Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Rosetown, Saskatchewan Canada – Chicago, Illinois USA, Day 138-143, 17-23 August 2008

Rosetown, Saskatchewan Canada – Chicago, Illinois USA

Day 138-143

17-23 August 2008

This section: 2,116km

Total: 15,813km

Soundtrack:

‘Blue Canadian Rockies’ – The Byrds

‘9th & Hennepin’ – Tom Waits

‘Hangin Downtown’ – The Replacements

‘I-94′ – Radio Birdman

‘Around the World in a Day’ – Prince and the Revolution

‘Mississippi Goddam’ – Nina Simone

‘Lazy River’ – Rickie Lee Jones, et al

 

SK: We left Jen, John and Harry, and feeling rather melancholy we headed east to the prairies. Our aim was to cross into Saskatchewan (I just love writing that) and stop in Saskatoon (likewise). A big drive of about six hours.

I was impressed at first sight with the famous prairie landscape. Flat, flat country, with fields of canola, wheat, lentils as far as the eye could see. The wind had picked up, and the heads of grain were waving as we drove by. It was mesmerising, and a cliché of every literary, film and pop cultural reference of this kind of landscape. Towns were few and small, pick up trucks were fast (we were overtaken constantly), and our windscreen was soon covered with the detritus of an entomological collection. All of this was engaging and entertaining… for a while.

After a few hours, the scenery became less engaging, and more relentless. The mood in the car was quiet. Maddy was working her way through the last Harry Potter, Raffy was writing lists of names for the schnauzer that would be his next year (“Mengendary” (sic) is currently top of the list), and Danny and I watched the clock, and the ceaseless grain fields, and wondered if we would make Saskatoon in time for dinner. 

(Pic: The long road through the Canadian prairies)

By 5.00pm we’d had enough, and pulled up in Rosetown for the night. Rather than a motel, we checked out the local campground, hoping for a cabin to get out of the wind. (Our tent is showing signs of wear and tear and not up to much wind, having sustained some mysterious holes somewhere en route from Australia to the USA.)

No luck there, so we opted for the Rosetown Country Inn, and dinner at the local diner.

DB: The further we drove east into Canada’s fabled prairies the broader the Canadian accent became. And not just the emblematic “eh” welded on to the end of sentences, but the clipping of certain vowels as well. With an almost Scottish bent to it, having a social life now became being “oot and aboot”.

They say that in the Canadian Prairies you can watch your dog run away for three days. The vast expanses of mostly treeless farmland allowed the wind to howl unabated, and carry soil, dust and grit with it. Matched equally by invertebrates who were disturbingly attracted to our truck meant it got buffeted considerably. By the end of the prairies I was regularly fishing bugs out from the grill, snorkel and radiator (I couldn’t use a shield or guard over the grill as I was advised that it might overheat the turbo).

SK: The next day saw more of the same landscape and wind conditions on the way to Saskatoon. We had made arrangements to meet up with Fay and Robert Angell, the parents-in-law of Barb Angell, whose class we had spoken with at the Australian School in Singapore.

After a quick look around downtown Saskatoon, we drove out to meet people again kind enough to open their home to us based on a serendipitous and tenuous connection.

Fay and Robert provided a hearty lunch and scintillating conversation, and all too quickly it was time to leave, and continue on to Regina.

Bidding a fond farewell, we left Saskatoon, and drove on to the province’s capital, noting that every tree we saw was supposedly planted by hand. Regina (DB: yes, pronounced that way, which gave Maddy and Raffy, and maybe their parents, much amusement, fnar fnar) was another city that we just drove through on the way to somewhere to sleep. This part of the country involved long distances to cover, and not much opportunity to explore, which is not our preferred way of travelling. We felt that we were not doing great justice to this part of the world, but needed to keep moving.

From Regina, it was onto Winnipeg in Manitoba. We crossed the province border, and waved farewell to Saskatchewan. On the road past Virden, where we had stopped for lunch, we were overtaken (yet again) by a truck barrelling past. We heard a quiet ‘smack’ but couldn’t see any damage. Given that the windscreen was covered with insect debris, it was hard to see anything. We pulled up at the Place Louis Riel, a hotel named in honour of a famous Métis (Native American/European community), whose name kept cropping up everywhere, and we hoped that in his hometown we would find out who he was. And we did.

(Pic: Maddy scoots past a bear statue in Winnipeg)

Gloriously, our hotel really had a fully equipped kitchen and somewhere to eat (many places promise, but don’t always deliver – no stove, missing cooking equipment, no tables and chairs. Sounds petty, but all this is important to us, as we prefer to cook our own meals, and eat together at a table!) so it was roast chicken, salmon, potatoes and vegies all round for dinner.

The next morning, scooting children in tow, we headed off into the city, first to The Manitoba Museum. This institution is hugely ambitious, pretty much covering the development of the planet, the evolution of life, the creation of the species, and the achievements of human kind all refracted through the province itself. In the most part this was successful, but given that the Museum opened in the 1960s, some of the displays were as telling about the curatorial approaches at the time as much as the message they were conveying (DB: I suggested it could be a museum about museums through the ages). Raffy left the building saying of the Museum “that was awesome” which is always a ringing endorsement for any institution.

After lunch we had another great museum experience (love this town) at the Manitoba Electrical Museum. Our seven-year old electrical engineer had seen the ad for it in a local tourist paper. The museum was located at the Winnipeg Hydro-Electric plant. Our fabulous guide Neil, a former worker at the power plant, shared his passion and pride in Manitoba’s renewable energy efficiency – 95% of all power used in the province is hydro or wind – and the displays were engaging and informative. Between Bonneville Dam and this station, we all know our turbines from our copper stator coils.

(Pic: Danny and Raffy check out an old tramcar in Winnipeg)

DB: This museum displayed an old Winnipeg electric tram. Neil informed us that Winnipeg used to have a substantial network of electric buses and trams that serviced the city, which was perfect as the power to run them was essentially free. However, the powers that be one day decided that petroleum buses would be a better option. We had a quick chat about the long and insidious arm of the petrochemical companies – a conversation that continued on from the one I had with John in Calgary, who, working in promoting bio-fuels, given Canada’s enormous production of canola, was finding it difficult to get government to even listen.

SK: A beer by the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers capped off a great day. 

The next day we were back off to the States. (Yes, driving from one country to another again, as you do.) Before we left Winnipeg, Danny cleaned the splats off the windscreen, and it was only then that we saw the damage by the stone. A vertical crack, about 5cm long, had grown from a chip at base of the left hand wiper blade. We marked the top point, to see if it would grow as we drove.

At the border we again encountered friendly and courteous customs officers. Where do they get these people? A scruffy family of four, with a dusty car loaded to the brim with gear, and they are unfailingly polite and interested. Very appreciative, we are. We drove through into North Dakota, and swapped our colourful Canadian currency for greenbacks.

We lunched in Drayton, catfish capital of the north, at a local diner, which was closing for good on the weekend. It was a fine meal. Good bye and good luck. Then on to Fargo for the night. Still being buffeted constantly , we watched the crack take a right hand turn and grow another five centimetres.

Fargo sure looked different than in the movie. We had a quick look around the town, marvelled at the magnificent houses. It was only a brief stop, and then we drove into Minnesota, legendary for, well, having a professional wrestler as governor.

(Pic: Reflection in a truck’s hubcap, Fargo)

DB: We stayed slightly out of town, not the best choice of location for our accommodation in Minneapolis, but we had a great morning exploring some of the revitalised downtown, with some inspiring architecture and heart-rendering references to Tom Waits songs, and wondering what the Artist Formally Known As the Artist Formally Known As Prince gets up to in his mansion down the road. The hunt for specific locations noted in popular culture is something that would crescendo in a couple of days. We could have spent longer but needed to catch up on some of the time lost in Los Angeles.

(Pic: Sandy does her best Mary Tyler Moore, Minneapolis)

Many of the drives required us to use the infamous US and Canadian highway and freeway system, which, for the most part, is appalling. Badly surfaced and crumbling, littered with the detritus of trucks’ lost retreads and fender-benders past, and lead-foots who seem to have been away from school the day they did maths, as every speed limit seems to be increased by twenty kilometres an hour by the ever-present rogue driver.

(Pic: Minneapolis)

One of the more surprising and frustrating aspects about some of the freeways is the location of the on- and off-ramps. I had been used to a system of an off-ramp being located before an on-ramp, so that vehicles could get off the freeway without having to negotiate the ones coming on. Not so for much of this journey. Getting off a freeway sometimes meant that I had to negotiate vehicles flying down a freeway ramp into my lane, which invariably meant a confluence of dozens of vehicles at high speed, each wanting the other to get the hell out of the way. Thankfully we remain unscathed.

But the freeway experience is not one we appreciate. Nothing to see except thousands of vehicles on their way to somewhere else in a large and convoluted game akin to a roller-derby. So, even though it would take extra time, we decided to meander through back-roads – the smaller the better.

Instantly we found relief from the maddening crowds and snarling beasts of the interstates. Two-lane roads, most of which were of great quality, that rambled through picturesque countryside and stopping in small towns. This was at a much more leisurely pace, but oh so much more enjoyable. This is what we set out to do – see the real north America, experience their communities, get oot and aboot.

We also observed something markedly different between Canadian and American motorists. For some reason, Canadians took much more of an interest in our truck, our journey and us in general. From Vancouver to Winnipeg, people would hang out of cars, wave, take photos and ask questions. Yet in the States, it seemed nobody took notice. Which is not something that concerned us, but more than one person has told us that the difference lies in the difference of the people – and, specifically, that Americans are much more caught up in their own sense of self that the rest of the world is either ignored or unknown. Of course, this is a massive generalisation, but an interesting contention.

Another biggish drive off the beaten track took us through rural Wisconsin and along the mighty Mississippi River (the word ‘mighty’ should really be officially added to the name of the river, like ‘the remote township of Birdsville’ or ‘dual Brownlow Medallist Robert Harvey). This drive through the mid-west was simply sublime – we felt like we were the only ones out on the road, with beautiful forests, charming towns and that huge and powerful river on our right. At around four o’clock we cruised into Lynxville and found a campground. The owners, it seemed, were away for the weekend and nobody else knew anything about reserving or paying for a spot, so we took it upon ourselves to find one.

(Pic: Lynxville)

A few hundred metres past the permanently placed caravans we found ourselves in a deserted grassy clearing, surrounded on all sides with forest. We set up camp, lit a fire, ate well and watched fire-flies dancing in the dark. We slept to the infrequent distant howling of the long-distance trains. Two long toots, one short, one long.

Getting closer to Chicago, we continued meandering through picturesque countryside. Really, this was such postcard scenery. Black and white cows munching contentedly on green, green grass, on rolypoly hills, with those magnificent red barns with peaked rooves. And fields of corn, green, yellow and russet tipped, rolling along. It was so calming, and a balance to the driving we had done in southern Canada. Our spirits had recovered after the lull in the middle of Canada, and we were back on track.

The following morning we maintained our route along back-roads towards Chicago, and looked forward to good eating, good music and soaking up this majestic and historic city. The eastern seaboard, here we come.

(Pic: Entering Illinois – the back way, and the windscreen crack gets bigger)

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6 Comments»

  David Taylor wrote @

Hi there. Great new post. I almost feel like I’m there in the truck as an observer. The photo thinggy is back on track. I can hover, click and get an enlargement. Was especially good, looking at your crack. (several connotations there, but we’ll leave them all alone. Won’t we).
By the way Danny, I hope you’ve been having a good fathers day.
My Kangaroos should be taken out and shot after last night. We are out now. Totally gave away all our chances. St.Kilda just went down to Geel., by 58 pts. So next week St.K take on Coll. Other game next week is Syd, v W.B.
Take Care, Love & Peace, David.

  Wally wrote @

Hi D S M R > Iam still with you, I read your every couple of days to catchup were you are. Johnnie was in Melb last week for work but we still found time to have some Quawallyty time together I have just finished reading Jon & Jack Blog ,I must say I like yours better. Very desriptive and like as if you writing to each person who reads it. Good night for now ,keep on treking Wally

  auntiefranny wrote @

Hi fam (y’awl), so good reading and travelling with you.
Hope you will be able to meet up with mum and Louis somewhere on your travels.
Very busy on the home front…all doing our best.
Miss you all, but love knowing you are well and having a wonderful experience.
Fran and family xxx

  Kate and Brenna wrote @

Great blog guys……SK did you get hay fever in prairie-ville? I had the worst case of allergies ever when I visited that part of Canada. I see you are back in the US of A now, but over on the east coast…a greater level of international sophistication on that side of the country in my experience.

I heard Jon Faine on the radio yesterday…he is in Laos.

SKYPE us soon

K & B

  louie and joe wrote @

hi dannysandymaddyraffy, we’re sitting in springy melbourne reading all about your adventures. canda sounds fun. maddy, you look amazing super cyool, love your hat. but who’s the big bear behind you? and how did you get him in the car?

danny, my mum wants to talk to you about your beard. she says you look like an oi veyer. are you davvening?

love you and miss you. please send us photos of american diggers and rubbish trucks. we’ve seen a few on you tube and they look cool.

xx

  Hilary wrote @

smart move indeed to get off the freeways! are you planning to wander through massachusetts at all? i thought cape cod was the ugliest place till i realised the freeway was the ugly bit. once on the real roads the charm of the place made it hard not to stop and gawp every 10 mins.
you have rels in boston as i recall. if you need another contact there, let me know as my dear old buddy linda is a brookline gal.
hx


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