too close. Still gave us a bit of a shock.

We drove into the West end of Edmonton which is the farthest thing from mountain beauty you can imagine. Square concrete industrial buildings, factories, and run down stores. Yeuch! Luckily the main part of Edmonton was quite a bit nicer. There’s a big river running through the middle of the city with nice yellowing trees throughout. It isn’t as attractive a city as Vancouver and seems to suffer from incurable urban sprawl, but it is a relatively nice city. Anne and Will were very impressed and could not stop talking about the fact that the streets are all numerical. The North-South ones are Avenues, and the East-West ones are Streets. The house numbers also correspond to the nearest Street/Avenue as well which makes it quite easy to find houses without an address. And in this grid-paper method we made our way to Josh and Liz’s house. They were friends of Will and went to his elementary school and high school. They have a great dog called Stuckey that’s a mix Lab/Retriever and it’s very fun and well behaved. Josh works at NINT (National Institute of Nanotechnology) doing his PhD with the University of Alberta. He’s been building a holographic electron microscope. It sounds really cool, I want to read up on it if there’s any information out there. Theoretically it should be able to obtain structural 3D information about a sample from a single electron point source. Making a hologram, similar to the ones that you see in some credit cards. Neato! Liz is training to be a nurse here at UofA as well. We all went out for dinner to a buffet Indian place which was very stylish and cool. Ate a lot and loosened our belts a few notches. Next we went and bought some beers and spent the night hanging out at Josh and Liz’s place. Hit the hay around 12, feeling pretty sick (from the flu!) and hoping to feel better in the morning.


Banff to Jasper

Woke up at an Inn in Banff, Alberta. Round about 8:30. We were out the door by 9:15 or so and went to Safeway (west coast grocery store) to get some breakfast. I got a traditional hoagie, Anne and Will got bagels. We bought some fruit and I got a coffee from Starbucks. Anne and I were feeling really sick so we loaded up on Neocitrine. We first found an auto shop in town to replace the driver’s side headlight. We were worried about having to drive through the night at some point; although to this point we had planned our driving really well in between stops. Oh – I found out from Wendy Darling (the Nano coordinator) that I didn’t have to rush home from my trip to mark those work reports. That relieved quite a bit of stress and I think we’ll change our trip around to go to Edmonton after Jasper so that we don’t have to double back along the Icefields highway.

Our next stop was inside Banff at the Upper Hot Springs! It’s run by the federal government and you can rent towels there. The entrance fee was something like $7. This was really worth seeing! The water is 39 celsius and treated so it doesn’t have the nasty sulphur smell. It was essentially a pool that was warmed up to a hot bath temperature. The setting is incredible with mountains behind you and frosty air above the water’s surface. We stayed for about 20 minutes and then decided to hit the road. When we went back up to go to the car we passed was a running brook with a nice fountain, and I decided to put my hand in to see if it was hot water (turns out it wasn’t). But to my surprise I found these little silver trinkets right where I put my hand in. One is an Indian feather, a tiny buffalo, and a small flower. All of them have small holes so they seem to be for a necklace or something. Fortunate fountain I guess.

After the hot baths we hit the road heading towards Jasper. I was really surprised at the amount of ravens in the Rockies. They’re also massive and quite frightening. Poe really picked the right bird for his creepy poem. Our first stop was Lake Louise which took about an hour from Banff. I slept most of the way due to the grippe. Lake Louise was stunning. Beautiful blues, gorgeous greens, and … brilliant browns. The mountains frame the view so nicely. White snowy caps. There was a faint mist on the water and a couple canoeing. I took some nice pictures like a good tourist would. It was surprisingly quiet and peaceful there even with the other tourists. We went into the Fairmont Hotel right on the lake’s edge. Got a hot water and filled it with Neocitrine. Also bought a metal waterbottle for $9. Got it filled with free lake/glacier water. Even with the tourists there is was quiet and peaceful. There was snow on the ground and some of the leaves were starting to turn yellow already in September!

Next we went to Lake Moraine which is a lake created by a blockage caused by a glacial moraine (I think …). There were tons of rocks and boulders that formed a big mountain at the foot of the lake. I took one of the very flat rocks from the pool as a souvenir. There was a hike to a lake called Consolation Lake (a slightly depressing name), but it required 4 people to go on it because of the danger of bears. Cool! I’ve been yearning to see a grizzly, but I think I’m alone in that wish. Whenever we stop a game we sometimes play is I’ll point out a tree or rock in the distance and say, “If a bear were there, then I’d be worried”. Anne and Will usually pinpoint some distant tree about 15x farther away. I guess I should take grizzlies more seriously. I found a little pamphlet that said you had to be 10 bus lengths away (100m) from a grizzly to be safe. They can run as fast as a race horse. Anne and Will seem to be placing their money on the bear winning the race rather than themselves.

After that we hit the road and started off on the Icefields Parkway. We took some incredible photos on this trip up Banff National Park. We didn’t stop anywhere until we hit Jasper National Park. That’s where we stopped at the Athabasca Glacier. The altitude was 2000m above sea level at the parking lot (higher than the height of Mt. Revelstoke from the day before), so the air was pretty thin and it made the hike a little tough. It was about a 5 minute hike up to the tip of the glacier. Along the way there are many signs warning you not to go on the ice at all. Apparently the last 3 rescue attempts were unsuccessful because it takes hours to get you out of the crevasses and hypothermia usually sets in quickly. It was very cold as well so I can imagine how you would be in some serious trouble on the glacier. Also, along the way there are signs showing where the glacier edge was historically. In 1982 it was about 100-200 meters away from where it is now. A lot of the signs say that this is due to climate change (which is due to human activity). However, when we were on our way back down, I saw the same separation (100-200m) between markings from 1902 and 1925. I wonder how much human activity there was back then that would have affected these glaciers? This was before automobiles, plastics, and multinational oil/mining industries were ubiquitous. Curious … I wonder how this is explained. Anyways, the glacier was gorgeous, and the massive lateral moraines it leaves on the sides of it. The glacier must be about 4 stories high of solid ice. You can also see the large rocks on the ground have deep scratches and gouges in them from the glacier. There are parts of the ice that are bright blue from the extreme compression making dense ice which absorbs longer wavelengths and reflect shorter (blue) back.

After that we stopped at two beautiful waterfalls, the Sunwapta Falls and the Athabasca Falls. Athabasca has a lot of unique features such as massive potholes made from circular water flow over years as well as abandoned paths that the water took. These left deep, narrow canyons which you could walk through. Interesting fact: The bull trout is the only fish above the falls, whereas below the falls there are several varieties of fish. It is a mystery as to how the bull trout exists above the falls. It may have been human intervention to create marine life up the river. Second interesting fact: I’ll have to show a map, but the Athabasca Glacier is the source of the water for Falls which then drain into the Mackenzie River and end up in the Arctic Ocean above Alaska. To me it always seems weird when water flows North because it seems as if it’s going uphill (Treebeard reference any Tolkeineers reading this).

OK I’ll speed this up because it’s getting long. We finally got to Jasper just as it was getting dark. The most hilarious hotel we found was called “Lobstick Lodge”. We drove around town till we found the Toquin Inn and stayed in a 2 bedroom place there (so that Will doesn’t wake us up with his thunder-snore). It was $160 for the night, so pretty pricey – but Jasper is more expensive than Banff for some reason. We went to the local town pub, De’d Dog, and I ordered a Keiths Dark and a Game Burger (Elk, bison, and venison) Yum! It didn’t taste like beef at all.

We hit the road and went to sleep pretty soon after we got to the hotel.


Salmon Arm to Banff

Ok, so the stormy night had no lightning. No rain. But you’d be hard pressed to tell Will’s snoring apart from thunder! Anne and I were kept up all night. I think we managed to sneak 2 hours while Will had his face pressed into a pillow (not by my hand … although trust me I was considering it). Eventually we just went to Tim Hortons across the road at 4am and had a tea and just laugh/cried about our predicament. We vowed from here on, Will was getting his own room!

After our 2 hour sleep, Will cheerfully woke us up at 8:00 as we had planned the night before. Anne and I scowling, we got ready at the speed of molasses. Some stale breakfast, a cup of fresh orange juice, and mother nature’s adrenaline, coffee, were wolfed down. Then we hit the mountain road.

Our first stop was the last stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway. We visited the point where the last spike was driven linking the western portion to the one that spanned from the east. The spike was driven on Nov 7, 1885 and connected ocean to ocean. They didn’t show exactly which was the actual last spike … so I just picked one and decided that was the one.

We finally made it to Revelstoke after an hour and a half or so. Right away we headed to Mt. Revelstoke, a national park. When we got to the ticket booth it was Will and I in the front and Anne was in the back. After we said we were going to be in the mountains for a couple of days the nice lady told us that for the two of us, it would be $31. Slightly confused, Will and I looked at each other. I looked back and saw that due to the tinted windows, no one could see Anne. We payed our $31 and I told Anne to keep her head down in a whisper. All was going well until Anne’s cellphone started going off. I then had to pretend to rummage in the back while Anne was thrashing through her bag to turn it off. Suspicion quelled, the lady gave us the ticket and we burned rubber! Thus began the tradition on the rest of the trip – whenever we hit a national park border, the one in the back had to play dead.

Mt. Revelstoke was wonderful! 1600m of crystal clear air, panoramic views, and bear warnings. Something neat that we found out is that the trees at the top are much thinner because it’s a “snow forest”. The trees can’t handle the large amount of snow that falls on Mt. Revelstoke, so they’ve changed to be much thinner versions of their lower altitude relatives. This was the first time we’d seen snow on the trip. It was also very cold! We also saw some birds that we later identified as gray jays from one of the signs on the hike we took. They also have a mini glacier called the “ice box”. There was some ice at the bottom that doesn’t melt year round. None of us really felt any effects of the altitude on our walking or breathing.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain we immediately made our way to McDonalds. So sue us.

Our next stop along the highway was the Skunk Cabbage Trail. I wasn’t a big fan of stopping for this one, but Will is the captain. It turned out to be a nice walk along a boardwalk through a wetland. Seriously, this country has every type of wilderness imaginable. Case in point: our next stop was the Old Cedar forest. An ancient forest with trees that were hundreds of years old. At the premier of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, these trees were already 100 years old. The temperature underneath these trees was also a lot cooler than outside.

The scenery continued to become bolder, more lush, and diverse. Eventually all of the mountains we saw were becoming white capped. Each mountain ran its fingers through the clouds. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then seeing these mountains first hand is worth all the works of the English language. Pictures are really just a shadow of their majesty. The mountains seem to breathe deeply, pulling you in; they’re alive.

I literally took hundreds of pictures of the mountains, the ranges, and the foliage, but I’ll just put the one up there. It’s interesting as well because each mountain is completely unique and really stands out on its own. Once we got into Banff National Park I started to see some pine trees that had turned red and had lost all their leaves. After a while I saw entire forests of trees without leaves! They didn’t appear burnt, so I don’t think it was from a forest fire. The only the thing I can think of is the beetle that I had heard mention of a few months ago. If I’m correct, it is really terrifying to see the forests decimated by the beetles. It may be hard to see but in the picture below, all of the forest on the mountain is red and dead.

We kept on trucking towards Banff and I read through some more of “A Brief History of Time” and listened to some great music. Nirvana, Radiohead, The Beatles, and Tragically Hip. Eventually we reached the border of BC and Alberta and this is also the great divide. All of a sudden the rivers seem to reverse direction because on the BC side the rivers drain into the Pacific Ocean, but on the Albertan side they drain either upwards into the Arctic or into Hudson Bay. Pretty cool how instantaneously this happens. Another surprising feature of Alberta is that there is the sudden appearance of ravens! Edgar Allen Poe ravens! They’re massive creatures and kind of aggressive as well.

We saw the spiral tunnel (not sure if that’s the exact name) where if you’re lucky you can see a train entering a tunnel in the side of a mountain, and moments later coming out of a hole above it. We didn’t see it, but looking at the pictures it looks pretty snakey. At this part Anne also took a really nice picture of me, so I’m going to be devilishly narcissistic and post it. Notice my Canada sweater, as well as the glorious man mountain. A few minutes later we also ran into some elk crossing the road. They’re quite comfortable with cars it seems, they mostly seemed to ignore us. Something that Alberta does that’s pretty good is that they’ve got the same bridges for animals covered with soil and grass that Croatia has on its highways. Prevents road accidents and facilitates migrations. Go Alberta!

We also came across a floating mountain. Probably the coolest mountain there is. Probably. As it became dark the moon was also nicely set against some of the mountains. I really want the second picture on a t-shirt … except with a howling wolf in the foreground.

As night fell we pulled into Banff and noticed that one of our headlights had gone out. Luckily there was still a bit of light so we weren’t in bad shape. We’d have to change it the next morning though. We found a hotel pretty quickly. The first one we stopped at actually. Got two rooms, so that Anne and I could get a chance to sleep finally! It was a cool room because Will’s room was adjoining and we were out in the main area. After we got settled we went and walked around town. Banff is sort of like Disney for mountain villages. But it’s really pretty and does actually seem pretty authentic. All of the stores’ signs are made out of wood. Even big chains have to have a wooden sign. There are lots of typical Canadian tourist shops with some very atypical goods for sale. For instance, a $39,999 fossilized cave bear skeleton, or a $25,000 woolly mammoth tusk. Banff definitely caters for the rich and famous. I could afford a small crystal of bismuth which is really fascinating looking. It’s got a crazy crystal structure and makes these step edges which almost look like mayan ruins. The oxide surface gives it an iridescent look. Very cool. We went to an Irish pub for dinner. It was very fancy and the food was really good. After that we headed back to the hotel and I read for a while before falling asleep with my book. I wanted to spend so many days in Banff!