Sunday, April 28, 2019

Chasing The Sun: Five Days in America

(written by Robert J Williams)

Day 1: Michigan

The border officer just didn’t get it. She couldn’t understand why we were going north then west to begin our US journey to BC, instead of south around the Lake and through Chicago. But she let us go, anyway. We drove for hours before getting to the northern peninsula and as we crossed the Mackinac Bridge we saw ourselves surrounded by three Great Lakes: Michigan, Huron and Superior. It was a sight to behold: the water was so cold that tiny chunks of ice floes bobbed up and down in the choppy waves. Either spring had forgotten to come, or winter had forgotten to leave. Likely the latter.

St. Ignace, once a French village and later a fur trading post, was founded in 1671, named after Jesuit missionaries serving in North America. Chantal and I were surprised to see so many French names still preserved here after so long. Even more surprising, across the street from our hotel stood an old drive-in called Clyde’s, first opened in 1949. Their season had just started two days earlier, our server told us, and they were already backed up. I watched the cook at the grill work his magic, flipping and wrapping with both hands. “He can do up to fifty patties at a time,” she said after we ordered. We understood later why the McDonalds down the street was empty. The restaurant was pure vintage America: red and white colors, simple menu, and very thick shakes.

The hotel’s key card had a slogan on the front: “better over the bridge.” They were right. The view was amazing, and the suspension bridge itself reminded me of the character of the Golden Gate over San Francisco: strong, bold and fearless, although the strong winds required escorts from ground crews for larger vehicles and towables. Bridges also seemed uniquely American here, going well with the all the roads that we’d forgotten about.

View of Mackinac Bridge from hotel | Good old fashioned drive-in!

Day 2: Michigan and Wisconsin

What the hell are pasties? I wondered, seeing sign after sign on Route 2 going west. Were they all just pastries, each sign somehow misspelled the same way? Were they fish cakes? As it turned out, pasties are as unique to northern Michigan as poutine is to Quebec. They are Cornish style crunchy baked pies filled with beef or chicken, diced potato, rutabaga and onion, served with gravy all over them. We had to try one, but all the shops were closed on a Sunday morning. We had to wait.

We continued driving west, with Lake Superior watching us from our right the entire way. The water was filled with ice chunks being bounced around like pinballs against the rocky islands near shore. The ice was so thick, even in April, that we saw people with sleds and fishing poles way out in the distance. Deer crossed our path several times, and the crows fed on the ones who hadn’t made it. The whole area was filled with tiny villages and bait shops and boat launches, a vast fisherman’s paradise.

We finally reached Wisconsin, and Chantal stressed as she managed to get a shot of the border sign. Our 32nd state was now in the books. Along the road there were many turnouts and park entrances, still closed until the snow and ice subsided. We drove through forest after forest, all part of the Hiawatha and Ottawa National Park systems.

Day 3: Minnesota and North Dakota

After hearing about them in St Ignace, Michigan, and buying them in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, we finally had pasties in Bismarck, North Dakota. Described as enlarged hot pockets surrounded by crusty dough, they reminded us of tourtiere meat pies for Christmas. They were delicious, especially when smothered in gravy.

Frost and an orange striped sunrise greeted us in Duluth as we pulled away early and headed west. The ten thousand lakes and fishermen’s paradise of Minnesota soon became the ten thousand farms of North Dakota as we drove west across I-94, a road so quiet we felt like we owned it. The flatlands stretched as far as the eye could see, and the clouds above loomed so large they looked ready to swallow us whole.

The state continued to open up for us as we kept driving. Vintage cowboy towns began to reveal themselves, like the one in Medora, a quaint village right next to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We stopped at a gift shop and were introduced to a cashier from Luxembourg who married a rancher and after all these years was still overwhelmed by all the space around her. I picked up my usual shot glass as we headed out.

We found a nice hotel in Bismarck, the state capital. There we were treated to a breakfast that challenged all of my dreams: a showcase filled with cake donuts; a steam table filled with sausage, scrambled egg and hash browns; another steam table filled with French toast sticks and maple syrup; and, in a far corner, a chocolate waffle station complete with whipped cream and chilled strawberries. Even the coffee post was impressive, featuring three roasts and six types of creamers. We could have stayed a week, and almost did.

Wisconsin | Medora, ND | Bismarck AmericInn Hotel lounge

Day 4: Montana

As we crossed into America’s fourth largest state, I tried to remember scenes from old movies, such as Legends of the Fall and The Horse Whisperer to gear up for the coming landscape. It was as wide open and vast as I expected. We took smaller, lonelier roads across most of the way and wondered what people did here during what little free time they had. Small towns were spread apart twenty, thirty and forty miles, with very little in between other than immense farms and ranches, with mailboxes attached to gravel side roads that disappeared far off into the distance to their hidden homes.

As we approached Great Falls, our last US destination, the grasslands magically transformed into forests and mountainous terrain, and the dipping sunlight sent off a glaze to the freshly fallen rain on the roads. The hotel clerk told us that Great Falls used to have falls, but were replaced with dams, and the town was now known as Electric City. We unpacked quickly and found our way to one of our favorite restaurant hang outs, Chili’s. Margueritas were on special, but we decided to stay clean.

Day 5: Montana and Lethbridge

The sun stayed with us as we reached the border. No other trip across America had been so fast for us as this one had been, and Interstate 15 remained quiet all the way to Canada, reminding us how intoxicating driving through the United States can really be. We could have kept on going, and perhaps someday will. But for today, our target was Lethbridge and, beyond it, a small town called Blairmore, home to the famous Crowsnest Pass and the buried town of Frank’s Slide.

I was not feeling well that day and we stopped at a Tim Hortons on our way. I had a bowl of cream of broccoli soup that was so hot and delicious that I had forgotten about my fever and congestion. We drove along Route 3 through Crowsnest, one of the few highways available to cross through the mighty Rockies into BC. The scenery was even more breathtaking than it had been six months earlier, and slowing our way through the massive rubble of Frank’s Slide was as incredible as driving up the side of a mountain.

We followed the sun one last time to our final hotel, where rest came early and quickly. The next day would bring us back to Golden, where our western Canadian adventure first began a year ago and would resume again, to go back to our RV that was waiting for us for a new season of travel and adventure.

Montana | Back to BC!


  1. Un tres beau résumé de Robert comme toujours ,je pense que la traduction est bien meilleur .
    Bravo a vous deux pour cette beau voyage en pensées et en photos aussi .

  2. Loved your descriptive phrases to make the reader feel as if we were experiencing the adventure right along with you!


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