After driving throughout the night and staying up loading the van the night before, we needed to get some decent rest. The next few days of our trip would be heading up to Flin Flon and Fort McMurray, so it would be a while before we got a real bed and shower. So we stayed at the Super 8 on the west side of Winnipeg, because our plan was to get some sleep and get an early start the next day heading north west.
However, after we unloaded our gear, I noticed the van was sitting odd. The suspension was old, and it appeared our latest drive did take a toll on it. The coils seemed bottomed out and we needed a solution.
After brainstorming for a bit, Glenn thought of a brilliant solution. Instead of waiting a week for a set of new coil springs, he suggested we install a solid rubber hockey puck between the i-beam and coil. Since the next day was Canada Day, we knew all the stores would be closed. So we rushed off to the nearest general store and found hockey pucks. Good thing we were in Canada; they had a VAST selection of pucks.
Anyway, we burned the middle of Canada Day pulling off the i-beams and coils, and installing hockey puck spacers. But once it was done, it worked beautifully. We used them for the duration of the entire 2017 WVO roadtrip, and they didn’t even show any damage or wear when we replaced the coils back in Wisconsin.
We drove down to Iowa to pick up the Frankenvan (a Chrysler minivan with a TDI engine in it.)
The Wisconsin River, north of Taliesin.
Like every good Frank Lloyd Wright fan should always do, they should stop by the FLW Visitors Center to clog their toilet. Usually it takes us tagteaming a bowl to get ‘er done, but this time Glenn went in and singlehandedly destroyed that bathroom.
After that, we proceeded to the Taliesin grounds. By the time we got to the entrance, the guards wouldn’t let us in. They wanted Glenn to pay for the damage he caused. I pleaded with the guards that Glenn has no money, but they didn’t care. The janitor chimed in and said he had never seen such a smelly pile of feces and the toilet was permanently damaged.
We headed back to the van. I told him I could lend him the money, but once he got behind the wheel of the Passat, he just drove off. He stuck his head out the window and yelled, “Fuck you Franklyn Wright! See ya later, chumps!”
Glenn couldn’t resist.
We were driving across Minnesota when we stumbled upon this rootbeer stand. Glenn nearly creamed his jeans. He insisted we pull over and get some food. I skeptically asked, “Seriously, are we doing this,” because we had literally just eaten a huge $5 Chinese buffet (also Glenn’s idea) only an hour before that.
He was giddy. “Let’s get some food,” he bellowed.
Overall, the food was pretty decent and the root beer was spot on. However, from then on, I told Glenn that we need to compromise sometimes. He exclaimed, “FUCK that. I’m eating.” As we pulled out of the driveway, he squeezed out the van door and ran to order a second hamburger “for the road,” as he called it. It was sickening, seeing his gelatinous belly and sweaty fingers polish off that burger by the time we hit the St Croix. For the duration of the drive to central Wisconsin, he begged me to pull over at various A&W’s and other restaurants to satisfy his gluttonous desires.
Glenn, if you are reading this, please visit.
Check out this historical trading post and First Nation museum.
Decades ago, this building stood to enable trading between the native tribes and others passing through. It now is part of a bigger complex, including a massive First Nation museum. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the interior of the native museum. Maybe I was sick of taking photos after driving for 18 days straight… But maybe they had a rule about outside photography. I can’t recall.
However, the museum had some elaborate rooms depicting all the aspects of northern Minnesota native indian lifestyles. The harvesting of rice was really interesting. They also had experts come in and explain the details. Like they would submerge their canoes underwater when they migrated to different parts of the country.
Also, Lac Mills had this spiffy fish statue. I caught a fish this big once, but I let it go.
We stopped at the Paul Bunyan “Land” to see what all the fuss was about. It was kind of like Knotts Berry Farm minus all the fun. If you have young kids, they’d be pretty excited, but for two 29-ish-year-old guys… it was a hard pass.
We drove through the night, only to encounter massive fog all through Minnesota.
This is deer country, so fog + deer usually means terribly slow driving. The last thing we needed on the last day of our 2017 WVO Road Trip was a deer accident.
We pulled into Bemindji in the morning while it was drizzling out. Of course we had to visit the infamous Paul Bunyon and Blue Ox statues.
This place had a museum showcasing the local oddities and specialties. Basically, if you like logjams and axes, this place would totally lumberjack you off.
Before sunset, we passed through Rugby, North Dakota. This little town holds the title of the literal geographic center of the entire continent.
Sort of weird, but there is only three flags, for Canada, Mexico and the USA. But I always thought Greenland, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean were technically all nations residing under the aegis of “North America.” Maybe if they include the geography of those nations, it puts the “center” somewhere in southern Canada, and this little town will lose their title. LOL. Something to chew on.
There is a lot to see in Minot, North Dakota.
We cruised into town right around dinner time. Things were shutting down (this is North Dakota, so places don’t really stay open passed 6pm), so rushed to downtown and the visitor’s center for suggestions.
Minot has a really expansive Scandinavian museum. The inside and gift shop were closing, so we got a chance to chat with the staff before they headed home for the night.
Naturally, Glenn never misses an opportunity to have his genitals groped by a trollish looking geriatric.
They shut the place down, so we meandered the Scandinavian Heritage Museum grounds.
They have a legit old wood temple from the old country. Pretty astonishing.
Before the staff left, we asked them for something to eat that is different than anywhere else in the world. They said to go to Ebeneezer’s and eat some sort of Frog Burger. Intrigued, we tracked down the bar and grill, and ordered a few things. Turns out the frog burger wasn’t made out of actual frogs. Bummer.
This National Parks run fort is a great glimpse of the past.
Along our path, we noticed a fort on the horizon. We pulled off and it was a great place to stretch our legs and fill up the tank. Little did we know, it was much more expansive and comprehensive than expected.
The staff was really friendly. They had some people in character, so we got to ask a lot of questions and see them working on their stuff. They let you walk along the perimeter canopy to oversee the landscape. On the horizon, there was a train passing through.
The fort was situated on the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. So I assume Louis and Clark passed through this area before the inception of the fort. A lot of history at these two rivers.
“Montana’s native people revere this boulder that once perched high atop a wind-swept ridge overlooking the Cree Crossing on the Milk River. The ancient, weather-worn effigy resembled the leader of a herd of reclining buffalo in an outcrop of gray granite. Ancient markings define its horn, eyes, backbone and ribs. Since late prehistoric times, native peoples of the Northern Plains have honored the Sleeping Buffalo’s spiritual power. Oral traditions passed down among the Cree, Chippewa, Sioux, Assiniboine and Gros Ventre as well as the more distant Blackfeet, Crow and Norther Cheyenne tell how the ‘herd’ fooled buffalo-hunting parties. While each tribe has its own culture and beliefs, all Montana tribes share worldviews. A Chippewa-Cree elder explained, ‘These rocks are sacred, just like our old people.’ Locals claim the Sleeping Buffalo, relocated to Malta’s City Park in 1932, was restless, changing positions and bellowing in the night. The Sleeping Buffalo found this final resting place in 1967 where the smaller ‘Medicine Rock,’ also collected near Cree Crossing, rejoined it in 1987. These timeless objects continue to figure prominently in traditional ceremonies, linking the present with the past when the power of the prairie was the buffalo.”
We finally made it back to the States!
Thankfully, the border agent didn’t make us endure a long investigation on when we crossed the border. He recognized we were having trouble (blown tires, vac pump issues, weak brakes, oil pressure) and gave us some advice. He suggested we go to Malta Montana and get some spare tires there.
This shop was able to get us a spare used tire same day. That was crucial because we weren’t about to hang out in remote Montana waiting for a low-quality spare tire.
Also, another shop was able to charge our AC after we found that the low-side nozzle was leaking. Glenn and I replaced the valve, and then went to the shop. The guy was really friendly and helped us out right away, since we were traveling through.
At the end of the day, we stopped at the nearby Great Plains Dinosaur Museum which was small, but good.
Just our luck, we got a second flat tire.
Driving south, we were hoping to make the border in the U.S. middle of the night. Everything was going according to plan.
On a completely standard road, the spare tire exploded. It even damaged my rear fender, bending the metal up into the wheel well. Great. Just my luck.
We put the two shredded tires on the top of the van and hoped we don’t have another flat. We don’t have any more spares, and we have over 1500 miles to go.
As the sun set on the Saskatchewan horizon, we approached the international border crossing. The people at the North Battleford Western Expansion Museum assured us that our rural crossing would be open after 8pm. As we drove up, we could tell that was totally wrong. Since we had no where else to go, we parked the van at the empty station and slept in the vehicle until the agent arrived.
At 8am, the American crossing opened, and the guy was thankfully really decent about things. We’ve crossed back into the U.S. in the passed and gotten hassled by pissy agents. But the guy kind of took pity on us, noticing our shredded tires on the top of the van, listening to our stories about the oil pressure failing and the vacuum pump going to hell, and having gotten shitty advice on when the border was open, forcing us to sleep on the side of the road. He told us to head to Malta for some decent American Ford service.
We had a swift visit to Swift Current Saskatchewan.
After we drove around the city (it was too late in the day to find a museum or site to see), we stopped off at the Boston Pizza to get some grub. The veg pump was running a bit light, so we elected to change out the veg filter while waiting for our food to be prepared.
Overall, the new filter didn’t really help much. The veg pump was weakening. It wasn’t the worst, it just proved to not supply enough grease to the IP on steep inclines or heavy loads. We had to slow down if we wanted to get over the passes, so it wasn’t until I got to Los Angeles before I could install a good 11.5psi Duralift E-pump to replace the 4-7psi one.
Hotel prices in Canada have dramatically increased over the last decade. Now you can’t find a decent hotel under a hundred bucks. Usually they exceed $150. Our hotel in North Battleford was really …. special. They had some interesting amenities, like hot soup for dinner and a burned out double-decker bus on the grounds. Spiffy.
What a terrible time to get a flat.
Heading back to North Battleford after visiting the Crooked Bush, we were enjoying the sunset when the rear driver’s side tire blew.
The funny thing was, this trip was by far our least dangerous journey. On all of our other WVO road trips, we ended up driving on crazy remote gravel and slate roadways into the bush, and the authorities always recommend bringing two extra full-size spares. To play it safe, we usually bring three spares. But since we knew this trip to Fort McMurray would result in some of the safest and paved roads in the history of our WVO trips, I thought two spares would be enough.
Well, not that this tire blew up, we only had one spare left on the upcoming 2000 miles of driving. We thought that should be good, for now…
A mutant grove of trees makes for a unique WVO roadtrip site.
A few dozen miles east of North Battleford in the heart of the Saskatchewan farmlands, there is a small local treasure. It’s called the Crooked Bush and we learned about it from an online conversation with a random person on the internet.
In my conversation, I was hoping the “Crooked Bush” was some sort of euphemism for something overtly sexual. Or maybe the long-lost mutant relative of George W Bush. But the more I researched it, the more I learned that it would be a good diversion on the trek.
It truly is an odd place. Since it’s such a remote place, I suspect not a lot of people make it up here. If you do happen to be in the area, can’t hurt to stop in.
In the middle of Saskatchewan, which is landlocked by the way, there is a lighthouse. Don’t even ask my why.
We visited a museum and ice cream stand while passing through.
We drove through the night from Fort McMurray and needed a place to stretch our legs. Glaslyn’s museum was open early and we got a chance to roam their grounds.
They have an old-timey water tower that you can enter on a tour.
Also, like most towns across Canada, they have a clusterfuck of stuff from the last hundred years of the town.
We met some old guys that were back in town for their 50th high school reunion. They remarked on a lot of the ancient equipment and helped us figure out what a lot of the stuff was designed to do.
The only thing open at this time of the day was Tara’s Pizza, and it wasn’t anything special. But since we didn’t have any restaurants for the next 300 miles, we figured beggars can’t be choosers.
The “Giants of Mining” is a park with the biggest mining shit I’ve every seen.
At the end of the road north of Fort McMurray, there is a turn-around loop. Only people working for the mining operations can go further. The rest of us have to head back to town.
Inside that massive loop, they have a special lot reserved for these massive mining machines. It’s extremely impressive.
On the northern horizon, you can see the mining and refining operations. The stacks were quite tall.
On one of the Oil Sands Discovery Center tours, we learned that most of the oil sands mining operations have discontinued the use of these huge diggers in favor of a more agile and mobile dump-truck method. I guess it takes too much money and time to set up these massive diggers.
Fort McMurray was the northernmost city of the 2017 WVO Road Trip
We had been driving for days, and we needed to find a hotel asap. We cruised the town for a bit to find a good hotel and get some more road trip supplies.
About half the town burned down in last year’s fires. So the GPS was hit or miss. Regardless, we found a place to stay, and the place was suffuse with contractors and laborers. Most were fascinated with the Veggie Van. Since a lot of them had been cooped up in Fort McMurray for too long, they were really chatty.
The next day, we visited the Oil Sands Discovery Center Museum. Pretty cool stuff.
It had an interior museum and also a huge lot with all sorts of mining machines scattered all over the place.
Overall, the Discovery Center was worth the visit.
In 2016, Fort McMurray was the setting of massive wild fires.
As we got closer and closer to the town, we saw acres and acres of burn areas. It was really disconcerting. Originally, we had planned on going to Fort McMurray in 2016, but due to the cracked block issue on the IDI engine, we had to cut the WVO trip short at Churchill Manitoba.
After seeing the aftermath of the devastation, we were really lucky things turned out the way they did.
Four Wing Gateway Park.
We got into Cold Lake Alberta really late and parked at the Walmart to catch some Z’s.
The next morning, we checked out the Cold Lake Museum(s).
That place was expansive. It was an endless labyrinth.
The bugs up here are horrendous. We cleaned that windshield every 100 miles.
We passed through Meadow Lake Saskatchewan. Nice little town.
As we kept going northwest, we could see the northern lights on the horizon. Pretty cool. I’ve been living in Los Angeles too long… Never get to see that anymore.
We pushed on to Cold Lake. We wanted to get there to crash out for a few hours before the next big drive.
The NCMF is a hippy folk music festival in northern Saskatchewan.
We found a flyer for the festival in Big River. In order to get to Ness Creek, we had to drive more mud and gravel roads in the middle of nowhere.
The area was really pretty. Lots of trees and fresh air.
Eventually, we arrived. I expected the “festival” to be flooded with people. Instead, it had maybe about a hundred or so in the main music hall, while all their kids had to fend for themselves against the Canadian monster mosquitoes.
Overall, the music truly was good. And driving a veggie van to the hippy festival gave us instant street cred, however, I didn’t really feel like a part of the vibe.
We hung out for an hour or so, and then meandered the grounds.
There were several stands throughout the campus, and they had a lot of art stuff going on. It was getting dark, so we decided to keep on moving toward Cold Lake.
The day was slipping away from us, so we pulled into the tiny town of Big River.
Our GPS suggested we check out the “Big River Memorial Museum,” but it was clearly abandoned.
Near the “downtown,” there is a nice boat landing and beach to hang out. Since it’s now a few days from the Canada Day holiday, most people have left town to go back to work.
While we were here shitting, we saw a sign talking about a folk music festival in the restroom. That particular festival was literally starting in an hour. We talked to one of the locals about the festival and asked for directions. They said the “Ness Creek Music Festival” is pretty good, and if we had nothing to do, we should check it out.
Since it’s extremely rare to find things to do on these trips after 5pm, we jumped at the opportunity. Well, I jumped. Glenn sounded skeptical that it would be some hippy or hipster bullshit. Once we got there, he was proven right. Regardless, the music was really good.
After enduring some mechanical issues, we limped the van to Prince Albert.
We got into town really late, but just in time to get a bite to eat at Boston Pizza.
We ate our food and got back in the van to go our hotel room. Glenn drove from La Ronge to Prince Albert, and this was the first time I drove the van since the arduous trek across Highway 165. I immediately noticed the brakes were really soggy. I asked Glenn if he knew the brakes were busted. He said they started going limp a few hundred kilometers ago. WOW! We limped it to the hotel and knew right away the problem: Vacuum pump.
The next day, we had many fixes necessary. We added a mechanical oil pressure gauge, we replaced the IDI vacuum pump, and we checked everything over.
We had to spend an extra day in Prince Albert because our Vacuum Pump needed to be ordered from Edmonton. While we were there, we strolled around town and visited the local museum.
It doesn’t take long to walk around this town. Everything is relatively close together.
Once we finished all the repairs, we took off westward to make up some time. We heard some rattling on the roof rack, where we keep our spare scooters in case we break down too far from civilization to walk.
Turns out on one of the nights we stayed in Prince Albert, some dumbshit cut all our ratchet straps in order to try and steal our scoots. But the numbskull didn’t realize we had a thick bicycle lock on the scooters, so cutting our straps is just a waste of time. Wherever you are dumb-dumb, I hope you are not doing well.
We got to La Ronge hoping to find an autoparts store, however, none were open for business. That left us with a hard decision. We were planning on driving further north to see some of the various mining and First Nation towns, but with the rain and our oil pressure issues, we decided to hang out for a while and head south to Prince Albert. Prince Albert is a major town, and would have a lot more opportunities for us to repair the van.
In order to go from Flin Flon to La Ronge in a reasonable amount of time, we decided to gamble and take SK Highway 165. What we didn’t know, was this road was mostly mud, not gravel. Also, it had just rained. So, we spent the majority of our drive hoping we don’t get stuck or slide into the ditch. There was only one other truck on the road coming from the other direction when we drove it.
We were driving up to La Ronge, when our oil pressure gauge started acting funny.
We pulled over to check the fluid. There was some oil in the beast, so we figured it was the gauge. However, we never really could tell, so we limped it up to La Ronge in the hopes to make it to the NAPA before they closed.
The town of Creighton and the Saskatchewan border is just a mile west of Flin Flon.
Having been enamored with the splendor of Flin Flon, we pulled over to gyrate in Creighton.
Back to a more serious note, we continued on the highway, to find some more very interesting landscapes on the central Canadian tundra.
Flin Flon is one of the northernmost towns in Manitoba.
As you drive in, there is a museum about the history of Flin Flon.
Overall, it was a nice place to stretch our legs. All these Canadian towns have museums where they collect all the stuff from their 54-year history and call it historical.
Apparently Flin Flon’s biggest tourist attraction is a staircase. It’s called the “Hundred Stairs” or something. When you get there, you are completely underwhelmed, and you give it the ol’ “Hundred Yard Stare,” hence the name “Hundred Stairs.”
We spent the rest of the day getting lunch at some underwhelming sandwich restaurant and looking for a pair of pants. Everything was expensive.
As we drove further north, the trees started getting small, and the rock outcroppings became more prevalent.
It was a pristine wilderness, but lots of douchebags took the liberty to spray paint their lame names and graduation years on the rocks. If people want to leave their presence on the landscape, they should make an inukshuk.
After driving through the night, we found a park in The Pas for some gravel camping.
Wasagaming (in the Riding Mountain National Park) is a resort town on Clear Lake in central Manitoba.
As we pulled in, we found hundreds of Manitoba residents enjoying their Canada Day holiday.
But the main reason why we are here, is because Tubby Charles Manson wanted to have his BeaverTails.
Some backstory: During our suspension fixes in Winnipeg the day before, we took a few breaks and watched all the national news coverage for Canada Day. Apparently out east, there is this franchise that sells flatbread with sugary crap on it. The news was obsessed with BeaverTails, so of course Glenn had to beg for one. I googled the locations and the closest one to Winnipeg was at Clear Lake, which coincidentally was directly on our path.
So, we pulled over here to see what all the fuss was about. Overall, it wasn’t bad, if you don’t need any protein in your diet.
We took our BeaverTails to the marina and watched all the Canadians have summer fun.
Apparently “summer fun” also included “Swimmer’s Itch.” Where I come from, that’s called Chlamydia.
One other thing, this town has the largest log cabin theater in 17,000 miles or something. They let us in for a moment to see the inside. Pretty neato. Probably is much more interesting in the winter, but still, kinda interesting.
We were heading west on the THC, and much to our surprise, someone had vandalized the “Welcome to Neepawa” sign. They apparently are not a fan of Asians or something. Also, they had a hard time spelling the word “of” which we all know is a tough word to handle.
We have a tendency to plan our WVO road trips to coincide with Canada Day.
Canadians go all out for Canada Day. Which usually means lots of drinking. And this year (2017) was special because it was the 150th anniversary of their confederation. Coincidentally, we learned from our visit to Charlottetown that basically the confederation was a drunken party where the western province representatives crashed. They all got drunk and made a country. So it’s only apt that the contemporary Canadians follow their founding fathers.
There was a mediocre fireworks show, considering this was supposed to be a major metropolis. There was a big free concert, which for us Americans is pretty unique.
We took the bus to downtown, but they stopped running (stupidly) for the trip back after the fireworks and concert. So we walked about five miles back to our hotel. On the way, we saw some of the sites of Winnipeg. As long as you avoid the meth- and crackheads, it’s a pretty nice walk.
Canada has the best tourism centers in the world.
Every town has a tourist center, and every provincial and international boundary has a center. And, all these centers have free maps, advice, and booklets on what to do in the area. Once we were crossing into the Northwest Territories on the way to Yellowknife in 2013, and the border is literally as far from anything as you can imagine. But every border crossing has a center, and this remote location even had a center.
Back to this WVO road trip… We crossed the border, and got some advice on some good hotels and restaurants for our trip up to Winnipeg. And this is the farmland between the border and the Peg.
And there are lots of farms, silos, and agricultural infrastructure scattered on the horizon.
The KVLY-TV mast is the fourth tallest structure in the world, and the former world record holder.
It’s pretty impressive. The beast is so tall, it disappears into the clouds. On the day we visited it, we honestly couldn’t tell where it ended.
Thanks to Renee for letting us stay.
One of the most unique museums in the Midwest is the PWG.
This artist makes sculptures and landscapes completely out of flakes of petrified wood.
They also have polished cuts of wood and other historical items of significance.
As we departed Teddy Roosevelt National Forest, it was getting dark. We pressed on to Cheyenne, and found a DECENT hotel, instead of the crap we had to endure in Los Alamos. This was the first full night’s rest we had since we left Los Angeles.
The next morning, we filled up the grease, and checked over the vitals. The Jetta was good to keep on going north.
We cruised passed the Capitol.
Before we left the hotel, they mentioned some forest fires up north. We didn’t think much of it. I live in Southern California, so forest fires are pretty typical. But it wasn’t a few miles down the road until we realized just how expansive and massive this crisis was.
The smoke basically lasted from Casper all the way to Montana. It NEVER ended. It was like a foggy day.
In 2017, we visited Cheyenne again. But this time, we had some TERRIBLE luck. We couldn’t find a park to rest in, we couldn’t find a decent restaurant, and we couldn’t find a good bathroom. Hell, we couldn’t even find a parking spot on any street. It was crazy. Some rodeo had taken over the town, and instead of people paying the measly $3 for parking, the cheap asses just parked all over town. If I was a homeowner, I would have filed complaints and forced my city council to enforce parking laws during these private events. I’m not interested in coming back to Cheyenne, just because of this experience.