Well, it sounds interesting – and well, it seems to be in the middle of nowhere! Where do we sign up!
Over 2 decades ago my awesome college friend and I completed our first “official” Road Trip from southern Ontario through the states to the province of Alberta – which would be our first introduction to the “wild west”. You see, we had to complete our co-op program in Hospitality Management and we were allowed to complete the program anywhere in the world. So, you might be asking yourself, why did you stay in Canada, why not venture to someplace foreign. Honestly, it was such a long time ago, I don’t recall why, but I do know that one of our driving forces was to see the Canadian Rockies – that I can tell you, and knowing that we were both “starving students” and this being one of the cheapest options – might have swayed our decision, but who knows, we were young! What I do know is that we trekked all the way to Kananaskis, Alberta from southern Ontario.
We packed up my friends’ car – a white manual transmission 1980 two door Ford Escort – with enough belongings to last us eight months, said goodbye to our anxious parents, and hit the road at around 9am on a bright sunny Tuesday morning. We quickly crossed the border into southern Michigan and headed straight up I75 towards Duluth, Minnesota – our first night “abroad”. For me, this wasn’t my road trip, this was my third, after my German Road Trip when I was 5, and my Spring Break road trip to Daytona, Florida –which really wasn’t a road trip at all – it was more like “how fast can we get there” that said, this current road trip was by far the most interesting! If only we had a digital camera! Keep in mind I think we survived on one roll of film for the entire journey because we were too cheap to purchase more – remember “starving students” – of course our parents gave us money for our voyage, but it was only what we had in our pockets – honestly – I think I was given $200 in total! “Learn the value of a dollar”, my parents would always say…..”Yes Mom and Dad”!
Two young girls hitting the highway, freedom was all ours! Well, until we came across a sign that indicated not to pick up any hitchhikers due to a prison in the vicinity – hmm, interesting. My friend did most of the driving, why, because the car was a manual, and until then I was all about automatics…we didn’t think that blowing the transmission on this long journey would be a great idea; however, this journey was not without incident. We kept a good pace and our first major landmark was the Mackinac Bridge located in northern Michigan, the bridge is the third longest suspension bridge in the world and opened in November 1957. Now keep in mind, we didn’t have internet back in the day and we had no idea what was headed our way, so this monstrosity certainly surprised us! Also keep in mind that we didn’t have a GPS system to guide us – only AMA maps and their handy dandy “Trip Tiks”. We decided to stop here for a brief lunch, a picture or two and moved on. The weather was far, considering it was the beginning of May and the rest of our travels to Duluth were uneventful – from what I can remember – well until we reached Duluth in the darkness of night. My, Duluth can be rather hilly when you don’t know where you are headed, at one point we just kept rising and rising until we could only see the street lights of Duluth below us – considering it was late at night we quickly turned around and found a place to sleep.
The next day we found ourselves well rested and ready to hit the road for more adventure. If I remember correctly, this day went fairly smooth as well. We enjoyed the scenery and kept a good pace. Actually no, part of this day had a tiny hiccup – if you want to call it that. You see, my friend was starting to become rather tired behind the wheel, understandably so. Now, we both understood that we would both be driving the car at some point and now my time had come. Those few days of standard training back in Ontario were coming to a head – I had to prove myself! We were on the wide open highway, oh, after Michigan, we did not travel another interstate again – yes, we had the real experience of driving on regular two lane highways. When the coast was clear, we changed seats. I got comfortable with my surroundings and put the car into first gear. All people learning to drive a standard can relate to this moment! I took a deep breath and shook raddled and rolled! That poor clutch! That poor car! Poor us! My friend glanced out the back window and just started screaming to get the car into second gear – at first I thought she was getting rather impatient with all the whiplashing – but no, it was worse! A giant transport truck was coming up quickly behind us – I had to get moving! I glanced in the rear-view mirror – what a horrible, horrible mistake – I began to panic, jerking the car like it was an amusement park ride!! Grinding the clutch as if I was trying to make a fire! We’re going to die I thought!!! Suddenly, the transport went around us…we were saved! After driving for less than 10 miles my friend suddenly said, pull over, I’ll take over…there 10 miles through Minnesota was all I had to worry about for the entire road trip – good, resume navigating and picture taking…happy me.
At some point during the day we stopped for gas. We decided to head into the store to find something to snack on…hmm, what to get, what to get… Suddenly my friend shrieked with delight – “Kettle Chips”! Until that day, I had never experience kettle chips – well once back in the car the bag was empty in no time! Mmmm, delicious! We continued our journey until it stated to get dark…where did we stop, I can’t really recall. I just remember walking out into the morning sun the following morning and looking at our surroundings, wherever we were it looked like a graveyard for old transports. Hmm, oh well, off we went.
This day would take us through North Dakota, by far the most interesting and entertaining day of our entire road trip. We were running low on gas, and not having GPS, we would stop whenever there was a gas station sign, just in case. I believe we stopped twice on this day, just to be on the safe side. Our first stop took us off the main highway and onto a dirt road. We came across this little town – name – long forgotten now, where the streets weren’t paved and dust blew in the wind. At first we were puzzled, but gas was our main focus and we quickly came across the station. My friend pumped the gas and told me that she would put $20 dollars in the tank – remember those days?? I got out of the car and proceeded to head inside and pay for the gas. Now, this gas station was a combination diner. When I first walked in, everything was normal. Everyone was enjoying their meal, talking, cutting their food with utensils etc., etc., well, until I appeared. Then suddenly, everything went deadly silent. People slowly raised their heads and just stared at me. I quickly paid and walked out the door. I told my friend who was quietly cleaning the windows to get in the car, I remember her asking me, “what?” I just remember responding, “Just get in the car – let’s go!” I must admit, I was spooked by the entire experience, but did that stop us from driving around this little dirt town? Of course not, and off we wandered. We were completely in awe, there was no one walking the streets, actually, aside from one vehicle parked in front of a house, there were no other vehicles to be found. I wish that I had remembered the name of this little town, because I would love to return and see it now.
We got back on the main highway to continue our journey. My friend had mentioned earlier on the trip that the driver’s door wasn’t handling properly, then without any warning the door became loose! Now, I have to tell you – watching my friend smoke a cigarette, while switching gears, while holding onto the steering wheel, while desperately holding onto the door was absolutely priceless! She was so incredible stressed, the last thing I wanted to do was take her picture at the climax of her anger, but man, what a picture that would be today! Knowing we could not continue our travels in this state we pulled into a small town garage. Once again, town name unknown. We searched all around and finally pulled into the greasiest looking garage. Two cars were already sitting outside, but we figured ours would be a quick fix, the door bolts had become loose and just needed tightening – simple, so we thought! With my friend now holding her door from the outside, a mechanic wandered out to greet us – if you want to call it that. He must have been the only mechanic in town, because the sheer look on his face would have driven all the customers away. We explained our situation and asked if he could help us. Casually looking away, I remember him saying, “Well, it will be at least a few hours, I’m busy today….” What a few hours!! My friend showed him what was wrong and pleaded for him to give us a wrench and we would do it ourselves. Slowly shaking his head he said, “Sorry… I can’t do that….” Frustrated, we just looked at each other and got back in the car and drove off in a handicapped state. Considering we both grew up in farming communities we knew we could stop at a local farm and ask for help. Farmers always help – this we knew. We drove for a short time until we located a very nice looking farm with a very long lane. Up we drove, suddenly dogs from all over started charging the car, barking hysterically! I knew that I was not getting out! After a short time, the farmer appeared and called his pack of dogs off the car. We rolled down the window and explained our situation. Just like any farmer, he was more than willing to help us and soon we were on our way once again.
Throughout our travels one thing was always constant, roadside bars – by the handful! They dotted the landscape near and far, hardly ever busy, perhaps a car or two in the parking lot, but the neon “Bar” sign was always lit. After all the excitement we had endured earlier we decided that this was the time, after we filled the car one more time, we entered on of these bars – priceless! I just wished I had a digital camera! However, we were under aged, so, we continued our journey until we reached Havre, Montana to rest our heads.
The following morning we were up and ready to go, excited that we would be rolling into Calgary that evening. Our trek along Highway 2 was pleasant, great weather, and an open highway. So, as you know, my friend is a smoker and she decided that we would pick up some cigarettes at the Montana border. Harmless enough I thought… After purchasing her carton in the duty free shop I was ready to go, but it wasn’t going to be that easy! The gentleman behind the counter told us to wait for him outside. Once outside he told us to follow his truck. I asked my friend what the heck was going on and like me, she had no idea. So, as instructed we followed his truck, seriously, I felt like I was in a movie! It felt like we drove a couple of miles, it was crazy. He then drove right through customs into Canada, but of course we had to stop. Once we drove into Canada, he was waiting there in his truck, we pulled over and he walked up to us with the brown paper bag and gave my friend her carton of cigarettes. Strange, but true. Afterwards, I informed my friend to never purchase there again.
Finally, we had reached the Alberta border! In the far distance we could see the peaks of the mountains and we continued to get more and more excited. Around 10pm that evening we drove over the rise of south Calgary to see the glimmering lights that filled the entire horizon, what a beautiful introduction to Calgary. We continued our drive up the Deerfoot and stayed the night in Motel Village located in the northwest quadrant of Calgary, just off the 16th Avenue, also known as the Trans Canada. There we went to the hotel bar and had a drink to celebrate our arrival to our new home.
The following morning we would drive to Kananaskis Village, located in the mountains and approximately a 45 minute drive from the outskirts of Calgary along the Trans Canada. Hurray, we were home for the next 8 months!
I have also included some very old random pictures of our trip, far and few, but memories just the same.
Categories: Road Trip Pictures