With our race across the Midwest, we weren’t looking for glamorous or scenic places to stay. We just needed to pull in late in the day and head out early the next morning. That meant that most of our stops were at Wal-marts. Some were very rural and one was right downtown Peoria on the Iowa River. As with everything these days, there’s an app for that. We use RVParky, which identifies all sorts of services for traveling in an RV. Using it, we found a rest area in Iowa that had a free dump station. Pat and Fred found a Flying J that had water, fuel, dump and propane, not to mention the ever-elusive mailbox.
So using our smartphones as a guide, we traveled across the Midwest through the “I” states (i.e., Illinois, Indiana, Iowa) and up through Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. We got to be pretty good at the Wal-mart routine along the way, but always ready for the occasional surprise. Some parking lots filled with semi’s in addition to RV’s, which made them noisy. One parking lot was filled with the store’s spring garden supplies, making it difficult to find a place to park, but the Lowe’s next door gave us the option of staying there if we couldn’t fit. Of course, there was one night when we received a knock on the door around 9pm, saying we couldn't stay there. So, we had to pack up and move. Although we had received permission when we stayed there before, apparently the rules had changed. Now, we call every time.
When we planned our route across the country, we didn’t give too much thought to the impact of the weather – something we study relentlessly when traveling by boat. It was spring. Since there wasn’t likely to be snow, what could create a problem? Well . . .
As we made our way across the prairie, the wind took on its own personality. Mostly from the northwest (which was, coincidentally, our direction), it could grow to amazing speeds, knocking our fuel economy down to single digits. We had to re-secure items in the bed of the truck and re-attach some loose parts on the exterior of the truck. When we saw forecast of 40mph winds on the nose for a couple of days, we knew we had to find some cover. Unfortunately, we were in the northern part of Montana, traveling route 2, a two-lane road that connects some sparsely populated small towns. There were no Wal-marts here, and not much else either. We considered stopping at a rest area, but the first one we saw had no protection at all.
So once we had a handle on the wind, we started looking around at the sky. Even on clear days, there could be a haze. We soon learned that this was the smoke from the fires in northern Alberta. We were shown a website that showed the current state and intensity of the smoke from the fires. (Check it out here.) It extended almost 1000 miles southeast of the fires and would move as the wind changed direction. It looked like we would have to factor this into our travel plans, as well.
And then, there was the snow. The front that had us holed up in Malta was dumping snow in the Rockies. While we were just dealing with wind and rain, the nearby towns were having power outages, 4 foot drifts and blizzard conditions. That meant it didn’t make sense to head to Glacier National Park and drive through the Rockies. The roads weren’t even all the way opened.
With all of these competing forces in mind, we made our way north – east of the Rockies, south of the fires, and, hopefully, with the wind behind us.
But we did manage to stop and see some sights. We spent a weekend at North Dakota’s Lewis and Clark State Park, on Lake Sakakawea (an alternate spelling of Sacagawea), which is in northwestern North Dakota almost on the Montana border. A beautiful setting, this gave us a home base to explore a little. Leaving the rigs behind, we drove down to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is North Dakota’s portion of the Badlands and the location of Theodore Roosevelt’s cattle ranch. The scenery was dramatic, and we were treated to some up close encounters with a group of buffalo. It was a beautiful day for the visit.
Early on Friday the 13th, we headed north out of Havre, MT for Canada. Leaving the busy town, we were quickly up on the plains with the snow-covered mountains rising up on the western horizon. It was a small road and a remote border crossing at the southeastern corner of Alberta. There were just the 2 of us at the crossing. After a brief series of questions, we cleared Canadian customs first, followed by Pat and Fred. They had an almost uneventful crossing. However, there was the matter of this plant. . . You’ll have to ask them for the details. Let’s just say Pat got her exercise returning it to the US side of the border
From Medicine Hat, we made our way further north, planning to approach the Alaska highway from Edmonton. And hopefully, avoid the wind, snow and fire along the way.