MĂ©rida 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. 🙂

Cody, WY, to Haven

I debated this last leg of my trip over and over again, crunching all the variables. In a best case scenario, with no delays, minimal stops, and an easy border crossing, home is a mere eight hours or so from Cody. Leave early and I could get to the border before it closed at 6:00 pm and be home with daylight to spare. A very long day, but not a hard one. But if there was a delay, like construction or a particularly nasty secondary inspection, I could be miss the 6:00 pm border closing time.

I also had to decide which route to take. My options were Cody to Billings to Glasgow to Opheim to home or Cody to Billings to Miles City to Scobey to home.

Last night, I decided I would get up early today and attempt to make a run for the border. This made the second route, crossing at Scobey, the better choice because Scobey has a reasonably priced motel while Opheim doesn’t have any lodging. By choosing this route, I wouldn’t have to double back very far from the border if I got there at closing time.

That settled, I went to bed looking forward to another good night of sleep. I’ve been on quite a streak since Camp Verde. Well, I probably got two hours of fragmented sleep all night! Guess I was just too eager to be home… 🙁 I gave up on sleep around 6:15 am and spent a final half hour enjoying good internet before getting up to dress and finish packing the truck. I’d done the hard work last night, so I didn’t have much to do. By the time Vicki got up around 7:00 to double check that I had everything and hug the stuffing out of me, I was ready to go.

What a great week we had! It’s not easy living in such close quarters with someone, but she makes it very easy. Thanks again, Vicki!

I left the campground around 7:30 and went to a gas station for fuel and coffee since the more obvious coffee choices (McDonald’s and Starbucks) were in the wrong direction. The coffee I got was absolutely fine. Vicki and I did pizza again last night, so I had my leftovers to munch on today and didn’t need any breakfast — or lunch. 🙂

And so, I pushed northeast to Billings, then got on the Interstate, eager to reach Miles City as that would be the start of familiar territory. The miles passed uneventfully and sometimes I even caught a clear station on the radio. It was good driving weather, a little overcast, so the truck was comfortable.

In this direction, Miles City was the end of civilisation as I would start to push on into a few tiny towns with dozens of miles of open prairie between them. I made a pit stop in Circle and then turned onto highway 13 to Scobey just before Wolf Point when…

I hit the wall. Well, the wall was a train. A train several miles long that was not budging and would not budge for hours, blocking the way north.

There was quite a lineup forming, but I also saw people turning some distance before the crossing onto a gravel road. I explored this road with my GPS and saw that it led to a railroad crossing about 10KM away where I could take highway 2 and come back to highway 13. Most of that 20KM detour was on gravel and it took me almost 30 minutes, but it was completely worth it!

Right there at the corner of 2 and 13 is the first sign telling me that my journey across the US is almost over: “Canada – 62 miles.”

I pulled over in Scobey to fill the gas tank one last time and then pushed on for my final 14 miles in the US, dreading the border crossing. Many of you know I was spoiling for a fight. The number of times I get pulled over for secondary inspection is unacceptable considering the fact that I have never made a false declaration or otherwise given CBSA any concrete reason to red flag me. I was fully ready to file a complaint after having my truck emptied for the umpteenth time for absolutely no reason.

Needless to say, I was not ready for an official who remembered me and started with, “Hey, welcome home! Your truck made it!”

Ah, life in a small town… Cross at the same place often enough and things get easier…

I still had to give a very thorough declaration, but I was not physically searched. This was fine and I am pleased that I had my first truly easy crossing in a very long time. It infuriates me that so many resources are wasted on me when I know RVers who come back with contraband or who flat out lie in their declarations and barely get boarded. But, anyway, I was cleared quickly today. WOOHOO!

It was then a very potholey final hour to home. Work crews were out in full force patching and so the roads will be smooth again very soon.

In the final stretch from Willow Bunch, it was wonderful to get to that rise where I see the hamlet spread out before me and then drive down into it. Home!!! 🙂

I wish I could say that all was well at Haven, but that was not the case. 🙁 One of my neighbours went on a bender over the winter and broke into everyone’s homes looking for booze, cigarettes, and valuables. Charles did a check of my place and thought everything was okay, but he didn’t see that an attempt was made to pry my front door open. There is considerable damage, but the deadbolt held and still works. I would need a new door frame and door, but I doubt that’s going to happen. I called the RCMP’s non-emergency number and left a message. When the constable in charge of this case gets back to me, I will be pressing charges. My insurance status is a little dodgy right now and even if it weren’t, moving Miranda to a repair place to get a new door isn’t an option. I will probably try to hammer the door back into shape and then apply some black spray paint to the scratched areas. I’ll have pictures tomorrow for those who want to give me suggestions on how to deal with the issue. 😉

Even though I’m annoyed by this, it really isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things and my buildings were secure so I’m not as upset as some of you may thing I am. I quickly detarped, hooked up power, started the fridge, and connected the internet. The latter was so easy thanks to my new booster setup! Everything so far is good except that Miranda is not level (Charles will help me deal with that once and for all tomorrow) and that the hydrant where I get water hasn’t been turned on yet so I can’t test my water system. Spring has sprung early, so there is a chance I can get the hydrant turned on next week instead of waiting till the middle of the month.

I then hauled in a few boxes before calling C&C to let them know I’d landed, and was invited for supper! Oh, bless these lovely people!

I made my bed (two toppers and a heated mattress pad sound like heaven right now!) and put together some things so I could have a shower there. I then headed over to catch up (including giving their dog Brutus lots of hugs and kisses — it’s so lovely to be missed!). I opened all my mail and had nothing urgent, just a tax form for when I get around to filing my return and a small cheque that is hopefully still good.

We had a lovely late dinner (with good avocado in the salad!), I enjoyed a shower (Caroline had wondered why I’d brought my suitcase, LOL), and then I headed home in a rapidly chilling evening.

It’s very smokey because Alberta is on fire, but otherwise, conditions are excellent for May, even too much so. The area is desperate for rain and there is worry of fires starting here… Even so, I’m the wrong person to ask to do a rain dance!

That’s all I have the energy for tonight! I’m going into town in the morning to get some groceries (I did a shop at Walmart in Cody yesterday, but need meat and veg) and then I’ll keep unpacking until Charles comes to help me with my leveling issue.

HOME! 😀

Scobey, MT, to Gillette, WY (and Devils Tower National Monument at Very, Very, Very Long Last)

My first stop after the border was fuel, which was only about $2.74, and which would be very likely the most expensive I’d experience on the U.S. leg of my trip, a very good start!

There’s basically nothing in this part of Montana, so I just drove and drove and drove until I got to Miles City, where I had a quick lunch and checked in that I’d made it across the border.

Then, there was a whole lot more of nothing as I headed towards the Wyoming border, stopping in Broadus for more fuel.

This part of Wyoming is just like home, only with more trees!

I caught my first glimpse of Devils Tower around 3:15, from an angle I’d never seen in pictures, with it rising above the tree tops like a shark’s fin.

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I was exhausted by this point and so disappointed to finally be there in absolutely perfect hiking weather so late in the day. The views from the highway were quite good and I decided that I wouldn’t get my $10’s worth out of the access fee. But just before the turnoff to the entrance to the monument, I had a thought: my interagency pass that I bought last year! I pulled over and took it out of my centre console (I can’t believe I still had it so handy!). October 2015 was punched out. I couldn’t remember if that meant the card was good till the end of September or the end of October so I went to the entrance to find out. It was still valid all the rest of this month! So I drove the 3 miles up to the base of the monument.

Finally saw some fall colours on the way!

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The monument is a place of immense power. It’s not just a bunch of rock columns popping out of the ground. I’m so glad I got closer because I couldn’t see the incredible textures until I got up close.

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At its base is a boulder field that reminded me of the Chilkhoot Trail. (For those who track such things, that is NOT once ubiquitous pink hoodie. I found a similar one in my new size and it was like meeting up with an old friend! And I have no idea why I’m leaning that way…)

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Even though I was mentally exhausted, I had physical energy to burn, so I decided to do the 2KM hike around the base of the monument! It’s all paved, but hilly. There were places with amazing views to the valley below. I enjoyed the fresh air and scent of the ponderosa pines.

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I was surprised by the colour of the monument, a bright lime green.

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I could imagine people taking shelter from the rain under this overhang.

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Wonder what these holes were for…

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I had fun watching this little guy eat his lunch.

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There hasn’t been a major rock fall from the monument since 1906, so these boulders predate then.

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The monument is a tricky place for the Parks Service to manage. They consider rock climbing an acceptable sport, but that clashes with Native American beliefs in the holy nature of the site. A compromise is that there is no climbing of the monument during the entire month of June. A permit is required to climb to the top and you have to check in when you get down. Needless to say, there’s no chance of my ever seeing the top, but it’s apparently a fairly level surface about the size of a football field.

Detouring to Devils Tower was definitely worth my time today and I’m very grateful that my interagency pass was still valid.

From there, it was an hour to Gillette. I was in absolutely no mood to shop for a room, so I took the first one I enquired about and then walked across the street to the Applebee’s for dinner. I haven’t been there in a year and boy as it changed! Most of the menu is the same, but it is now really crazy expensive! The steak dinner I was looking forward to that would have cost $15 with a beer and the tip a year ago would have been over $30 tonight! Forget that! I ordered their beer special for $2.50, thinking it would be a tiny glass, and it was HUGE. Exactly what I wanted after a long day on the road! I chose a reasonably priced chicken and bacon wrap that was really delicious and satisfying. Got back to the hotel and the lady at the desk insisted on giving me a cookie (a soft chocolate one with white chocolate chips, hard to resist), so I had dessert, too. 🙂

Tomorrow is going to be another very long haul and I have two shopping stops to make so I’m going to turn in early and hope that I sleep well and can be on my way earlyish, and by that, I mean no later than 9:00, although, really, it should be 7:00. Hopefully, the traffic through Denver will be okay. I really should have done another hour today, but Gillette really was my limit!

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 Mattress Topper at Last

Since I had to go back to Plentywood today to pick up a piece for the booster, I decided to make the trip worthwhile and finally ordered myself for delivery there a mattress topper, something I badly need for my bed in Mexico. As I was shopping in earnest the other night and doing research, something hit me: those things are absolutely not portable!

They are vacuum packed and meant to expand on the bed. It would be impractical to think that I could fold it up and easily take it with me to Mexico. I’m already planning to spend money on an easy chair that I will leave behind after six months and didn’t want to spend over $100 on yet another thing that was going to have to stay. So I started searching for a travel or portable mattress topper and actually found one! It is amusingly called a Bag of Comfort by Sleep Innovations.

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Now, this is meant to be portable, so it’s just a 1″ piece of memory foam, a far cry from the luxuriously thick cloud on John’s RV bed in Santa Fe, but it’s definitely better than nothing.

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Reviews say that it’s easy to get back in the bag, so I should even be able to take it into a hotel for one night if that’s true. If I can have a more comfy bed at Totonaka in San Carlos, I would be happy to go back there because it’s so convenient.

The kit also includes a memory foam pillow! I needed a new pillow, too, and have been wanting to try a memory foam one, so this Bag of Comfort was quite a deal for me.

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The topper is marked as being sized for a long XL twin (standard dorm bed, apparently). I have a full size bed and the topper is plenty big enough for me since I only sleep on one half of the bed anyway (it’s only a few inches narrower than the mattress). I think a couple could fit on it if they really wanted to as it’s a lot wider than I expected.

It was a good drive to go get both the topper and the piece of cable. My “Danger! Danger! Danger!” alert did go off at the U.S. border when they started to ask me questions about Mexico and what I do for a living. The question I have never flat out been asked, but was dreading, came, “Do you work in Mexico?”

I don’t lie at the border and I think people who do are idiots looking for trouble. So I replied in the affirmative. A very, very, very long beat passed and I wondered if they were making notes in my file that would cause me issues next month. Finally, the other officer came back to my window. “Sorry. We’re both confused. Do you work in Spanish or?”

He was curious, not suspicious. Classic U.S. customs scenario for me and I started to relax. “No, no, no. I work for my existing clients from the computer. I don’t have a visa to take a Mexican job.”

“Oh, that makes more sense! Mexico wouldn’t care since you’re not taking one of their jobs and you’re spending money. Good for you! Have a good afternoon in Montana!”

And that was that. American border officials are generally so lovely. It’s almost always, “Welcome to America! We’re glad to have you and your money, but, please, don’t overstay your welcome,” a sharp comparison to consistently being treated like a criminal by my country’s border officials.

I got to Plentywood around 11:30 and immediately went for lunch. Then, I got my packages, which cost me $10 ($5 each). I think the amount would add up really fast if I was frequently having stuff sent to them, but for these occasional situations, it’s a bargain since you get the confirmation that your packages are on site (something I don’t get in Opheim for the same price) and the package room is more secure.

After, I went across the street to a hardware store to get a faceplate for my booster project as well as some copper wire. The gal who served me was really helpful, but the surly man working there was rather unpleasant. Anyway, I got what I needed, so I was happy.

Then, I headed to a museum just east of town that I believed was open at 1:00 p.m. after Labour Day, but it wasn’t. Oh, well. I pointed the truck towards home and found a Dairy Queen tucked away off the main drag, so I popped in for a Blizzard. A ‘mini’ was still way more Blizzard than anyone should eat, but I highly recommend brownie cookie dough. 🙂

The border was quickly upon me after my snack and I sat at the window for what felt like ages but was probably only five minutes until someone acknowledged me. It was a very quick interview: where do I live, how long was I in the States, how much did I have to declare, and did I have any drugs or ATF? And that was it! I didn’t even have to go in to pay my $8.50 or so in taxes and no one emptied my truck (which was absolutely empty except for myself, my purse, and my purchases. This was my first easy crossing back into Canada since crossing at the Sault in 2012. I hate CBSA.

And then, it was just rolling hills and I think maybe passing one car all the way home. This picture didn’t turn out that well (my iPhone camera sucks compared to my Pentax), but I was struck by the golden trees contrasting with the olive hills. Fall is here!

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When I got home, I spent about three hours finishing up my booster installation. I can’t believe it was that long, but time flew by since everything was coming together fairly easily and, so, I was having fun! That post will be next!