I walked back out to the Jeep and sat in the driver’s seat in relative silence, unsure what to do with the situation. It was incredibly strange to be alone, to look at an empty passenger seat while my peripheral vision simultaneously recognized the missing luggage in the back seat. It took a little while for the realization that I now had nearly 3,000 miles to travel alone before reaching Boston. After a song or two had played on the radio I reached forward and started the engine, realizing that simply sitting there in the airport parking garage wasn’t getting me any closer to home. About a week prior I had begun thinking about my route home, things I’d like to see, and people I’d want to/be able to visit. I sent a few text messages and looked through possible map routes and ultimately decided I’d head back into the United States instead of getting back on the Trans-Canada Highway for days and traipsing back across the same Canadian provinces we had already come across. I’d follow Alberta Hwy 1 (technically the Trans-Canada) 200 miles from Calgary International to just east of Medicine Hat, AB, turning south on Highway 41 towards the Canadian/US border.
The road was boring beyond description; it was bland, flat, neutral toned, indescribably monotonous and relatively empty of other vehicles. I stopped for fuel just a few miles before turning south, filling up the Jeep’s 24-gallon tank out of concern for my next time I’d be able to refuel. If the past few hours had been driving through “populated” areas, I was afraid of what the next few hours – and potentially the rest of the night – would bring… better to fill up while the opportunity presented itself. Turning onto 41 showed me exactly what I imagined, a two lane road stretching across vast fields, a wasteland of sorts, for hours on end. I stopped in a tiny town called Elkwater to mail Dani a postcard from the last Canadian town of the trip and buy a bottle of water. From there it was another hour south to Wild Horse, AB, the official site of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol crossing. When I tell you it was literally the first thing (from the obvious options of a house, car, fence, person, etc.) I had seen since Elkwood, I’m not exaggerating. Two border patrol agents came out to greet me and ask a few questions about my entry point and time in the country. They were surprised to hear I’d been in Canada for almost a month, having crossed the border some 2,700 miles east. I had nothing to declare and they quickly waved me on. A hundred feet and two high security fences later I found myself in Montana, the 41st state in the Union. Just like that and without much ceremony, I was back in America.
I stopped to take a photo of the state line sign, and spent no more than thirty seconds changing the speedometer of the Jeep’s digital display back to mph from km/h. With the same two lane road and endless prairies on either side of me I continued on for over an hour until I reached the small town of Havre, MT, seeing only two houses and a tiny and long since forgotten church in that time. Turning off of Highway 41 and onto Montana Route 2 I did my best to keep an eye on the road while simultaneously trying to observe the scenery around me. The town was old and rundown, home to a major train yard, the Boxcars Casino, a few miscellaneous bars, and not much else. I turned around at one point immediately after passing Hi-Line Lanes, an abandoned bowling alley, the photographer in me filled with an immense desire to capture the scene. I drove on Route 2 towards Montana’s Big Sky Scenic Byway as the sun began setting behind me, the blue tones of dusk washing over the vast plains. The beams of my headlights and the 30” Black Oak LED bar on the roof shone out brilliantly in front of me and I noticed a mile-long train racing across the valley to the south of me. With music playing loudly and the sun roof open wide to let the fresh air flow through, I did my best to enjoy the solitude that the new chapter of this adventure presented me with.
My goal for the day was to cover over half of the distance from Calgary to Minneapolis, an impressive 1,300 mile trek. With the late start to the day, this would require me driving till well after midnight. As the pitch black of night blanketed the sky and earth I began seeing the most brilliant stars shining back at me from the heavens above. Quickly researching the moon-rise time, I pulled off the road and set up my camera and tripod to capture one of the most incredibly vibrant Milky Way displays I’ve ever seen. It was quite eerie to be standing in a field an hour from the nearest established town and be staring up at the sprawling galaxy and constellations above. My fish-eye wide-angle lens allowed for some great images, one of which I’ll share below. With miles to go, I packed up my gear after twenty or so minutes and carried on to the east. Some time after midnight Dani called to let me know she had made it home safely, eager to know where I was in the world.
At 02h00 I pulled the Jeep off the road, crossing a small ditch and coming to a stop on the edge of a wide open field. Without a single structure in sight I deemed it a safe place to spend the night and began rearranging the gear inside the Jeep. Moving one of our Pelican cases to the ground outside, I inflated my single person Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad. I had traveled just under 700 miles since leaving Calgary, and fell fast asleep stretched out across the back of the Grand Cherokee, knowing all too well just how quickly the sun would rise again.