I woke up early again. Sue did laundry. I finished up some computer work for Koop and started on a new project. Max and Alex skyped for a bit. We had lunch. We went golfing at the Oasis Country Club. Sue booked it on golfnow for $12 each. Seriously! $12 each. That’s how much just the cart rental is normally. We checked in and got our golf cart. We had a 20-minute wait to tee off. We would be joining another couple. We went to the putting green for a bit. Then we met our golf partners — and they were THE SAME PEOPLE we golfed with here at Oasis a couple of weeks ago! Grant and Pam from Victoria. Nice. As my faithful readers will recall, last time my first tee shot here went onto the number 9 green and from there I put it into the fountain. Today my first shot went into someone’s backyard. From there I shot it into the fountain. Progress! But some pars and birdies followed that. Sue is just golfing better every time we go out. Putting, drives, scoring. We were slowed down by the fatsos ahead of us for most of the front nine, but the second nine were just fantastic — the sun was setting and a coolish breeze was keeping us comfortable. And i was hitting the ball much better. After the game our new friends invited us to take a look at their new motorhome. And then we joined them at the 19th hole pub down the street for happy hour. Pitchers of Stella and fish ‘n chips. And lots of visiting. Turns out that we haven’t done ANYTHING during our 3 months here — these people have seen concerts, plays, gone hiking, volunteered at the local zoo… Whew! I guess we’ll have to come back next year. We’ll definitely go to see the Joshua Tree park and maybe the Living Desert park. We said goodbye to our new friends and stopped at Albertson’s to pick up my Redbox rental on the way home. Snacked on chocolate and nuts while watching some dance show on TV. By 10:00 we were nodding at the TV. We’ll save our DVD for tomorrow. Tomorrow we plan to take that aerial tram tour. And we’ll wish our friend Robert a very happy birthday.
We’re “living it up in the Hotel California” — three months in beautiful Palm Desert.
Soon after breakfast we packed some extra jackets and took a ride in our van out to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram takes visitors on a 2.5 mile trip up to Mount San Jacinto State Park. I think we were there just at the right time — the right day and the right time — because we passed quite a few large empty parking lots and parked at the lot right next to the Valley Station. Later, when we left the parking lot, the parking attendants were ushering cars into a couple of parking lots down the hill. So we were at the ticket booth in no time, and boarded the tram about 20 minutes after that. There are 2 tram cars, one going up and the other coming down. The floor of the tram car rotates, so everyone on the ride gets to see all around — up, down, and east and west. The tram starts at 2600 feet and takes you up to 8500 feet during the 10-minute ride. It’s all pretty slick. Once we got to the top we quickly decided on a trail to go hiking on (there are 54 miles of trails to choose from). We took the Desert View Trail, a 1.5 mile loop with incredible views of the Coachella Valley. There were about 5 lookout spots along the way. The forest smelled like pine needles. There was quite a bit of snow up on the mountain too. At first we thought we sure wouldn’t need jackets because we were huffing and puffing so hard from the climb. But after a while we began to notice the cooler temperature and we were glad we’d brought our sweaters. I took quite a few photos. Sue tried to take some photos too, but had some problems with our little old Canon camera. She’d get herself into ‘photo-shooting’ position and squint through the little eye-piece and then press the button — and the lens would retract and the camera would shut itself off. Was it the batteries? No, we just put new batteries into it. Was it taking her too long to set up the shot? Yes, but that wasn’t causing the problem either. After a bit of experimenting she noticed that the problem only happened when she was taking a ‘portrait’ orientation photo, but the camera worked fine in landscape mode. Finally, after standing and smiling for quite a few shots but getting no pictures I watched to see if I could spot the problem. If the same issue ever happens to you, maybe reading this will help you discover the solution. Whenever Sue turned the camera on end to take a portrait photo she was pressing the ON/OFF button in the middle of the top of the camera, instead of the ‘Photo’ button which is on the top right side of the camera. Sue was a bit surprised to (finally) learn that when you turn the camera on its side the buttons just rotate with the camera — so when you want to snap a photo you still have to press the ‘photo’ button, not the ON/OFF. So here are some of our Mt Jacinto photos:
Sue had quickly made some sandwiches to take with us. After an hour and a half of hiking we sat down and ate our lunch. Soon after lunch we were on the ‘down’ tram. We got home shortly after 1. Sue went outside and read and I sat down at my computer and did some more work. We had an early supper and then watched our DVD rental from yesterday, “Smashed”. It was pretty good — the story of an alcoholic wife and teacher. We took a little moonlight (full moon soon) stroll after the movie and returned the rental to the Vons across the road. Sue watched some TV while I finished up one of my web projects. Ice cream for snack, and then off to bed a little after midnight.
I worked on the computer again all morning. I know that it’s our last week here and that in a week from now I’ll be wishing I’d spent more time outside in this beautiful place, but I’m just getting swamped with work! Oh well, I really enjoy doing computer work too, so I’m not really complaining. Sue read her book club book. Sue called MTS and arranged to have our TV and internet hooked up for us for the 4th of April. Shortly after lunch the gardeners came and chased Sue back into the house. She skyped with Alex. Then it was time for us to get to our golf appointment. We went to Palm Desert again — Sue thinks it’s one of best courses for us. Although our tee time was for 3:08 Sue managed to talk the pro into letting us on 20 minutes early and to golf as a twosome. For the first few holes there was no one ahead of us, but we quickly caught up to the foursome ahead of us. By the second nine it became clear that we would NOT be barbecuing early today — things were a bit backed up and we had to wait at every tee. But we had a lot of fun, especially because the day was absolutely perfect for golf. A bit cloudy and hazy, a nice cooling breeze every now and again (those 30mph winds that were forecast for late afternoon never materialized), and such beauty all around us. And because we were slowed up we also got to enjoy the evening shadows on the nearby mountains and a sky on fire as the sun set.
We stopped at Albertson’s after we finished our game at around 6:30. We need more fruit for breakfast and I bought my last box of St Pauli Girl beer. It will be a bit of a shock to our system to not be able to buy great imported beer for a buck a bottle when we get home. At home we barbecued cheese and bacon burgers and watched our shows. We had a little night snack and then mosied off to bed at around 11.
Although we had sort of talked about going to see The Living Desert today, we decided at the last minute to go there by bike. I checked the distance and it was an easy 15km ride each way. I pumped up the rear tires on each bike and we were off. Some golfing friends had highly recommended the park to us — in fact, they suggested that we’d be hard-pressed to see it all in THREE days. They had even bought annual memberships so they could keep going back. Well, with only 3 days left here in Palm Springs, we decided we’d better go check it out. Our golfing friends had praised the 9:30 Nature Walk and the 11:00 Wildlife Wonders Show. We had to hurry a bit to make it to the park by 9:30, but luckily for us the ride there was mostly downhill. We arrived at the park and chained up our bikes. We were pretty sweaty as we stood in line to get our tickets. We went through the gates just in time to join the Nature Walk. Well, for a few minutes it looked like we were the ONLY ones on the Nature Walk. But a few others gathered around our tour guide and when we departed we were about 10 people in the group. The guide took us down the pathway and sat us all down in a circle at a rest spot and handed out laminated booklets. We all introduced ourselves (more Canadians again) and then he began his lecture. He told us that his style would somewhat ‘academic’. He talked about deserts, about rainfall patterns, about tectonic plates. At one point he asked the young kids who were sitting there looking bored why they weren’t at the giraffe feeding — wouldn’t that be way more interesting? Finally, after about 15 minutes of going on and on about the average rainfall in Palm Springs, we were off. Not so fast! We’re about 10 feet from the introductory rest spot. Let’s just take a look at this palo verde tree. Why do you think it has green bark? Well, they do photosynthesis. And so on. And on. And on. And then, when everyone in the group is gazing down the path, hoping that this guy will stop talking and start walking, the lady from Victoria who dragged her husband away from his bike ride to join her for this informative nature walk pipes up with a question. Good question!, announces the tour guide, and off he goes on another explanation. And that’s how it went. I whispered to Sue that I was NOT going to make it for the full hike and that she was free to join me in breaking away with the next big field trip group when they filed past us.
[symple_divider style=”solid” margin_top=”20px” margin_bottom=”20px”]Next, we stopped to look at some animals. And what animal did we see on our first stop? A couple of turtles pacing their cage. I know turtles can be slow and boring, but these two were just zipping back and forth along the cage. And the tour guide, whose approach is even slower than a turtle, launches into another ‘academic’ lecture. He goes on and on. And Miss Victoria (obviously a retired ‘educator’ — you can just tell this by looking and listening to her — does her best impression of Susan Wiebe at a SMC congregational meeting by asking question after uninteresting question. She enunciates every word and makes sure that each sentence has a subject and a predicate. I’m starting to gasp for air. I need to make a break for it. I point my camera at an imaginary butterfly and follow it away from the group until I’m out of sight. Whew! I check out some more of the displays, a big puma, some african deer, and finally end up at the amphitheatre where the Wildlife show is supposed to stat in 20 minutes. I sit and watch little schoolkids on a field trip fill up the bleachers. A couple with their two kids come sit down beside me. I look at the mom, she looks at me — hey, these people were in the morning Nature hike — and she says ‘hey, you escaped too!’. You mean it wasn’t over yet? No, but we couldn’t take it. Where’s your wife? I guess she’s still listening to the talk. But just before the show was to begin, there comes Sue — was it over? no, not yet, but I had to leave. The guide was bad but that Miss Victoria was W-A-Y worse! We watched the animal show, an impressive eagle and some furry animals too, and then we left. We both agreed that we would pass on a visit to ‘The Ant Lab’ or any of the other displays — we were done, ready to go home. So we got on our bikes and cycled back to the house. Had lunch. Showered. Skyped with Max for a few minutes. Then Sue went outside to read and I went to my room to compute.
We had happy hour at around 4pm and I lit the barbecue at around 6. Chicken and potatoes. Watched the news. Skyped with JP. Then at 7:30 we drove down to the Palme d’Or to see a movie. Not too many people out for ‘the late show’! No problem finding a parking spot here after 7pm! Our movie was ‘Lore’, a German movie with subtitles, all about a Nazi family after the war. The movie was very well done — and very sad. We got back on the empty streets at 10pm and looked for a place to get an ice cream. Nothing’s open. Oh well, let’s go home and you can have ice cream there. So that’s what we did.
Another beautiful morning in Rancho Mirage. Sue got up at 6:30; I slept until 8:00. Got up and had a coffee before the ‘official’ Good Friday breakfast — French toast with icing sugar, peanut butter, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, and ALL the Aunt Jemima pancake syrup left in the bottle poured over the whole shebang. So now you know it’s a special day.
After breakfast Sue started gathering up our stuff from the cupboards — the packing has begun. Alex skyped to show us the marvellous Easter cake she baked to bring to the Nikkel gathering today at Walter and Angie’s. I took the pedals off our bikes and parked the bikes in the van, all ready for the trip home. Dave Driedger skyped too, and tried to convince us that it really is better in Manitoba.
But the whole day wasn’t just one long depressing packing day. No, Sue booked a tee time at the Oasis Country Club, and so we stopped all the packing and headed off for some golf at around 2 in the afternoon. When we got there we saw lots of people, lots of cars and golf carts, lots of celebrating people. I guess they had a big Good Friday celebration at the country club. Sue found some pretty nice Nike golf shoes in the clubhouse — and got 50% off, today only. So that was a good deal!
We were paired up with a couple of young golfers from L.A. who turned out to be very good golfers. I would take my trusty (3-wood) driver and tee off from the whites, occasionally getting it within 100 yards of the hole, while these two jokers would take an 8-iron from the back tees and blast it onto the green! And once on the green, they’d line up their 30-foot putts and roll the ball into the hole, while my game was TOTAL SHIT! Really! It was MISERABLE! On hole number one I shot my first shot into the fountain. Too far to retrieve it. Took a second ball. Plunked it into the same spot in the fountain. Third ball. Over the green. Meanwhile Sue pars the hole. The two schlengels par the hole. You know, what really pisses me off is that my friend Robert Dyck shot his best game ever on his birthday. Well, this is our LAST golf game this winter (probably until some time in JUNE!) and tomorrow’s my birthday — and golf gods are being mean to me.
Oh well, any day on the golf course is better than a day shoveling the driveway. And each hole is a new game. Not today. By the end of nine holes I was totally defeated. Ready to call it quits and go home.
But the weather was perfect and the course was beautiful, and I’m too old to whine. And I played much better on the back nine. In fact, at about hole number 15 there was a big gallery of neighbours, drinking and laughing and being very noise, who welcomed each golf party when they rolled up to the tee blocks, cheering like the fans at the TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole. One guy had a big ‘QUIET’ sign which he held up as we prepared to tee off — and then he yelled, “Quiet! We’re trying to have a party here!” As unnerving as it was to have to tee off in front of the gallery, it made us laugh and relax and have a better time.
After finishing the final hole we drove back to the house. It was 7 o’clock. Time to tune into our comedy shows. Meanwhile, Sue started cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and in no time we were enjoying a hot and spicy shrimp and pasta dinner. Fantastic!
Tonight’s TV will include “Kitchen Nightmares”, “Shark Tank”, and “Rock Centre with Brian Williams”. Good times on a Friday at home with the Nikkels.
I woke up a year older than when I went to bed last night. It’s our last full day here in Rancho Mirage. Another hot one. Nothing on the menu today — no more golf, no movie, no bike ride. Got a few happy birthday emails today. Had our usual bacon and eggs for Saturday breakfast.
Sue was busy cleaning and packing today. Laundry. Cleaning out the fridge. Sorting what to put in which rubbermaid bin. I sat at my Mac one last day before I packed it up into its box and loaded it into the van. Had a good time doing some web work. I’m already looking forward to more of the same when we get home.
I skyped with Tim and Alex and Max. Also got a skype from my brother Walter — all the Nikkel children are gathered at his place for Easter and they seemed to be celebrating quite a bit. I called my parents — they were happy that it seemed to be warming up a bit at home.
I barbecued some fine whistle dogs for supper. Now the fridge is empty. We sat in front of the TV in the evening. We booked us a hotel for tomorrow night in Vegas. We plan to visit the Joshua Tree National Park tomorrow morning, then drive up through the desert (courtesy of a hand-drawn map that JP shared with me) up to Vegas.
We were up before 7. Sue did one last load of laundry and I vacuumed. We had breakfast. We still managed to watch our morning CNN news shows. We packed our stuff into the van. We left our house at 9:30. We drove east on Hwy 10 to the turnoff to the Joshua Tree National Park. The drive up into the park wasn’t all that impressive. Nothing but ‘regular’ desert. We got to the south park entrance and paid our entrance fee and got a map. The park official recommended the Oasis at Cottonwood Spring, and then to take the extra drive out to Keys View on our way out of the park. So that’s what we did. We went for a 2-mile hike in the sand. There were lots of yucca plants but no Joshua trees. But the temperature was good and so was the path.
From there we headed up through the park, heading for the Keys View. Along the way we drove through Joshua tree forests which were very impressive. Lots of visitors in the park this Easter Sunday. There were regular turnouts along the road where we could stop and get out for a photo. The vegetation and the geology of this park is so unique, so unusual, and so varied. Big white jumbo rocks. ‘Orchards’ of Joshua trees. Then we got to the lookout. We could see all the way to the Salton Sea, to the white snow-covered peak of San Jacinto, to the desert cities where we’d just spent the past 3 months. Gorgeous. And the temperature was 16 degrees, 10 degrees cooler than it was on the drive down below.
Well, that drive through the park took longer than we’d expected. It was 12:30 and we were still miles from reaching Twentynine Palms, our lunch stop. So Sue starting making little mini-sandwiches (crackers and cheese) which we ate as we drove. We finally got to Twentynine Palms after 1:30. Stopped for burgers. And now the second half of today’s adventure began.
We were using the map which JP used when he drove down to Palm Desert this winter. It was a hand-drawn map that showed a route that took a ‘shortcut’ up to Las Vegas. The road was two-lane, mostly in good condition, no services, not too much traffic, a warning not to get caught speeding. It went through the Mojave Desert. We saw more Joshua trees, salt flats, lava rock, and big (empty) desert valleys. Sue read from the map and navigated the turns. The temperature was comfortable.
We finally turned onto the I-15 just before leaving California. Man, there was traffic on that road! Trucks, trucks, and more trucks. And then, just as we got to the Nevada border, with it’s huge casinos standing tall as beacons just across the line, the 3 lanes of traffic going west (the opposite of our direction) turned into one very long parking lot. Three lanes of crawling vehicles. I guess everyone in L.A. had gone to Vegas for the Easter long weekend and was now trying to go back home — at the same time as everyone else. We were very glad we were going northwest instead of southeast.
Another 40 minutes from the border and we were at our hotel, a Springhill Suites hotel. We checked in. Had a drink. Got online and searched out a hotel for tomorrow night. Booked one near Salt Lake City. I checked out the tour options for our visit to the Hoover Dam tomorrow morning.
Then we went out for supper. We ended up at an ‘authentic’ Italian pizza place. We ordered 2 pizzas and could only finish half of each of ours. I guess we’ve got tomorrow’s lunch. Back at the hotel we looked at our photos, deleted half of them. wrote the journal and watched some TV.
Looking forward to day two of the road trip tomorrow.
We woke up early. Went down for breakfast at the Springhill Suites — great breakfast but there were SO MANY families, with little kids running around and making a racket. Oh well, we weren’t spending the whole morning here. We packed up and hopped into the van. The drive to Boulder was about 30 minutes. We passed the ‘official’ parking lot and parked on a small free parking lot just across the dam. Then we walked back across the dam to the ticket booth. We bought the $30 Dam Tour tickets. We went in to watch a 30-minute film about the project. Then we were split up into groups of 20 and taken on a guided tour. It was quite interesting. The dam is more than just a functional feat of engineering; it is also a fine example of 1930s architecture and craftsmanship. We went down several elevators down deep into the actual dam. Our ‘premium’ ticket allowed us to walk through narrow vent openings and look up and down fire escape stairways. It was all quite interesting. At the end of the tour we stood on top of the dam and looked out at the new Colorado River Bridge that opened in October 2010 — a very impressive structure that connects Vegas to the Grand Canyon and Phoenix, etc. And then we walked back to our van and left.
We left the Hoover Dam at around noon. The day was warm. LOTS of traffic going in to the dam so we were glad we’d gone early. Now we needed lunch. Well, we have that leftover pizza from last night — maybe we should pull over somewhere and eat that. We parked on a Dairy Queen parking lot and ate the pizza. Too full to go in for an ice cream after that. Back on the road. It was a very beautiful 5.5 hour drive this afternoon. The scenery is so spectacular. It seemed to me that there was way more traffic than other years — maybe because it’s Spring Break? Lots of trucks. I really didn’t put my cruise control on until the last hour. It felt a bit like driving in Europe — 80 miles per hour speed limit and constantly passing or being passed. Not very relaxing. But the red and orange rocks of southern Utah were stunning. Everything was going well. The outside temperature showed 26 degrees. And then, shortly after we’d stopped for an ice cream cone, the clouds rolled in. And it rained. And it got dark. And the temperature dropped to 5 degrees in less than half an hour. And everyone just kept driving like crazy. It lasted for about an hour. By the time we pulled into Orem, where we’d booked our hotel, the temperature was back to 16 degrees and most of the clouds were gone.
We found our hotel but instead of checking in, went to a small Thai restaurant just down the road. Very Thai. Simple, but good food and friendly service. We even got fortune cookies to finish it off. Maybe an omen: Sue’s fortune says, “You will soon be involved in many gatherings and parties.” Okay, not only are we heading back into the frigid cold, but apparently we’re jumping right back into a full social calendar. Oh boy.
Back in the hotel, Sue called Alex. I looked at our photos. Sue booked us a hotel for tomorrow night in Billings, Montana. We have a couple of very long days of driving ahead.
We got up early and had a quick waffle in the hotel breakfast room. We lost an hour because of the time change. We were in the van by 8:20 and on the road. It was raining and miserable and the highway was very busy with rush-hour traffic all heading into Salt Lake City. Not ideal driving conditions. But then, not even an hour into the trip, the rain stopped and we were through Salt Lake City and the scenery was so beautiful — it was FUN to be on the road. Low-hanging clouds obscured the peaks of the Rockies to the east, but we could see the foothills and an occasional break in the clouds revealed the snow-covered tops of the mountains. Great! We were surprised at how many licence plates were from Alberta — especially big motorhomes and fifth-wheel trailers. I guess most of Alberta has been down in southwest USA and their rentals end at the end of March, and now, just like we, they are going home.
We stopped for lunch in Rexburg, just outside of Idaho Falls. We’d gone about 500kms. Sue took a turn at the wheel. She would drive through Idaho, then up past Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, and up into Montana. Most of the way was two-lane, not too busy traffic-wise, but not the 80mph speed limit of the freeways either. But the scenery was great. We passed through Big Sky in Montana, a favorite ski destination for many of our friends. We saw fast-running streams and quite a few fly-fishermen in their hip-waders angling for greyling in the freezing rivers. And because Sue was driving I was in charge of the ipod — so Johnny Cash inspired the Genius Playlist. And I read the Time magazine feature article on the costs of health care in America on my iPad.
In Bozeman, Montana we had a couple of super-thick Dairy Queen milkshakes (one peanut butter and the other strawberry) for our mid-afternoon snack. Switched drivers again. Now we were on the I-90. And at Billings we got on the I-94 which will take us all the way to Fargo. And the big highway had little traffic. Time to set the cruise at 135kph and enjoy the ride. That old Montana van of hours sure has served us well! We originally bought it for our 2008 Oregon cycling trip — but we like driving it and it’s so practical we keep taking it on these road trips: twice to Phoenix, once to Vancouver Island, last summer to Cape Breton, and this year to Palm Desert. And I don’t spend money on it and barely change the oil on it, and one of these days it will probably let us down, but today that 2001 Montana enjoyed the race through Montana.
We’d semi-booked a hotel in Billings but it was 5:00pm when we whistled through there so we decided to drive another couple of hours and call it a day in Mile City. Sue called a couple of hotels (we got the phone numbers from our GPS) and booked the Holiday Inn Express, the only ‘pet-free’ hotel here. By the way, do you know that when you call a hotel and ask for ‘pet-free’ they assume you mean pet-friendly and go on and on about how pet-friendly they are, not realizing they are talking themselves out of a sale? And when you type ‘pet free hotel’ into google the first five hits are for ‘pet friendly’ where pets stay for ‘free’! It’s disgusting! Everyone makes a big stink about ‘smoke-free’ but I’d way rather stay in a smoker’s room than sleep in a bed where some dog has shat in.
When we got into Mile City it was about 7:45. Since we had pre-booked our room we decided to find supper before checking in. Sue picked ‘Goliger’s Family Restaurant’. We sat in the bar and ordered fried chicken (my choice, not Sue’s). The waitresses were tired and not that excited about the customers. And more customers kept coming in. And when someone ordered the waitress would reply (loudly) “I’ll see what I can do when I get a minute!” A mom and her kid were busy putting money into a couple of the VLTs on the back wall. Three ‘real’ cowboys came in, sat down at the bar, ordered real Buds (in the bottle, not on tap) and steak sandwich with A1 sauce. And then one of them goes to get some cash from the ATM machine and pours it into one of the VLT machines in the back. Comes back, sits down at the bar, has a few more bites of his dinner. Back to the ATM machine for another hit. He heads to the VLT and blows that wad too. Goes back to the bar for more A1 sauce with steak. Sue and I sit there and shake our heads. We’re SO not hip. This all seems so stupid! If it was up to us, we’d set up an automatic deposit with the Steinbach Credit Union and have the money just go from there directly to the gaming commission. That way at least we could sit and eat our steak sandwich while it was still sparking hot out of the microwave and not have to waste all that time walking back and forth between the “money machines”.
We check in at the Holiday Inn — the receptionist says we’re so lucky that we booked when we did because although there were plenty of rooms available when we called, right after that they had a deluge of people and they are now solidly booked! Lucky for us.
We’ve got about 10 hours of driving left from here to home. We’ll try doing that tomorrow. That is, if the weather holds. And if our Montana keeps on truckin’.
Sue woke up early. Chased me out of bed and into the shower. Rudy, we gotta get going. It was too early to force breakfast down my throat. Sue went and got a bunch of little muffins and a couple of yogurts from the breakfast in the hotel lobby. It was cold and dry outside. Clear sky. We have a 10-hour drive ahead of us. We were on the road at 7:35 Mountain time. A few clouds in the eastern sky kept the sun out of my eyes as we angled northwest from Mile City, Montana. We had coffees to go — which meant that by the time we got to Sidney, a small dirty town just before the North Dakota border, we needed a washroom break. Well, why not go to the Macdonald’s and get an Egg McMuffin at the same time? Big sign on the door of Macdonald’s says ‘Sorry. Closed today. Due to labor shortage we can’t open the restaurant’. What? Labour shortage? I thought that people were out of work and business was suffering? Not here. We punched the next town into the Garmin. Williston, North Dakota. Big new Macdonald’s. VERY busy. Parking lot is all full. People inside are standing in a long line holding their ‘tickets’ with their order number, waiting for their food. About 25 people are working their butts off in the kitchen. Sue suggested that maybe I would like to order ‘lunch’ instead of breakfast, since it was already close to 11:00, and actually 12:00 with the time change. We waited longer than we’ve EVER waited for our order. Not really worth it, either.
We filled up the car at a big new gas station. The ice cold wind blew right through my windbreaker and jacket. B-r-r-r-r. This is what we’re going home to? Back on the road. Big oil pumps all over. Lots of construction. No, LOTS of construction. This is the most ugly country I’ve ever seen! All the cars (well, trucks mostly — everyone here drives a big Dodge RAM 4×4) are filthy. So is our van! Bugs plastered to the windshield from the warm drive through Montana yesterday afternoon — and now they’re getting FROZEN on. I couldn’t read the license plates on any of the cars and trucks I passed because they were covered with dust and dirt. Plastic bags fluttered in the gale-force winds, trying desperately to hang on the barbed wire fence along the side of the road. Row upon row of big steel buildings with big parking lots full of equipment everywhere. Lots of manufacturing going on here. Looks like pipeline work. Looks like UGLY work. I thought that there were a lot of people living in mobile homes in Phoenix, but this takes the cake. Fenced in yards with a mobile trailer with several attached porches and an old truck camper shell lying beside it, right next to where the barking black dog is chained up, across from a line of old washers and dryers and maybe a car or two that don’t work anymore but one of these days when you get around to it you’re gonna make sumpin outta that stuff. And if you don’t have a beat-up trailer to live in then maybe you’d consider one of the many ‘labor camps’ that are popping up all over here — row upon row of ‘factory-built’ tiny bungalows with just enough room between each house for you to park your truck. This is NOTHING like the (artificial) paradise we just spent the last 3 months in, where everything on the yard is immaculate and the houses are all tidy, and the residents are all retired. But I guess that’s the thing about trade and commerce — it don’t have to be pretty but it pays the bills.
Our Garmin was mapping out a route that took us up along Hwy 2 in northern North Dakota. So for much of the afternoon we passed big highway semis along a two-lane road 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Sue read her kindle. The Garmin said at the rate we were going we’d be home by about 7pm. The temperature outside went down to 1 degree. Snow on the fields on either side of us.
Close to the I-29 we began to see quite a few deer — and at one point a whole row of them ran across the road in front of us. Unfortunately, by the time I got a hold of the camera and figured out where the on/off button was all I got was a photo of their rear ends as they trotted off into the snowy field. We stopped at a Dairy Queen near Hallock for one last peanut butter shake.
The Tolstoi border crossing had 2 white vans ahead of our Montana when we arrived there at 6pm. Both went through quickly. The border guy asks us how long we’ve been away. Any alcohol or tobacco? Any work done to the vehicle? He takes our passports inside, comes right back out and sends us on our way. Didn’t even ask us where we were from or where we had been! Welcome to Canada.
We got to Steinbach just before 7pm. We stopped at Tim Hortons and picked up a couple of bowls of chili and went home. Neighbour Nathan sees our van in our garage and comes to say hello. Sue decides that we should unpack first and then eat our supper. (There is only one correct response when Sue makes a suggestion like that.) We unpack. Put the bikes back together and park the golf bags in the garage. Sue has the suitcases unpacked. We eat our chili. No TV, no internet — that will get connected tomorrow. But we’re home. Sue calls Alex to let her know.
Tomorrow we’ll see Max. We’ll go say hi to Tim and Alex. We’ll say hello to my mom and dad and Sue will visit her mom in the nursing home. We’ll probably have my sister Linda and her husband Dale over for supper — they’re visiting from Abbotsford and will be going back home early Saturday morning.
Yeah, the weather here sucks. The scenery is downright ugly compared to where we’ve been and the places we’ve driven through in the last few days. We probably won’t be taking out those golf clubs for a couple of months. We’ll probably even leave the bikes in the garage for a while. But it’s home. And the people we care about are here. And that’s the best thing about coming home.