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The Trip Report

Luke and I have always enjoyed the adventure of a long road trip. For us, there is not only the experience of exploring far flung scenic places. Our penchant for motorsport means that we also crave a long set of well-paved switchbacks, or a long-lost road that hugs the river at the bottom of some narrow canyon.
Shiny and Clean before departure
Luke and I had last done a cross-country road trip way back in the summer of 1998 (click here to read the report of that trip). Over the years Luke had always wanted to do a repeat trip. Always there was some reason, something that got in the way, for one or for both of us. We finally got it together this year : 2004. We decided to go in September, avoiding the crowds and heat of summer. The rough itinerary, hammered out over meetings during the summer, was a broad loop, out to the northwest corner of the US, then south along the coast, and then back east to Ottawa. Although we had certain particular destinations as "must-sees", overall we adopted a flexible approach and did not plan every minute of every day. I was travelling by myself for the first part of the trip. Jenn was finishing up her work in Victoria and would be joining us on the trip. The plan was for me to break off from Luke and Sophie for a few days and zip over to Victoria to pick her up; we would then all re-join and continue on our way.

We left during the afternoon of Friday, September 3. It was a hot and humid day in Ottawa. I had the car all polished up, packed to perfection, ready to go. Luke and Sophie were running a bit behind schedule, so I started off west, eventually meeting up with Luke and Sophie enroute on Highway 17. Markus had offered us berths at his parents' Amogla camp, and that was our destination for the first night (Markus had already driven down ahead of us in his own car).

Friday, September 3

We arrived late (due to the tardy start), which apparently gave Markus a few conniptions, he being worried about himself getting a good sleep and all. However, it all worked out - he went off to sleep in one of the cabins, undisturbed by us, and his sisters, Johanna and Marlene, welcomed us instead. It was nice seeing them again and getting caught up.
courtesy Luke
Amogla camp stopover
Ghostly Weeds at Rock Lake
Matthias and Amogla camp cottage
Hand-made interior
An early morning tour for Luke and Sophie, who had never been to the quaint and picturesque Amogla camp, was in order. That and a quick trip to the liquor store to buy a few treats for Markus' parents for being so nice and letting us stay over. We left the camp at a leisurely hour, bound for the border crossing at Sault Ste Marie. We had debated whether to take scenic Highway 17 around the north side of Lake Superior, or cross over at Sault Ste Marie and take the more direct route on the American side. The direct route won out.
courtesy Luke
The dudes at Lake Superior
The first part of the day was straightforward and uneventful. It was a warm September day, and we cruised straight west, passing by a few very scenic sections of road right on the south shore of Lake Superior.
Posed in front of the largest lake in the world
As day turned to evening, we were approaching Duluth, Minnesota, at the western end of Lake Superior. Our plan for this trip was to maximize our camping and minimize our 'motel'ing, so we were committed to finding a good campground for the night. Well, a nice weekend night in the midwest is not a friendly place for tent campers. As we headed west, we had a hard time finding good camping spots. State parks were few and far between, there were no federal areas (no national parks), and what campgrounds we did find were usually big RV-type arrangements, which were either full or had totally inappropriate spots for tenting (ie- like right next to a huge RV with its generator blasting).

So, onwards we went, until it got so late that we switched to plan B. Plan B was to use the GPS mapping software to find the tiniest little roads off the highway and try to find camping spots off of them. Most of the little roads had rural residences and we didn't want to risk having a shotgun poked into our tents, so we searched for a long time.

Finally, we came across a wilderness preservation area not far east of Brainerd, Minnesota. A small two track road led off into a forest and there was not a soul around. Looked pretty good to us, so up the tents went right there in the middle of the grassy road. We figured at this hour and given the rarely-used look of the road, we'd probably be ok. Which we would have, except for mother nature.

I slept comfortably for a few hours, and then for some reason woke up. Maybe it was the distant flashes of lightning strobe-lighting the inside of my tent. I lay there, watching and counting. The time between flashes and booms was getting shorter. Disconcerting. When the lightning got too close for my comfort, I whispered over to Luke and Sophie in their tent... even though I was probably risking their wrath at waking them from some much needed sleep, I felt it was better than getting caught having to pack up our tents in a maelstrom. Even though it wasn't raining, we decided to pack it up just in case, since this storm seemed big and seemed to be heading our way.

Fifteen minutes later we were sitting in our cars, waiting to see what would happen, when the heavens opened. Intense rain and lightning pounded the cars. Ooh yeah... good call.
Still conked after a harrowing night
We weren't going to get any sleep through this, so we decided to motor on into the storm. We drove west through the storm until it abated. At some point west of Brainerd, Luke stated that he needed some more rest and that was that. We found a siding on the highway into a field and simply parked there and went to sleep... which for me was an interesting cramped experience inside an S2000! Reclining? what's that.... Needless to say, I slept less well than Luke and Sophie in their cushy RSX, and so I woke up when it got light and snapped a few shots of them in their revelry.
Jerry Bruckheimer?
We wasted no time getting moving (after all, nothing to pack), heading straight west on back roads through Minnesota, eventually stopping for breakfast in Fargo. We had a brief moment of panic when Luke forgot has wallet at the gas station, but, overall, spirits were good. It was now Sunday morning. So far it had been one half day, one super-long full day, and a bit of the morning since we'd left Ottawa. We were at this point just entering North Dakota, so we were making pretty good time. I've always considered the Dakotas to be "west".

Sunday, September 5

Theodore Roosevelent National Park
We headed off on I-94 westward. I-94 runs pretty much straight east-west across the entire state, so its a good way to make time, especially with the nice high western speed limits. By mid-afternoon, we were in drier prairie country and I was beginning to feel like we'd driven to somewhere "different". We stopped for an afternoon picnic at Theodore Roosevelet National Park (south unit). TRNP is a wonderful spot amidst the North Dakota Badlands, and the stop was quite refreshing and established a definite "vacation" feel to our trip. Not to mention a wicked little bit of twisty road in the form of the park's scenic loop road (which unfortunately was partly under repair - but the part that was not under repair was m-m-good!).
Beautiful western badlands
Luke and Sophie in TRNP
Admiring the scenery at TRNP
Luke and Sophie in the Badlands
West into Montana
Late-day rainshower
From Theodore Roosevelt National Park we headed west into Montana, soon ditching the interestate and driving on what seemed like endless straight country roads through open ranch country. Along the way we listened to CBC radio 'Ideas' episodes Markus had recorded into .mp3 files for us.

Montana is a big state, and the rural and wide-open feel of the eastern prairie lands only added to that. We made it as far as a National Forest campground not far from Grand Falls, positioning us well for reaching Glacier National Park the next day. We were now truly out west, where national forests and national parks were common, and good, tent-friendly camping was not hard to find.

The next day dawned cold but clear (we were camping at 5000+ feet). We drove into Great Falls and found a good self-serve spray n' wash, where the cars got a good cleaning, and then it was off up US89, a very scenic road not too far from the eastern front of the Rockies. We arrived at Glacier national park mid-afternoon and made our way to the Rising Sun campground.
Open-topped towards the mountains
Zooming along
Glacier National Park
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