Thursday, May 22, 2008

We awoke at 6am in Montana and devoured the Hampton Inn’s hot breakfast. The Mitchell Hampton had the eggs and English muffin concoction and the Billings location simply went for waffles – good, large waffles though. They went down easily and bananas were once again stowed away in the cab.

We rolled out at 7am right out on to the frontage road along 90 with the plan of getting on 87 and heading for Lewistown, eventually Great Falls. You could sense some rush hour traffic on the roads, though nothing to worry about. I believe we made it about 2 blocks before traffic ground to a halt. An accident? No. Arrest? No. Road damage/ truck cargo spillage? No. Police activity? It sure looked like it. We glimpsed lights flashing ahead, coming across the highway overpass. Some police cars were parked and a few crawled along the side of the oncoming lanes. Soon a group of people appeared in matching sweatshirts, walking somewhat briskly towards us, surrounded by the police cars. This is 7 am, on a weekday, on a main artery. We’re all clogged and frustrated and trying to divine just what is going on. Soon a plastic, lit torch is revealed through the doddering fleet of black sweatshirts and police escorts. As they grew closer it becomes obvious it’s for the Special Olympics (side story: My late aunt in Northern Wisconsin many years ago received a cold call asking for Special Olympics donations. Her knee jerk response: “No. I don’t care who the hell wins any of those games. Why should I give?”). This produced much swearing from our vehicle. Can’t they do that at another time or another part of the city or down some parallel street that isn’t the main drag? That would be best for everybody. Oh, and the overpass incline tired some people so they were resting on the curbs while the escort paused. Seriously, a different road at a different time. So after our 30 minutes of Chicago traffic memories relived we caught 87 and promptly smiled and beamed as the Montana you always read about rolled out in front of us. It was still a little brown and not as mountainous as western Montana, but the hills, valleys, and scattered pines made it beautiful.

Arriving in the town of Lewistown randomly gave me 4 Sprint bars so off we went calling our parents and giving updates trailed with “ … but I don’t know how long the signal will last.” I gave Becky an update on our progress and she questioned why we weren’t farther along. “The Special Olympics,” I replied plainly and let linger before explaining further.

It is a long, plain drive from Great Falls to the border. That sentence explained all you need to know.

God Bless the Canadians. They have given us Corner Gas and All Buttoned Up. However, they have not given us adequate signage, at least not in Sweet Grass, MT. Approaching the customs stalls we found the far left lane open with a sign stating “autos” and the far right lane open with a sign stating “trucks.” The middle 5 lanes were closed and had icons showing mobile homes, recreational trailers, etc. We had a Ranger with a trailer. What would your lane guess be? The state of Wisconsin made me buy truck plates. A trailer and truck does not make a car. Ergo, truck lane. There were commercial and mobile homes in it as well, so we felt we had made the right choice. Right when you get to the booth you see a smaller sign, visible only when you are that close, that explains “this lane only for commercial trucks.” We pull up to the booth for our sarcasm: “I hope you’re hauling commercial.” The Chicago attitude begins to kick in to match him: “No. You don’t have that on a sign back there. So where do we go?” After a few moments of silence as we attempt to calm down we are told to go to the commercial lot on the right, take this ticket, and go inside. Great. 45 minutes and 3 different officials later we are all squared away and told to look over towards the counter in the center of the room. We are pointed towards a small box with 2 Canadian flags sticking out of it. We see it. “Go press that button. It will give you a pass to get your vehicle out of the commercial lanes.” Nobody is manning this machine, nobody is watching it, and it is most certainly in the public area. That would have saved us 45 minutes if we knew we needed to come inside to push a button in order to drive my trailer full of whatever legally into their country. All in all it could have been longer and we were on our way so no real complaints.

About 30 miles into Alberta we heard a little “ping” and discovered that we then had no turn signals. We pulled over and went straight for the fuse box, finding the popped 15 amp fuse right in the hazard flashers slot. Of course, we had no spares. After digging through the book and deciding that the 20a one in the radio slot would do just fine we were off on our way. We ended up in Lethbridge, AB at the Canadian Tire store stocking up on 15a and 20a fuses along with a plastic fuse puller (I might not always be able to dig out my needle nose pliers). More time wasted.

The plan of sleeping in a hotel beyond Edmonton was gone thanks to the torch, improper signage, and the fuses. Calgary loomed on the horizon and according to the Hampton Inn book we snagged in Billings, 2 locations awaited.

We made it to the Hampton Inn around 8pm and only wanted to eat and sleep and put this day in the past. They’re full, but the place next door is not. Ok, but they only have suites available. “Why is it so full here in Calgary on a Tuesday night? The Flames aren’t in the playoffs anymore.” “Well, it’s always full here during the week.” Huh? Why? We ended up at the Hilton Garden Inn with the final available room, a smoking room. Off we went to Chili’s with plans of getting up at 5 to get quickly beyond Calgary and Edmonton. The scenery was calling us.

So far, Canada, not so good.

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