Before I can return from Quebec with Breeze, I actually have to get there. It would be so much easier to fly with Bella shrunk down to the size of a suitcase and then add water, and voila, full size tow vehicle when I leave the airport. Unfortunately, this technology does not exist (get on that, Elon Musk, OK?)
So I must drive Bella all the way across the USA and parts of Canada to get to Quebec by May 1. I am lucky to have a friend who will fly to Seattle and then do the drive with me. She’s never done a cross-country drive, so I want to show her more than interstates and truck stops and IHOPs. And we have to do it in 8 days, which sounded like a lot of time until I started mapping out potential routes and letting Google Maps calculate distances and driving times. I realized if we want to see things, we are going to be going into “guerilla tourist mode” where we pull over, jump out, snap the photo op, jump back into the car, and drive on. I saw much of the west of Ireland this way once because the roads were technically too narrow to park but the shots were views I just couldn’t pass up. It worked out well then, so no reason to think it won’t work here in the US of A and Canada.
I got so many good suggestions for the blog post proposing my westward (return) route that I decided to post the eastbound trip plan and ask for your suggestions and comments. That way, I can make the drive the best possible experience for my friend and me. I’ve seen a lot of the US, but not so much the northern 20% of the country. So this will be an exploration and I want to see everything we can!
General idea of the route:
- Drive 7-8 hours a day, or about 450-500 miles. Bella is comfy for the long haul, and we will definitely be appreciating that by the 5th hour every day!
- Stay off the Interstates when there is a decent back road.
- See all the things. I plan to have my National Parks book close at hand.
Day 1: Seattle to Spokane via Route 20 and the North Cascades and the Grand Coulee Dam. This route is heavily dependent on the crews clearing Route 20 because it closes for the winter and about early April, the crews start clearing from east and west and hopefully meet in the middle before we leave. The last three years of opening dates were April 3 (2015, little snow all season), May 8 (2014, lots of snow that year), and April 16 (2014), so I’m prepared to take the more southerly route to Spokane since Stevens Pass is open all year and the likelihood of snow in late April is pretty low.
(Ignore the walking man and 122 hours thing. Since Google Maps knows Route 20 is closed, it won’t let me drive that route right now. But it is apparently quite happy to suggest I slog through 20 feet of snow on foot to get through…)
Day 2: Spokane to Havre, Montana. I have no idea what is in Havre, but Google tells me there are several decent hotels there, although I think the bar is probably pretty low given it’s the Montana equivalent of Podunk. But it’s 7 hours of driving through all of Idaho (the top skinny part of Idaho) and the western half of Montana, so it should be a pretty drive if it’s not pissing down rain. That’s the Seattle resident in me, assuming there will always be rain.
(Again with the Google Maps weirdness. That grey route through Glacier is the Going to the Sun Road. It would indeed be gorgeous, but it is closed now and won’t open completely until sometime in June. So we’ll go south a bit but still see forest and trees and lots of cool views.)
Day 3: Havre to Minot, North Dakota. Sure, why not? We have to stop somewhere between Havre and Dulth, so why not here? I don’t think I’ve ever been to Minot, and it sounds like a cool name. I could be very wrong about this, though. Anyone ever been here?
(Thanks, Google Maps, for suggesting we take 2 hours more in the car and do two border crossings just to make it to Minot. Is driving Montana and South Dakota really that awful?)
Day 4: Minot to Duluth, Minnesota. Google Maps has this as 8 hours and 500 miles. My Imus Cartographic map of the US shows a lot of “wow, that might be cool” stuff in eastern Montana and then some forests once we get into Minnesota. Why Duluth? Why not? It’s another place I’ve never been. Nailing the northern cities on this trip for the win!
Day 5: Duluth to Mackinaw City, Michigan. Two reasons to get to Mackinaw: the Mackinaw Bridge and the possibility of visiting a dark sky park to the west of the city. I will have the telescope in the car and promised we would use it, so this might work out quite nicely if we aren’t (a) sick of each other and (b) sick of the car, by this point of the trip. And because I’ve heard from a few people that the northern shore of Lake Michigan is awesome, we’re hugging that shore instead of going across the middle of the Upper Peninsula.
Day 6: Mackinaw City to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. I debated a lot about which route to take: go up and over Sault Ste. Marie or down through Michigan. In the end, three reasons to go south:
- I have NEVER SEEN Niagara Falls. Never. This situation needs to be rectified.
- Same for Lake Huron. I can see my fifth Great Lake! Bucket list item achieved.
- I hate driving the same way twice, and I’m planning to drive a lot of that grey route on the westward trip.
So, yeah, lots of driving, but at the end, and perhaps early the next morning? Niagara Falls! (And no, I am not going to miss Detroit at all…)
Day 7: Niagara Falls to Montreal. Did I mention we’re going to see the Falls? OK, I might have. And then it’s on to Montreal. There is an Alto owner here (Hi, Marie!) and I am going to try and visit her and her Alto today. Not sure how much energy we will have to see Montreal itself. But sometimes it’s about the friends and not about the tourism.
(Note to Google Maps: Driving through Rochester and VT is not enough reason to do two border crossings in one day.)
Day 8: Montreal to Quebec/St. Nicolas. Only 3 hours today, so I am hoping we get some time to show my friend a bit of Quebec. At the least, we can eat dinner in the city and see the lights. I am sure I will not be sleeping much this night because the very next morning, I get to meet Breeze. My friend will be relieved to know we are not sharing a hotel room so she does not have to listen to me obsess about Monday.
So that’s the plan thus far. What do you think? Are we nuts or is this doable and, more importantly, enjoyable? Did we miss one of your favorite places? Let me know!