Mérida or Bust — Day One: Haven to Douglas, WY

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,400

Kilometres Driven Today: 830

Total Kilometres Driven: 830

Kilometres Left: 4,570

Amount of Trip Completed: 15.37%

Google says I did 871KM, but my odometre says 830KM.

Okay, I know I have A LOT to catch up on. What I’ve concluded from the last week is that it is no longer possible for me to be “semi-online.” My 10 months in Europe have made me accustomed to living in the 21st century and I’m lost without access to Siri and the ability to be able to do what needs doing online when I need to do it. It has nothing to do with not being able to unplug, which I absolutely can do, just not in the context of trying to plan an international move! I was so discombobulated and disorganised this past week. 🙁

I am going to try do proper backdated posts about the myriads of things I had to do to prepare to leave this morning, but here’s the short of it:

-I returned to Haven late last Tuesday night, thanks to my neighbours C&C picking me up in Regina;

-I stayed with C&C so that I could more easily pack up (never mind that Haven had no power, water, or Internet). They have tons of room and a similar routine to me so this worked out super well;

-Caroline kept me well fuelled with one delicious meal after another. Here’s the brunch she made for the two of us on Sunday, what she calls an “apple pancake,” but which I find is more like an apple upside down cake even if the apples end up floating to the top:

-I had some work done on Moya to ready her for her final epic voyage. Among the things I tasked my mechanic to resolve is why my overhead light stays on, requiring me to pull the fuse when I park lest I drain the battery. That wound up being harder to diagnose than expected, so he told me to keep pulling the fuse like I’ve been doing and gave me this to make it easier:

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I was suitably amused by his solution, especially since he didn’t charge me for poking around;

-I was able to renew my driver’s license, but it didn’t come before I left so now I have to figure out how to get it to Mexico (my host in Chelem suggested I have it sent to her in Ontario for her bring it down in the fall rather than have it couriered to Mexico);

-I got my property tax assessment and went to town ready to pick a fight because I thought that the amount was a mistake at best or a cash grab at worst. Turned out that the number was real and reflects the current market. So Haven is now valued at 5.35 times what it was valued the last couple of years and I’ve been assured I will only get a token property tax increase. Looks like the expected real estate boom has started!!!

-The traitorous weather was not conducive to packing:

It was freezing in Miranda and I was not able to give her a cleaning before taking off again. By the way, I had some serious mouse damage (my scarf drawer was decimated), so that’s another reason I couldn’t have stayed in Miranda since she needed serious disinfecting.;

-All the Tetris I played as a kid paid off. There isn’t an ounce of space left in the truck:

Here’s how I loaded the cab, filling it with boxes…

And then stuffing soft items into the gaps:

I got about 95% of my most prized possessions into the truck! I’m not that disappointed since I’m headed into a humid climate and so it doesn’t make sense to bring all my journals, photo albums, and the rest of the books into that climate until I fully commit to it. I am going to have to fully unpack when I get to Chelem otherwise I risk packed items moulding over the summer.

So today was departure day. I’d hoped to leave yesterday, but that was a moving target and I was fine with leaving as late as Friday. For one thing, I desperately wanted one day before departure where I could just stop to sit for a moment and think about anything I might have forgotten. I managed to get the afternoon and evening off.

Caroline made her amazing homemade pizza (with homemade venison salami!) for dinner so I could have leftovers for my drive today! After dinner, she and I sat down at her computer so I could show her a few things. She has moved to a Mac and has had basically no learning curve. I’m so proud of her and happy that she now has a computer that works well so we can keep in touch better. It’ll also be so much easier to help her troubleshoot issues, although based on an email she sent me today, I think she’ll be able to handle many of her own issues. We then played cards, visited a bit with my immediate neighbours K&T, and I ended up going to bed way, way, way, way too late, well past midnight.

I wanted to be up at 6:30, but was, of course, awake at 5:00. I got up around 6:15 and was delighted to find Charles up and the coffee already perking. The border didn’t open till 8:00 and I had less than an hour drive there, so I sat for a bit before dressing and putting the last of my bags in the truck, as well as mug of coffee for the road.

Goodbyes are always difficult, but we all three vowed to see one another again in two years in Mexico!!!

Standing by the truck, looking east. Goodbye, Canada, it’s been good knowing you, but I’m heading somewhere new…

I made a pit stop in Coronach and got to the border at 8:30. Based on my experience recently at airports, I made the decision to cross while wearing a wig rather than a headscarf. The atmosphere at the crossing was very different than it was under the Obama years, much more no nonsense than conversational and friendly. For example, I was greeted with “Passport?” rather than, “Hi! How are you today?” I was asked the usual questions about where I was going, where I live, did I have any ATF, etc. All seemed to be going well, but soon as the officer opened the rear of the truck, he asked me to step outside and go into the waiting room. There, he had me fill out a customs form. As I did so, I overheard him say to someone, “This one is going to take a while.”

Well, at least they weren’t making me unpack the truck, but, dang, I’d forgotten my coffee! When the officer came back after just a few minutes to get my declaration, I asked if I could get the coffee and he said, “We’ll be done in a few minutes.”

Curious.

Sure enough, he had me back in the truck a minute later, at most 12 minutes from the time I’d started the interview! The last thing he said to me was, “You wrote a book?” which tells me that they have Rae as an alias on file for me, that he Googled me, and that whatever he found told him that I likely was not carrying contraband or otherwise a threat (by the way, I had provided him an inventory of what I have in the truck).

One of the questions I was asked was how I plan to support myself in Mexico and he didn’t seem happy with my answer that I was going to work there for myself and that Mexico was satisfied with that. My answer should have been, “That’s what made it possible to get my residency visa.” He also asked me if I’m keeping a Canadian bank account and it was obvious that he liked my answer that I am not cutting ties with Canada at this time.

So it was another absolutely uneventful and easy, it not particularly welcoming, entry into the US. I pointed Moya south, fuelled up in Scobey, then continued south towards Circle, where I made another pit stop, before pulling into a Wendy’s in Miles City at 12:30 to get some lunch (most of the pizza had been breakfast, with a bit left for an afternoon snack!), use their WiFi, and find a room for the night. The greeting there was so friendly and a reminder of why I’ve so enjoyed my travels to the US in the past.

After a bit of research, I decided to push on to Douglas, Wyoming, where I would land around 6:00. That was a much longer day than I wanted to do, but there aren’t a lot of cities in that part of Wyoming so I would either stop too late or too early. I’m staying with one of you lovely readers just south of Denver tomorrow and will have a relatively short (400KM) day from Douglas, so I can get a late start.

I just love this corner of the US, just rolling hills not unlike home. It was a very isolated drive, of course. I stopped in Broadus for fuel and coffee and then drove straight to Douglas, with only one pit stop at a rest area about 45 minutes from my destination. After weeks of GREY, it was amazing to get blue sky the deeper I got into Wyoming. There was a brief thundershower right before Douglas, but it cleared quickly.

The hotel rate I was quoted was 79USD. I asked if they had an “Exhausted Canadian driving to Mexico” rate and… got a 14USD discount. WOW! That covered some takeout and a beer for dinner. The liquor store is right next to the hotel and the lady there was super helpful and friendly in showing me what they had for single beers. Interestingly, I no longer get carded when I buy booze in the US so I must be starting to look my age at last… 🙂

I’m sure there should be more to this already novel-length post, but I’m ready to drop. Hopefully, I’m back to a more regular posting schedule. April really has been sheer madness. But I’m on my way!

I learned about this song just before heading down to Mexico for the first time. It no longer applies to me, but I love the tune. So here’s an earworm for you. 🙂

A Lovely Send Off

Yesterday was my big packing and cleaning day starting at 2:00 p.m. I had quite the list to get through, but it came together very, very quickly. I couldn’t believe that I was doing the winterizing chores so late in October in a tee-shirt! It really was a blessing.

Around 4:30, I headed over to C&C’s to drop off keys and a letter for the bank in case Caroline needs to deposit cheques for me. One glass of wine turned into… well, I rather lost count, as well as an invitation to stay for supper! I had closed up the kitchen and was going to nibble on nuts, cheese, and fruit so I was very grateful! We had pork ribs, something I’ve never had outside of a restaurant, and dang were they good, so moist and flavourful! She also dressed up some tinned sweet corn with feta, something I will have to do one day. We also had rice and tomatoes fresh from the garden, in late October! Normally, we don’t do dessert, but she had made an almond extract flavoured pastry, something I go gaga for, so she wanted me to try it. Yum!

I got in around 8:30 and promptly went to bed. Unfortunately, I was wide awake at 2:30! I only managed to doze until about 5:45, a very disappointing night ahead of a full day.

It was very, very, very dark out for me to finalize some chores and I only had one of the world’s most expensive flashlights to help me (my iPhone!) as I took down the booster antenna, took a final power reading, and put away the power cord. Thankfully, it really wasn’t that cold. Again, what a blessing! I was ready to go around 6:50.

Charles was going hunting this morning, so Caroline told me to stop in on my way out to get coffee since there would be lots left from his early morning cup, a much appreciated gesture that meant I didn’t have to wait till I got to Coronach. It also meant that I could have a wash and clean my teeth with hot running water instead of the icy stuff I’d left myself in a bowl before shutting down the water! I thought Caroline was sound asleep, but she emailed later to say that she flashed her bedroom lights at me as I drove off!

I have to say I had a minor panic attack before I pulled away, wondering what the heck I had forgotten. This is what happens when you are too organized and everything happens so smoothly! 😀

It was still pitch dark as I drove out of the hamlet, so I didn’t get a final view of my beloved hills. The sun started to rise as I left Willow Bunch and it was light when I reached Coronach, the last stop before the border, around 7:45. I went in to get another coffee and it was free! How lovely! Then, I had to kill a few minutes until SaskTel opened at 8:00, so I switched out the currency in my wallet. I finally got through to SaskTel so I could ‘suspend’ my service for three months. All that means is that I get switched to their cheapest plan for that time, but it still saves me $150 over the winter.

It was finally time to go to the border. I had perhaps a one minute wait to get to speak to an officer. Then, I had a super easy interview:

Where do you live?

Did you come from there?

Do you own this truck?

Where are you going? Wow! Do you work there? Oh, good for you!

Where do you cross? Do you always cross there?

How long will it take you to get to Nogales?

What do you have in the back of your truck? (I don’t think they even opened it!)

Do you have any fruit?

Do you have any firearms for self-protection?

Do you have any medical marijuana?

Drive safe and good luck!

I always feel so welcome into the U.S. Nice work, Border Patrol!

It wasn’t even 8:30 by this point, so I told the GPS to take me to Devils Tower, Wyoming, and I was finally truly on my way!

A Full Day With a Visit to the Big Muddy Badlands and Castle Butte

Today was the day to go get my booster, but it was also the day that my internet situation exploded media-wise. I woke up to a link in a comment to a write-up by CBC about our internet situation. I was, of course, pissed off by our reeve’s lack of support for the project. I was misunderstood/misquoted in a remark I made about the number of people affected and instead of saying something like, “The number of people don’t matter,” he just dismissed my efforts. Lovely to have community support. I then made the mistake of looking at comments and spent too much time replying to trolls. I’ve decided to not go back and look at any other comments!

I finally got on the road around 8:20. I stopped at the gas bar in Coronach before the border to get a coffee and was told I didn’t have to pay! It’s such a small thing, but it really reset my mood! And the coffee was actually quite good, to my surprise!

I was at the border about an hour after leaving home. The crossing was painless beyond having to explain what a cell signal booster does and why I need one. I then enjoyed a drive across Montana landscape that looks a lot like ours to arrive in Plentywood around 10:15. I was picking up my package at the Little Muddy Dry Goods store, which offers a package service for Canadians, but discovered that Main Street isn’t the road that cuts west-east through town. I stopped for fuel (saving 20CAD even with the exchange rate) and got directions.

The package service pickup is at the back of a bright clean open store. I was a bit dismayed that the room was open to the public, like the bar in Opheim I’ve used in the past, but was assured that the door is closed and locked when there is no staff around… I paid my 5USD and then lugged the huge box back to the truck. There, I opened up the package to make sure everything was there and I knew what I was bringing back across the border.

It was about 10:50 by this point. I was an hour earlier than I had thought to be in Plentywood, so it felt like a weird time to hunt down lunch, but I was ready to eat. I’d done research ahead of time and so I headed to the Cousins Restaurant to see if I could order off the lunch menu that early. I got to the restaurant and was greeted very warmly by a server. I find that sometimes these small town restaurants are light on the customer service because they’re not used to seeing strangers and the locals know the drill, but this was not the case here. I was handed a menu that had all their options on it, not just breakfast, so I figured I could order lunch.

The menu was pretty typical American diner fare, so I opted for a ‘patty melt’ which is a fancy term for a hamburger between slices of toast rather than a bun. This turned out to be a slice of ground beef with heaps of perfectly sautéd onions and melty American ‘Swiss’ cheese’ between slices of pumpernickel bread. The menu had said ‘marble rye’, but the pumpernickel flavour was really strong, which was a plus! It elevated the sandwich from pretty ordinary to something special. The sandwich came with fries for 7.99USD. I gave the server my last 10USD (I’d withdrawn 50USD from my US account, so if you’re following my day, you’ll know that I had 10USD left!). I’m really glad I had lunch at Cousins Restaurant.

Then, it was time to head up to the border at Regway/Raymond, which I hadn’t even known existed between Portal and Scobey until John in Santa Fe told me about it! There, upon seeing my passport and being told where I live, the customs official exclaimed that he recognised me from the radio this morning…

I declared the booster and he had me go in to pay. Then something interesting happened. He clued in that I’d said I work from home as a transcriptionist/proofreader and that I was bringing in a booster, so he asked if I was bringing it in for commercial purposes. Oh, boy, I thought. This is going to cost me! I cautiously asked what’s the difference. He looked at me like I had snakes growing out of my head. “Has no one at the border ever told you that if you import stuff for your business you don’t have to pay the PST???!!!” HUH???!!! Well, that was news to me! Dang!

It was then time to figure out what I owed now that I was importing as a business. I had my USD invoice and my PayPal receipt showing what I’d paid in Canadian. He said that I’d probably get a better exchange rate through whatever system they use and I said that the exchange rate is worse now than it was when I bought the booster almost two weeks ago. He did the math and went, “Yup. According to your PayPal rate, you owe me $53. According to our rate right now, you owe me $61. That will be $53, please.”

First time I came away from the border having paid less than I expected to pay. Lovely guy. And yet, he and another guard then emptied out my truck (thankfully, I had very little in it) and even went through my purse, which I had left on the front seat. It’s so lovely to be waved through into a foreign country and be treated like a criminal when coming into your own. But, hey, I saved $53…

From the border, I headed north into the Big Muddy Badlands, eventually pulling over to check my emails. I had a voicemail from someone at CBC Radio wanting to schedule ad interview for later that day, so I was able to return that call and set up a time for them to call me.

Then, it was time to head on to Castle Butte, a famous landmark in the area. I thought I’d have trouble finding it, but there was a sign announcing the turnoff. Castle Butte is a particularly remarkable hill in the middle of lots of other hills and was used as a landmark in the old days. I arrived, changed into a hiking skirt and my Keen sandals and pretty much crab walked my way to the top. It was very slippery! But I got up there without much incident and was surprised when I reached the summit effortlessly.

The trip down was another story, though! I crouched down and pretty much slid my way to the bottom. Then, I had a walk around the entire structure.

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And people think Saskatchewan is flat…

From Castle Butte, I took the back road through Harp Tree to get to Willow Bunch. There were just one or two signs the whole way there to assure me that I was heading in the right direction. Just as I was certain I was completely misplaced, I saw the red tower of the Willow Bunch Museum! Whew, what an adventure! But I wouldn’t have really needed a search party since I had cell service the whole way through this particularly desolate part of the province…

When I got in, I called Caroline, who got home late last night, to check in as she’d left me a message and asked me to do that. I asked if I could come by around 4:00 so I could do my interview from their landline. Of course! So I called back my contact at CBC Radio and gave him C&C’s number.

I then very carefully unpacked my booster, making sure I kept the packing material and did as little damage to it as I could. The materials are really heavy and obviously of better quality than what I’ve received from Wilson.

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I tried to set the booster up temporarily without mounting the antenna at any great height, but I got the ‘you have oscillation’ error message that means that the interior and exterior antennas are too close together. I managed to get the old antenna off the pole and the new one mounted with a minimum amount of effort, but I still couldn’t get the booster to work. I went so far as to install the booster in the shed, which was as much horizontal separation as I had cable for, but that still wasn’t enough… Tomorrow, I’ll go to town and get another section of pole and hope that another 10′ of vertical separation will do the trick. If not, I’m at a loss and will contact the sellers to get their thoughts. I’m disappointed, to say the least. I had a feeling this unit would be overkill for my small property and I might be right… But I’m not giving up yet!

Then, it was time to head over to C&C’s, where I had a coffee and catchup before my interview. I think the interview went well and I was able to share how I lose internet during the day and have to pack up my things and race up the hill.

I think I’m done with this issue because nothing is going to get done. I’ve fought a good fight, but with SaskTel not having to answer to anyone and my community management not willing to get involved, this will never get resolved. Time to start thinking about where I’ll spend next summer since it won’t be here…

After my interview, I got another coffee and then Caroline asked if I could stay for supper! Of course! 😀 She made her amazing whisky-marinaded salmon with scarlet runner beans, corn on the cob, and grilled zucchini. She is such a good cook! It was a lovely meal where we all came away replete, but not stuffed. They don’t do dessert, but they do do wine! So we sat out for a bit to finish our glasses of fermented grape juice, then I headed home with a giant zucchini.

When I got in, I remounted the old antenna onto the broomstick and stuck the whole thing in the truck like I used to have it set up, then restarted the old booster. It’s going to rain tomorrow, but hopefully I can do more work on the new booster Sunday and Monday and get it working… Croft, you’d better be online this weekend! 😉

Whew, it’s been a very long and full day. Time for a hot shower and hopefully a good night’s sleep. I’ve been so stressed that I have been sleeping poorly, but hopefully the exercise I did today will help.

At a Familiar Starbucks, or Stettler AB to Minot ND

I’m back at the Minot Starbucks where I got online last time I was here before getting my cell phone connection to work. It’s been a long couple of days and today is not over!

Going back to Stettler for a bit, there was a lot to celebrate on Tuesday night, so Donna, Ken, and I treated ourselves to dinner at Stettler’s White Goose Restaurant. The food was excellent and reasonably priced! I enjoyed their chicken souvlaki and would go back to this restaurant without hesitation.

Wednesday morning, I dropped the truck off at CR Glass at 8AM. The other glass place in town looked at me like I was an alien on Tuesday when I asked about the possibly of having my windshield replaced that day or first thing Wednesday. CR Glass said on Tuesday that they didn’t have one in stock, but that they’d have it by 8AM Wednesday and I could be on the road by 1:30ish. They were true to their word and the cost was only $262 with the tax. Thanks, CR Glass!

Goodbyes are always hard, and especially so when you know you won’t be seeing dear friends for another year. I mean, what would be the odds that I’d have to come back again to Alberta before my expected return date?! So I made sure to have everything packed up so I could leave straight from CR Glass instead of going back to Donna and Ken’s.

Donna made sure I was loaded down with electronic rejects, including a little inverter to charge my laptop and iPad when I’m driving! Croft had mentioned such a device, but I misunderstood what he meant, thinking he was talking about a 12V charger. Thanks, Donna!

Google Maps said I was looking at 10+ hours to my property, putting my ETA at about midnight, which was too late when I factored in breaks. But my GPS put the ETA at 11:00, which meant about midnight with breaks. I decided to try for it and reevaluate as I approached Swift Current.

The drive was smooth and uneventful until I got to about 30KM shy of Brooks and I discovered that my gas gauge is not properly calibrated. I went from having a quarter tank of fuel to being in the red in a matter of a couple of kilometres! I was on fumes when I pulled into the first gas station I could find and put in a full tank and then some. Talk about stressful! But my nerves were soothed when I was told, “You got plenty of gas. How about a free hot drink?” So I came out of there with a nice coffee with hazelnut creamer.

It was coming on 6:30ish or so when I hit Medicine Hat, so I took a bit of a detour to a Safeway to pick up a semblance of a picnic for dinner and breakfast.

By the time I turned onto SK highway 37 at Gull Lake, my ETA to my property was only 10:45. I was going to make it!

Next time I go to my property, I will stay on highway 1 to Swift Current and only turn to highway 13 from there. Highway 13 from Cadillac to Weyburn is beautiful, but the bit between the junction of 37 and Cadillac was pretty rough.

I was coming onto a quarter tank of fuel when I hit Cadillac (hilarious, I used to live in Pontiac, but I digress). No problem, there’s a Husky there. Except that I arrived at about 8:30 and it was closed, with the next gas station being more than 100KM away and just as likely to be closed. I just about had a heart attack! And then I noticed the note under the closed sign, that gas was still available after hours with a credit card. There was two pages worth of instructions, but I quickly ascertained that the process was just like getting fuel at AFD Petroleum in Dawson City. So I had no trouble getting my fuel.

It was just starting to get dark when I rolled into Assiniboia and there was still pink at the edges of the sky when I landed on my property at bang on 10PM! I was able to set up camp and was snug in bed by 10:30. I read till 11:00 and slept soundly till 5AM when I was awoken by the sun since my temporary window covering (garbage bag + duct tape) had come loose. That was still a good night for me and I dozed till 7AM, so I was quite well rested this morning.

It was pretty cold through the night and this morning, but my sleeping bag and blanket were sufficient even though I was just sleeping in a t-shirt and shorts. I even left the canopy door cracked open. My fleece was sufficient to ward off the morning chill. All in all, a very successful first night sleeping in Moya!

looking towards the rear of my property

looking towards the rear of my property

this whimsical addition to my radio antenna cracks me up!

this whimsical addition to my radio antenna cracks me up!

looking towards the street (kind of annoyed the for sale sign is still there, but anyway)

looking towards the street (kind of annoyed the for sale sign is still there, but anyway)

I pulled out of my lot at about 7:30. I put Duluth, MN, into my GPS, knowing that I’m not getting there tonight, but it would at least plot me on the shortest route to Quebec. I thought I would be stopping in Weyburn for coffee and internet a couple of hours later, but Moya scrapped those plans. You see, a pick up truck, even a small one, makes light of gravel roads, so I was able to take the road to Willow Bunch that I swore I would never take again in my Accent. That put me at only about a half hour from the US port of entry at Scobey, MT. It meant hours of rural driving and no internet break till Minot, but also immediate access to cheap US fuel!

I stopped just before the border in a town with a small campground and visitor centre with public washrooms (rough but clean). I had breakfast, washed up, and threw out my trash then drove the 10KM to the border.

This was the first crossing where I was asked why I had chosen that port of entry, a very sensible question considering the remoteness of the crossing and how far I was from ‘home.’ I explained that I’d spent the night at my vacation property in ____ and earned a ‘That makes sense! Have a great trip to Montreal!’ in reply.

Fuel was running low as I pulled into Plentywood, MT, around 10:00 so I stopped for gas and coffee. They were having trouble with their POS system, so I was there a bit since they would not let me go to the bank right next door to get cash. That earned me another free coffee, and a really good one at that. 🙂

It poured rain most of the way to North Dakota, but has since cleared up a little.

I’m heading to a casino in Minnesota about five hours away. That will make a full day, but I can do it now that I’ve had a rest.

The truck drives like a dream. I am so happy with it. 🙂