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.


Billings to Yellowstone, MT, With a Virginia City Detour

I wound up doing more mileage than expected today (about 350KM, although it felt like MUCH more), but I’m right near Old Faithful (less than an hour if the road is open and there are no detours), so that will save me time tomorrow.

A lady at McDonald’s this morning suggested to me that I check out Virginia City, a ghost town near Bozeman. I checked the map and that was barely a detour on my way to Old Faithful, so that’s where I pointed the GPS. But first, I went to Walmart for an oil change and tire pressure check. I had an hour to kill while waiting for that, so I stopped at the deli counter for salami and cheese (enough for two days), apples, crackers, and a veggie tray. I also found a map book, but the GPSes were packaged and shelved in such a way that I couldn’t comparison shop. Plus the prices were too high, so I left them there.

During this time, I also switched back to my CDN SIM card to call SaskTel and suspend my service for three months. That will save me $150, so it was worth the wait to get through to a service rep!

The service manager for automotive apologized for not vacuuming the inside of my truck. I told her that I am aware that my truck is bursting with stuff and that I wasn’t expecting that bit of the service. 🙂

I left Billings around 10:30 and took I-90 west towards Bozeman. There isn’t much in the way of radio out in these parts, so I continued to listen to an audio book my friend L gave me this summer after he was done with it, a pulpy thriller by Tami Hoag, whom I enjoy on occasion. It was a good story with characters I could care about as well as super well narrated, so the miles just ate themselves up.

I stopped at a rest area for an early picnic after getting a coffee at a service station. The wind has been terrible and my gas mileage is absolutely horrible so far. Fuel is still cheaper than I budgeted for, but barely. I had planned on 1.20CAD per litre and I’ve been averaging 1.00CAD. I’m about a third of the way to Nogales (really!) and as long as gas doesn’t go above $3.50ish a gallon, I’ll do okay, especially if I get out of the mountains and high winds!

I really do wonder if there’s something wrong with my gas gauge. I can go from ‘F’ to three quarters of a tank or three quarters to a half or a half to a quarter in literally minutes after being stuck at the previous mark for ages. When I get to a quarter tank, I get to the red mark so fast it makes my head spin. I really should go to the Ford Ranger forum and see if this is normal behaviour.

At any rate, I reached Bozeman and had to get off the interstate and onto a state road. This involved stopping at 50 billion red lights. I am barely exaggerating. That sort of city driving is so fun with a clutch. Not.

Between the lights and all the construction I had and would pass, my ETA to Virginia City changed from 2PM to 3PM. I didn’t mind because I suspected, correctly so, that the city would be shut for the season and there wouldn’t be much to see or do. I parked on a side street and walked up and down the main strip, enjoying the old western-style buildings that reminded me so much of Dawson City. The ice cream parlour was open, so I stopped in and asked for two tiny scoops in a cup, one of cookies and cream, one of cherry cheesecake. My portion was apparently ridiculous (no, it was not, and the proof is below) and got me a discount!

From what I can understand about Virginia City, most of the buildings have been renovated to keep their derelict appearance, but the town is very much alive and has businesses and a population. I couldn’t even get a walking map today, so I didn’t get much info about the town. Going there was something to do to eat up part of the day and I’m absolutely glad I made the detour, but it wasn’t a memorable stop for me.

By the time I got back down to Ennis, the town where the wind apparently blows hard enough to rip off a man’s arm, it was time to decide where I was going to spend the night. It was really too early to stop without having a place outside the truck to spend the evening and I still had two hours to go to get to Old Faithful. My GPS and map told me there was one more sizable community before I hit the park, West Yellowstone. It was only an hour away, so I decided to push on.

The wind along the drive was brutal and cold. I stopped off a few times to take pictures of a submerged forest and was nearly blown into the lake! This lake came to be after a major earthquake in 1959 that killed 28 people, most of them sound asleep in tents at a campground. The first plaque about the earthquake was announced ahead of time as ‘The night of terror and loss’ and let me say I didn’t need convincing to pull off the road and see what that was about! I can’t imagine what a nightmare that night was!

To my immense surprise, there was a rest area along that desolate stretch of highway. I was grateful that I no longer had to look for a tree to squat behind and made a point to check the forecast for West Yellowstone. It was going to be bitter cold overnight. I decided to shop for a motel if I could find something for under 75USD per night, which is way more than I’m comfortable spending, but I’m in major tourist country.

I should point out that my budget is tight by choice and so quite flexible. I’m just worried that next month’s cheque will be late, too, so I’m doing what I can to stretch out what I’ve got in the bank to cover my early day expenses in Mexico (border fees and first month’s rent) as well as all the November bills. Worst case scenario if I get a major extra expense, I’ll have to wait for the November cheque to arrive and delay my arrival in Mexico. Not a huge deal, certainly not enough to freeze in my truck tonight! 🙂

There was a surprising amount of businesses still open in West Yellowstone considering the time of year. I walked and drove around, checking out the less expensive looking motels. The first one was a NO because the office reeked, while the second and third had no one staffing the front desks or answering the buzzers. The fourth one had someone at the desk. A room was $69 with the tax, better than expected for a resort community, even in the off season, so I was suspicious and asked to see the room. It turned out to be very clean and fresh with a newly renovated bathroom. I was impressed!

I packed my truck in such a way that everything I needed for a hotel room was in one bag, so it was easy to grab that bag, my computer bag, and my purse and  move into the room. I didn’t have to dig around for clothes, toiletries, and sundries and felt quite organized!

By the time I was settled in, I was beyond ready for dinner, so I went back down to the main strip and popped into the first place that was open, Buckaroo Bill’s. The wait to put in an order was so long I was actually putting on my coat when the server finally returned, but I stayed and settled in for a long wait for my food. To my surprise, it didn’t take that long, much less than the wait for the server to take the order!

I ordered the Tatanka burger, which is exactly what it says, a buffalo burger. It was just a meat patty, no seasonings in it at all. I much prefer the mild taste of buffalo to that of beef, so that was fine, especially after I added mustard, tomato, lettuce, and even the dill pickles! Buffalo is a very lean meat and can be quite dry if not cooked slowly. This burger while not juicy was quite moist. I was very happy with it! I decided to get sweet potato fries with it and their portion was positively unAmerican, small enough that I ate them all! The meal came to a ridiculous $10, plus a $2 tip! Do you know how much I have to pay to have buffalo in Saskatchewan?! And if someone had told me a few years ago that I would know anything about buffalo meat, I would have laughed!

I’m off to research Old Faithful and figure out roughly where I want to be tomorrow night. I would really rather not pay for a room again since I’ll need to take one over the weekend, so I may have to drive a bit. I have the room till 11:00, but will likely head out around 9:00, just in case there are detours to get to Old Faithful.

Oh, and it started sleeting the second I walked into my hotel room. Am I glad to be here and that I didn’t have to walk from restaurant in that mess!


Haven to Billings, MT

I was up quite late this morning, almost 8:00. I made and had coffee, then went out to winterize the water system.  That done, I finished packing the truck. It was then time to go to the post office. My cheque had finally arrived! There was also a new SK health card giving me permission to be out of the province till May 31st, 2015. So that’s my return by date!

I came in and did some banking stuff, called SaskTel to suspend service (need to wait till I have US service to do that since they can’t postdate it), and called my mother to let her know that I was heading out. I then did the final swing around the property, putting away the garbage barrel and propane tank, reading the metre, putting away the power cord, etc.

I made a set of keys for Caroline and was halfway to her place when I realised I had forgotten something important: PILLOWS! I went back and grabbed then, then went to C&C’s. They are away this week, so there were no goodbyes. Caroline had told me where to leave keys and I did so with note informing her that I only have one house key (really?!) so to please not lose it. I can get back in through the cab when I get back. 🙂

It was 11:30 when I pulled out of Haven and I was at the border by 12:15. I crossed at Opheim, MT. There had been big changes since I was there in April; CDN customs now has a shiny new building and the US has a new scanner thing that I drove through too quickly… Oops. The customs official was super nice about it and told me to just circle around the building and try it again. I was mortified!

We had a nice chat while two other officers poked through what I had in the bed of the truck. We talked about my job, why I picked Mazatlan, my hamlet, and my planned route and meetups while in the US. He was kind beyond words and just when I was thinking, “This is going too well. Secondary inspection, here I come!” he said, “Drive safe and have a wonderful winter. Exit’s that way.” Wow!

From the border, it was about an hour to Glasgow, the only sizable community between Haven and Billings. As is normal for me on departure day, I’d left on an empty stomach. The stress of the border behind me, I was ready for lunch. I’d done my research into some yummy, quick, and filling and headed to Flip Burger, formerly Quick & Tasty. I had a (veggie) burger my first night in the original Glasgow, so I think my choice was appropriate. 🙂 The burger was great and made exactly to order, no stock toppings. I had cheese, bacon, tomato, mustard, and relish. Service was great and pretty quick.

Quick&Tasty in Glasglow.

Quick&Tasty in Glasglow.

From Glasgow, I continued my European tour by stopping in Malta (ha!) for gas. $3.41! Wow!

After Malta, there was just… land. If I felt so isolated and overwhelmed by the open country around me flying down the highway at 70 miles per hour, imagine how it must have felt to the pioneers trekking across it on foot!

My ETA for Billings was 6:00 and I drove straight through from Malta. I decided to land at a Walmart and from there find a suitable place for overnighting. Because I sleep in my truck, I am not going to share the place I found, but it’s perfect and was the first location I scouted. I’m getting good at this!

Heading into mountains.

Heading into mountains.

I went into the Walmart and came out with an AT&T SIM card with 2.5GB of data, all for $70. I forgot to pack a paperclip, so until I get my hands on one, I can’t set up the phone. Who comes up with these designs?! I have to go back to Walmart for an oil change tomorrow, so I’ll go back to the tech desk and see if they one I can borrow.

Once I found a place to spend the night, I went to a nearby McDonald’s to do research on sushi. I knew Billings has several well rated sushi joints, so I just wanted the closest one, which turned out to be Nara.

Nara was surprisingly packed for a Tuesday night and the kitchen was slammed. Service was slow, but still managed to be attentive. My Sapporo and “OMG, so delicious!!!” miso soup came quickly once I was finally about to put in an order, but the wait for my food was interminable, about 40 minutes. After 15, I really should have gone out and grabbed a book. I wouldn’t have minded the wait then. I did have a whole evening to fill.

Just at the point where I was ready to walk out, a server plopped a big bowl of edamame (soy beans in pods) in front of me. “On the house, ma’am.” That changed everything. They realised that the service level was unacceptable and did something to fix it before I got huffy. The edamame was a smart choice: it’s a super overpriced delicious treat that I never get in restaurants because I can buy a huge bag for less at a supermarket. Their cost was small, but the value to me was big.

My meal came out after. Everything was very expensive, so I just went for a spicy tuna and salmon roll and splurged on two pieces of octopus nigiri. The food was worth the wait and the prices self-explanatory! Look at that roll! Just about every sushi place I’ve visited has had way more rice than fish to cut costs.

Succulent tako (octopus).

Succulent tako (octopus).

The spicy tuna and salmon was melt in your mouth delicious. I like how the salmon was whole piece, which varied the texture a little. It’s funny how I don’t like spicy food, but I love this roll!

Wow, rare to see sushi that focuses on the fish. No wonder this was so expensive!

Wow, rare to see sushi that focuses on the fish. No wonder this was so expensive!

As for the octopus, I can’t remember the last time I had some and I hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. Not in the least. It was so tender and succulent. I think this is the first time I’ve had some with the little suckers still attacked. They’re very chewy, but not in a rubber band sort of way.

So while the wait was disappointing, my overall experience at Nara was positive and this restaurant will be filled into the category of some of the best sushi I’ve had.

Now, I’m at a McDonald’s near my overnight spot, getting a start on downloading work for the weekend and also just passing the time because I don’t want to go to bed too early.

Not sure how tomorrow is going to go. I have to get an oil change and run a few errands. I think I’ll meander my way towards Yellowstone National Park and plan to spend the day there Thursday.


Oh, I do hope the cheque is here tomorrow because I am ready. One might wonder what I would have done without this three-day delay. Well, I could have definitely been just as ready to leave first thing Saturday morning. I just stretched out the final chores to fill the days.

Here’s what’s left on my list for tomorrow (or whatever day that dang cheque comes…)

-pack final items into the truck (overnight, computer, and food bags)

-rinse out the black tank and put away the sewer hose (I leave the grey water open so the hose is always hooked up)

-drain the water system, apply the water heater by-pass, and add potable anti-freeze

-put away my garbage barrel

-buy my  US travel medical insurance

-put my SaskTel service on hold

-pack up the booster

-turn off the power, lock the breaker box, and read the metre

-drop a set of keys off at C&Cs

I can do some of those things before checking the post tomorrow, but there’s no sense winterizing until I know for sure that I’m going.

If I am unable to leave tomorrow, I will have to make yet another run into Willow Bunch for food. 🙁 What I bought on Friday was just the right amount to get me to tonight, but otherwise I’m down to nuts and miso soup, not quite a healthy diet!

Mail is sorted by 9:30, so I should know by ten if I am good to go. If so, I’ll be out of here by noon. I’ve conceded that the Opheim crossing makes the most sense even though I haven’t had great experiences crossing there. Should I get through with minimal delay, I’ll be in Glasgow for a late lunch and then I am going to drive hard to Billings. Google Maps says I’m looking at a seven hourish drive, so I wish I could set out sooner than noon, but it is what it is.

In Billings, I need to get an oil change done on the truck (my oil levels are fine for the drive down), buy a new GPS unit (the app I downloaded on my phone is not working well for me) as well as a paper map book, and see about getting a US SIM card for the phone. So that should eat up a good chunk of Wednesday (or the first day after departure…).

Twelve hours to go before I can for mail. Hopefully my next post will be about heading out! 🙂