Road Trippin’ VIII: The Journey Home

Given that the seventh and final leg of our journey involved the longest drive, you might think there would be much to say about it. But just like the first day of our trip, we were on familiar territory and had planned no stops other than for food and fuel, which meant there wouldn’t be much to talk about unless something tragic or unusual occurred. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead, we passed a pleasant day as quickly and efficiently as we could with the goal of spending the night in our own bed.

To be fair, the trip wasn’t entirely unremarkable. For example, on this day, the Jarhead decided not to hog the driver’s seat. It probably helped that he knew I was familiar with the route and was unlikely, therefore, to miss a turn and get us lost. It may also have helped that we were passing some of the flattest and straightest terrain this side of North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Iowa, and would be willing to do the speed limit or better. A more likely explanation, however, is that, having stayed up late watching TV and eating junk, he was less interested in driving than he was sleeping. Whatever the case, we did spend the entire day driving and succeeded in making it back to Chez Diersen before bedtime. To my intense relief, the kids and the cats were all alive and well, and none the worse for having spent the week alone.

Looking back on the previous posts and the comments I’ve received from readers, it occurs to me that I may have given folks the impression that North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota don’t have much to offer the travelers and tourists in their midst. In fact, there is more to see and do in the upper Midwest and south central Canada than can be discussed in eight blog entries, and you could spend a week in each state and every province and still not see and do it all.

For example, in South Dakota alone there are the Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Corn Palace, and the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. These did not receive a mention because we did not visit them this year since, one, we have visited them all once or twice on other trips and, two, our primary goal was to make it from Wisconsin to Idaho by way of the Canadian Rockies within a week. The same is true for Yellowstone National Park, Big Horn National Forest, and a multitude of state parks and cave systems.

That said, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit them as you make your away along I-90. We did so last back in 2011, and here is some of what we saw then:


If you have the time, you especially should not miss the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs where you will see where the remains of various mammoths and other creatures have been found, studied, and preserved. It’s off the interstate by about an hour, but it is well worth a visit not only because it gives you such a sense of what we know about prehistoric North America, but also because it helps you appreciate how much more we still have to learn! For more information about this fun and educational place, visit


Animal lovers, meanwhile, should be sure to check out the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. I have yet to visit this one, but it comes highly recommended by equine enthusiasts like my friend and fellow writer, J.S. McCormick. Founded in 1988 by Dayton O. Hyde, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary offers tours ranging from two hours to three days. They aren’t cheap and reservations are required, but if you love horses, it is not to be missed. To learn more about this amazing place, visit

Well, that about covers it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure and, perhaps, been inspired to make a road trip of your own. Meanwhile, thanks for playing along!



Road Trippin’ lll: Oh Canada!

We left Grand Forks relatively unscathed but rather unimpressed. As I mentioned in the last post, we had chosen to spend the night in a hotel with the aim of having a hot shower and a hot breakfast before conquering the wilds of Canada. Apparently, however, I set the bar too low when I established those parameters, for although the shower did yield hot water and the eggs and sausage on the breakfast bar were hot-ish, there is little positive I can say about the place other than they are quick to respond to bad reviews. Assuming the corporate office is as swift to familiarize the Grand Forks staff with the concepts of professionalism and outgoing mail as they are to offer an apology, and assuming they are as adept at training their housekeepers in the removal of body hair from the bathroom floor as they are at issuing vouchers for a free stay, we may give them another chance—that is, if the Jarhead decides he wants to see North Dakota again within the next twelve months.

Anyway, after departing the hotel—and after searching for and stopping at the last local post office in our path—the Jarhead and I were tooling up I-29 on our way to Brandon, Manitoba. Although we had been through the eastern provinces of Canada in 2006 I was a bit nervous as we approached the border crossing. Would they think we look suspicious? Would they want to search the vehicle? Would they find our cooler packed with salad, venison sausage, Fresca, Atkins diet products, pistachios, cashews, Pop Tarts and dark chocolate a tad schizophrenic and deny us entry in the interest of public safety? Or would they see how much food we were bringing and conclude that we are lying about how long we plan to stay?

Turns out—and I know this will come as a shock—the Canadian border agents weren’t the least bit interested in our cooler or its contents. Nor were they interested in our vehicle or us, for that matter. In fact, I was somewhat offended by how disinterested the agent by whom we were interviewed was in us and our journey. I understand these folks meet an American about every five minutes or so, but they haven’t met US. They don’t know how amazing or fascinating we are, or how exciting or dangerous we might be. Seems to me they could make a little more effort to get to know a body fore deciding you’re just another boring tourist with weird eating habits…

Anyway, as I was recovering from the sting of the agent’s indifference, it occurred to me that ours would be the perfect cover if someone wanted to smuggle drugs or other contraband into Canada. Not that I would ever do something like that myself, but if the Canadian border agents are letting people like me and the Jarhead just waltz across the border in our Midwestern tourist clothing and cheap sunglasses, no doubt American border agents are doing the same. Could that not explain why the DEA and other agencies have failed to stem the flow of drugs and guns into the US? Is it not, then, possible, that the drug cartels and gun runners have figured this out as well and are exploiting this gap in our homeland’s security???

In any case, at some point I changed my mind and decided I did not want anyone to search the vehicle. This moment arrived approximately three seconds after I remembered the tiny bottles of vodka that the Jarhead had stashed in the back seat in case I needed sedation as we drove through the mountains, and which he had failed to mention when the agent inquired about alcohol. I don’t know what sort of hell we would have faced if we’d been caught with unclaimed booze in the vehicle, but I do know what sort of hell the Jarhead would have experienced if they had confiscated the stuff and I was forced to endure a trip through the mountains without it.

The first thing we noticed upon entering Manitoba was a sign advising us of the speed limit, which was 110. This excited the Jarhead tremendously until I reminded him that Canada operates on the metric system, and that the speed limit referred to kilometers not miles. That didn’t seem to phase him much until he did the math and realized that, unless he wanted the next Canadian he met to be a member of law enforcement, he’d be traveling at a measly 65 miles per hour.

The second thing we noticed about Manitoba is that it looks a lot like North Dakota, which looks a lot like Iowa only with miles and miles of hay fields instead of miles and miles of corn. That’s not to suggest there’s anything wrong with Iowa or North Dakota—or corn or hay fields for that matter. It’s just that as natives of Minnesota and residents of Wisconsin, we’ve already seen our share of cropland and, while fields may come in many shapes, sizes and colors, they are nowhere near as exciting as the mountains, cliffs, canyons and rivers that awaited us in Alberta.

It was soon after we made this discovery that we decided not to stop for the day at dinner time as planned, but to continue as long and as late into the evening as we could. That way, we would get through more of the boring bits in the dark, and save the daylight and our energy for the star of this road show:  The Canadian Rockies.

Road Trippin’ ll: The Adventure Begins

The first stop on our journey was at one of our favorite cafés in Abbotsford. By that I don’t mean one of our favorite café from among the various cafés in the town of Abbotsford, but one of our favorite cafés, which happens to be in Abbotsford. It’s a fine distinction, but one that must be made since, although there are other cafés in Abbotsford, we haven’t been to any of them, and we wouldn’t want anyone to think we dislike or disapprove of them.

The Abby Café stands among our favorite cafés for several reasons. Primary among them is the food, which is delicious, plentiful, and reasonably priced. We also like the atmosphere, which is warm and inviting. The dining room features lots of wood, metal, ceramics, and hand-painted frescos, which give the place an ‘early American meets Tuscan countryside’ feel that somehow works.

About the only thing that doesn’t work, in my opinion, is the décor of the ladies room, which sports a fresco of a man with a cigarette looking into the room through a window from outside. As you can see from the photo below, it is not something one would expect to encounter in any room, never mind the ladies room. In fact, it can be more than a bit disconcerting—especially for those who, in their haste to relieve themselves, fail to notice it on their way into the restroom and then come, literally, face to face with it as they exit the stall.


Incidentally, the men’s room does not feature a fresco of a woman smoking a cigarette while looking in through a window from outside. According to the Jarhead, there is a fresco of a window painted on the wall of the men’s room, but the only woman in it is not smoking but hanging laundry on a clothesline.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I’m somewhat disturbed by the idea of a man lurking outside a restaurant window looking in the women’s restroom. On the other hand, I’m even more disturbed by the thought of a man lurking outside a restaurant window while his wife is stuck doing laundry. And don’t even get me started on his refusal to observe the state’s smoking laws…

Anyway…we planned our stop in Abbotsford—or Abby Land, as the locals apparently call it—to coincide with brunchtime.  This, because it was two hours into our trip and, therefore, perfect for a potty break, and because I still wasn’t sure I was going to survive the trip, and I wanted what was potentially one of my last meals to be a good one.

From there we continued on through Minnesota to Grand Forks, ND, where—having checked the 49th item off of the Jarhead’s US Bucket list—we decided to stop for the night. Having decided to take a ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ approach to Canada and the mountain states, we decided to play it safe and stay in a familiar chain hotel that night. That way, we could be assured of at least one shower and one hot breakfast before setting off for parts unknown—also known as Manitoba.

Road Trippin’

I recently broke with tradition and accompanied the Jarhead on a seven-day journey into the wild. The trip took us to the Rockies by way of the Trans Canada Highway, so we weren’t exactly in No Man’s Land; but since we spent most of the week alone driving at high speeds near deep lakes, raging rivers, open fields and dense forests—not to mention steep drops and sharp curves—it did carry an element of risk of death and/or bodily injury. Thus, the fact that you are reading this entry is either evidence of my value as a travel companion, proof of the Jarhead’s patience and restraint, a testament to the power of negotiation, or a sign of my intense will to live.

Unless, of course, he’s actually posting this himself in an effort to make things seems as normal as possible for as long as possible. As any fan of Law & Order or CSI can tell you, such a ruse would enable him to keep my family, friends, and followers from realizing I’m missing until such time as my remains can be disturbed by wildlife or sufficiently degraded, thereby preventing investigators from finding evidence of his crime and improving his odds of escaping punishment.

Then again, if the Jarhead were going to do me in and conceal it by impersonating me, it would be silly of him to even mention the trip—much less to make a point about evidence—so you can assume these are my words you’re reading. Sure, he could have posted all of the foregoing in order to throw people off the scent—much in the way the talented Thomas Ripley impersonated Dickie Greenleaf and sent messages to his loves ones to give the impression he’d left town of his own volition and not been beaten to death with an oar—but truth be told, even on paper, the Jarhead isn’t that good of a mimic.

The goal of our trip was to complete the Jarhead’s whirlwind tour of all 50 US states, which he started at some point in the late seventies when he flew to Colorado and wisely gave up in favor of earning a high school diploma. In the spring of 1984 he managed to squeeze in a brief visit to Florida, but this was the extent of his travels until that June when he answered Uncle Sam’s call and got to spend 12 fun-filled weeks on board Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego. Between 1984 and 2011, he managed to visit nearly every state in the country—plus a handful of Canadian provinces, and parts Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East—but somehow managed to miss Idaho and North Dakota.

Idaho, I get. It’s surrounded by mountains and seemingly endless prairies, and offers potential visitors little in the way of incentives other than the promise of great potatoes, which quite frankly you can buy almost anywhere already. Oh, sure it also offers you the chance to see some gorgeous scenery, but apart from Demi Moore and Bruce Willis—if he happens to be visiting—there’s nothing of beauty in Idaho that you can’t also find in Montana, Washington, or Wyoming, so I can understand why he might have chosen to put that one off.

But I’m having a little harder time with North Dakota. Because I can’t fathom how a man who grew up in Minnesota managed to visit 47 other states including Alaska and Hawaii—both of which require a plane ride and a fair amount of dedication to reach—but could not muster a trip to North Dakota, which involves no oceans, mountains, or other major geographic obstacles; costs almost nothing to get to; and is literally right next door.

Not that I’m a globetrotter myself. In fact, even after this recent trip I still have 7 states and 15 countries to see before I can claim to be as well traveled as he is. But I still managed to visit Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba before I turned 17 because—and I can’t stress this enough—they’re close by and it isn’t hard.

In any case, although I had already seen North Dakota, I agreed to accompany the Jarhead on his quest to cross the last two states off of his USA Bucket List. It wasn’t a sacrifice, to be sure. The Jarhead is a gem among stones on a bad day, and the best of the best on any other. When it comes to drivers, navigators, and spouses you honestly can’t do any better.

And I had no objections to going back to North Dakota. After all, the last time I was there was about 1973, and I figured it would have changed enough since then to make it worth seeing again. Plus, I had fond feelings leftover from my last visit owing to the bloody nose I got when my step brother knocked me down on the ice rink, and because, despite my injury, I was able to both demonstrate my considerable skill and highlight his lack of liberty by gliding back and forth in front of him while he sat grounded on the sidelines. Ah, memories.

It was with all of this, and so much more, in mind that I and the Jarhead boarded the USS RAM 1500 and embarked upon our journey west. Destination: Grand Forks