It’s been a long time since we have been able to cross the border to do some adventuring and wow, were we excited on Jan 1! It just so happened that a chinook was rolling into southern Alberta, which was long overdue from a month of extremely cold (-25C) weather. Our original departure date was Jan 3, but when we saw a weather window for 48 hours, we decided that it would be better to travel in -4, than -30C. Lets just say that neither of us slept a wink on Jan 1st – Todd decided at 4 am that we might as well get going, and so we did.
All in all, a pretty uneventful departure, until we got out to highway 2 and realized that the chinook brought 100 KPH winds from the west and we were travelling south for an hour – lets just say that when you are shaped like a loaf of Texas toast, any wind makes driving a challenge – especially when it makes the snow fly across the highway and turns in to almost white out conditions. Good times. But we did make it to highway 1 east bound, towards Sask, and used the wind to our advantage!
Our first Texas destination was to get to Dallas – and although google maps said the fastest way to get there, was thru Great Falls, we didn’t really want to go through the mountains during the winter and thought that staying on the flat prairies was an easier way. Was hoping to get to Estevan on the first night, but since neither of us slept AT ALL the nite before, we only made it to Moose Jaw. Pulled into the Flying J and hunkered down for the night (after 785 km). It was going to be -18C – so we pulled out the generator to assist in heating Ruby’s insides and charge batteries. We called it a nite and once again, neither of us really slept – Todd was up at 4 am, getting the engine warmed up and giving everything a once over to make sure we were good to go. When he turned the key, Ruby started and then shutdown, after a 30 second delay. He saw 2 lights turn on – “check engine amber light” and “red engine auto shutdown”. Oh, goodie. This is going to be a good day….Todd checked the level and then added coolant and tried turning it on again, and again and again – probably 10 times while troubleshooting sensors and still the same response – auto shutdown. Ugh…Possible issues were oil sensor, water temp, coolant levels, time delay switch, etc, I was googling and asking him questions – not sure if i was helping or hindering. By looking around and tracing wires, he found a coolant sensor module and yanked it out. Turns out the module was faulty or worn out, and if we took it out, the bus would turn on and stay on – so did the “check engine” light. But at least we knew now why the check engine was on. Todd made sure the coolant level was topped up, and away we went, destination USA! (Sadly our freshwater pump was frozen though).
One of the challenges of driving a loaf of bread in the winter is that it isn’t fully sealed – like a house. We had a couple things happen enroute, like the batteries used to run the front and back heat weren’t charging (without the generator but is now fixed) and our defog switch has a wiring issue where it doesn’t produce hot air, only cold air. Let’s just say extra blankets, slippers and toques come in handy when its -17C. We kept laughing at what else was going to happen! We made it to Estevan and down through North Portal border crossing. There was not a single vehicle in line at the border. We presented our passports and vax passports (which he handed right back to us like he didn’t give a shit, didn’t even look at them) and said, “any guns?”. Nope. OK. And that was it – we were in the US. A quick pitstop at the biggest Walmart I think we have EVER seen, in Minot (where it seemed like an apocalypse was currently underway – based on the empty shelves and quantity of people with bed-head, minimal teeth observed in bed-head people, and peoples general ignorance while shopping). We got the hell out of there quickly! Heading to the farthest destination we could manage (755 km) the only truck stop in Herraid, SD. The highlight of the North Dakota/South Dakota day was driving on the Lawrence Welk highway! RIGHT?!!? – apparently he was born and raised in Strasburg, ND and they named a highway after him. (you know I’m kidding right about this being a highlight?!)
Another early morning departure – but at least this time we both slept 7 hours! Day three was pretty uneventful until we were heading into Pierre, SD. There were signs posted along the highway to follow the “truck route”, but we thought ehh, lets see the city. About 2 blocks into the city – there was a big sign saying “TRUCK TURN AROUND” Bridge height 11’ 7” – uh oh. We are at least 13’ 1” – so Todd slammed on the brakes to get into the very small turn around lot before it was too late. Phew, dodged a bullet with that one! Things were then running pretty smoothly, until our Garmin AND Google Maps told us to turn right on highway 47 – and this was not a highway number that either of us had remembered talking about when we pre-mapped the trip. Turns out, you can have as many electronic devices as you want, but sometimes the only map you should be looking at (that was open and on my lap!) is the paper map! We ended up taking this 47 anyway, we didn’t have a choice – and it wasn’t ideal, but we also didn’t end up in a crisis either – it was a good warning that pre-mapping the trip is VERY important!
We stopped in O’Neill, SD for lunch at a small park with a lake. Cool thing about day 3, is that we started out at -17C in Herraid, SD and by the time we got to O’Neill, we went through a 32-degree temp change as it was 15C with no real signs of snow! My highlight of day 3 was eating our retired people’s lunch (toasted ham sandwich and coffee) on a picnic table in the sun, where I was tempted to put on sunscreen but refrained!
By 6:15 Todd was very tired and called it a day – decided to pull into Walmart in Concordia, KS (860 km). We aren’t superfans of Walmart lots during travel – they can be sketchy, but they also sell liquor so that was what we were going for – don’t judge us!
We weren’t even parked for 2 mins and we got a knock on the door – Mike from Houston. He drives Prevost tour buses for Christian artists and rock bands – like Amy Grant, John Michael Montgomery and most recently Skillet (no idea who they are, but I knew the other ones). Gave him a quick tour, our card and he was on his way!
Our last large push of a day was Wed – from Concordia, KS to Hickory Creek Campground. Running low on diesel, we stopped at Costco in Wichita, KS. When driving a loaf of Texas Toast, again, its a strategy to get into a Costco – has to be directly adjacent to the highway, has to be early morning so the lines aren’t huge and when you pull in, its a mad panic to find the diesel hoses to make sure we get in the right lineup, as not all of them have a diesel hose. Lucky for us, we found the perfect Costco – easiest in/out/turnaround EVER! We also found a few new food gems inside as well (like lobster & corn chowder and gluten free teriyaki chicken meatballs).
From Wichita, we both noticed a heavy increase of traffic on the highway overall. I was hoping to pitstop in Oklahoma City to see Tiger King – but nope, no time! I have never seen the quantity of semi-trucks on the highway in my life, than what we saw between Oklahoma City and Dallas – it was insane! AND speed limit varied between 65-75 MPH, even in construction zones it was still 70! The last 10 minutes of the drive on southbound 35, was as if everyone on the highway was in a Nascar race – my heart was racing, I think I even stopped breathing a few times – Todd was a champ with his driving skills – he only had to slam on the brakes once and lay on the horn once. Exit 247 could not come soon enough for me, where we beelined straight to the liquor store, then the campsite! We are perched on site 92 for the next 7 days! Welcome to Texas!