After months of planning, Jess and I finally departed Calgary on May 1st, 2018 for our tour of the United States. Essentially, we wanted to get to Canada’s East Coast by taking the “scenic route”, which is what we told the fellow at the border crossing just before getting into the States.
Our roadtrip started with a stop off at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is preserved because it had a significant impact on the early people of Alberta. I’ve wanted to see this for years and now was the time.
When we got there, we saw that it was $15 or something to see the exhibits and we just wanted to see the landscape. We took the free walk below the bottom of the cliff where buffalo used to be hearded off to their doom so that the aboriginals had food. Reading the little infographics around the site were pretty brutal. They talked about the smell of dead carcasses, the sound of injured buffalo moaning in pain, and stuff like that – I don’t really recommend this site for children if they are literate. The highlight here was the large amount of marmots running around. Definitely worth it, especially because I had no idea what a marmot was until we went there. Basically, they were like dog-sized gophers running around by the dozen.
After that, we headed to our first night’s stay in Waterton National Park. This place was unreal! It’s like the Rocky Mountains near Calgary, but without the swarms of tourists. It’s equally or more beautiful, but less populated and doesn’t have as many shops or hotels – best for the outdoorsy types.
The campsite I looked up prior to arriving said it was open, but it lied to me. We went to the entry point of the park where the girl checks that you have a Parks Canada pass and asked where we could stay since it was getting late. She pointed us to a free campsite with fresh water, a cooking shelter, and long drop outhouses. It was also right beside a stream which I would have paid way more than zero dollars to camp beside. We got lucky the other site was closed. That night, a second car pulled up to the campsite and a German fellow named Yens got out while it was still running, came over to us while we were drinking, and asked if he could hang out with us. We shared our wine, vodka, chips, a banana, and drunk Colin took the liberty of blowing up his air mattress for him, even though he did not ask me to. He was our age and traveling the Canadian Rocky Mountains on his own, with pretty broken English – the kid is an adventurer. We shared travel stories, coached each other on our native languages, and exchanged hugs before going to bed.
The next day we woke up and Yens left the grounds before us. We then learned that our car battery had died overnight, probably from using the electronic door buttons on the van repeatedly. We disabled them, but still needed a boost. A fellow named William happened to be taking a break from his roofing job and was down near the stream chillin’. I went up and asked if he could boost us and he said, “thank God I happened to be here to help you out!” He boosted us, told me I wasn’t lucky but instead I am blessed, then we hugged and he wanted to give me a gift. He gave us a couple of Christian books that he wanted me to read so I could go on the path of righteousness. We kept them for a while but never ended up reading them.
Almost all the sights in Waterton were closed off due to the snow still needing to melt and blocking all the pathways, so we headed to the border, which turned out was also closed. We backtracked to Pincher Creek for a battery charger, as Kyle Swanson told me I should purchase one before we started our trip. Then we went to another border crossing still in Alberta before Montana.
The border guard put on a stern front, but was very nice once he cleared our documentation. From there, we entered into Montana and headed for Glacier National Park. The Going-to-the-Sun drive was on our list of things to see, but it too was closed. It turns out early May is not the best time to hit the national parks this far North. We went to a lower part of Glacier National Park and checked out Lake McDonald, known for its coloured pebbles. It’s tough to get a nice picture unless it’s a perfectly calm day for it, but it was still a beautiful spot.
We headed to Kalispell to get SIM cards for our cell phones, since we had been off the grid for like a couple days, it was about time to check in with our parents. We met a guy who set us up and told us about the area. He also sold marijuana out the back of the building which was very convenient. He informed us that a Nazi leader just moved nearby to Whitefish, so they have rallies of Nazis vs. everyone else bringing their weapons and stuff. He also told us how some people walk around with two guns on their waist, some people walk around with swords at the hip too – many people like to utilize their freedoms by boasting their weapons daily. I am really stoked we haven’t actually seen people like this yet. He was also very surprised we drove through a town called Browning, or as he said, “Brown Town”. He said it is quite run down and its very dangerous so he wouldn’t recommend people like us go through there.
I learned that in the Northern States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming love huckleberry – it’s basically their version of maple syrup. Later on I would learn that each area has their own ‘maple syrup’. Some places love huckleberry, some love marionberry, then there’s other berries I can’t even remember how to spell, but places sure like to share the goods with us tourists. Every local flavor I’ve tried so far has been delightful, and almost every American we have met has been delightful too!
The first week of this trip we wanted to be real cheapskates. Our first week when we went to SE Asia we spent $1,000 and it really set us back considering Asia is supposed to be inexpensive. This trip, we are being much more cautious. We hit up Taco Bell, which had $1.00 double cheesy beefy somethings and I felt like crap after. Burger king has $1.89 10-piece nuggets, which also come in a spicy version. McDonalds has $1.00 cheeseburgers. Essentially, this type of junk made up our diets for the first week. After having a day of McDonalds and Burger King for three of my five meals, I felt soooo hungover from the food alone, that I vowed to change my mentality. It’s funny, because I started the trip saying how healthy I would be, then I switched to being cheap, now I’m back on the healthy run. When you sacrifice your health for your savings, you feel like shit and then your trip isn’t very enjoyable, so you gotta find balance. When you can cook, cook. When you are in a rush and need convenience, then maybe have a dirty burrito, but don’t do this often or you die a little. Also, when you have Taco Bell poos and your campsite cost you zero dollars, you probably won’t be enjoying your bathroom time so much, which sucks because you are in there a lot!
We then went to Yellowstone National Park, America’s first accredited National Park. This place was packed with tourists, and the park had only just opened. Our Lonely Planet guide book mentions how terrible it is in the peak months of July and August when 30,000 people visit the park every day, so maybe it is good to travel the parks in early May?
Yellowstone was crazy beautiful! I wanted to see the Old Faithful Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring, which we did. Shortly after arriving in the park, we saw bison after bison after bison which was unexpected. They were everywhere! This was the best part of the park since we love wildlife, but only when it’s in the wild and not behind bars in a zoo. We heard Old Faithful was running out of steam (sorry for the pun), so we are glad we went to see it. They have built a whole little village around the attraction, so it was quite busy. We walked up to the geyser about 20 seconds too late as it was winding down, so we had to stick around for another hour and a half or so until it was ready to erupt again. In the mean time, Jess had her gift shop time, I drank beers in the parking lot, and then we went and waited for it a bit early. Some 30 Americans were standing in some grass near by holding a massive flag of Murrica, and were preaching about their motherland. There has been no shortage of American flag displays so far. Finally, she erupted and it was pretty cool, I probably won’t talk about it when I’m on my death bed though.
The Grand Prismatic Spring and the other colored hot spring things were great too, but the best views are always from a bird’s eye, which is what I’ve seen in books and online. I’m stoked with everything we got to see in Yellowstone and it is definitely a point of interest if you ever go to Wyoming. We stayed at the Madison campground and it was epic. We thought some old people were going to get thrashed by some bison for getting really close, but the bison are pretty gentle, like cows. At the Old Faithful souvenir shop they show a video on repeat of what happens if you mess with a bison (also called buffalo interchangeably). Basically, the bison will come at you, gore you with its horns, then buck you 20 feet in the air until you are mangled. We only stayed in Yellowstone one day since all the cool stuff is set up along one easy to manouver road.
After that, we stayed at a truck stop in Twin Falls Idaho, then headed to the capital of Oregon, where they “Keep Portland Weird”. Portland was a place we’ve heard lots about, but didn’t know anything about. People always just say “Portland is awesome”, so we went to check it out. Turns out, Portland is weird AF. There’s a ton of alternative people – crazy hair styles, crazy face tattoos, and other unique trendsetters. Basically, it was nothing like Calgary. Our downtown has a bunch of suits, theirs has a bunch of homeless people and tough cliques. We sometimes felt uncomfortable here, but we still really liked it. The city is beautiful, there’s tons of greenery everywhere, and there are food trucks filling parking lots on every corner you hit. Oh yeah, they have legal weed too. We stopped at a dispensary and bought some grass and a couple potent edibles for a day when we get bored.
When we arrived in Portland, we walked around downtown, ate some food, then booked a motel room. We chose our motel strictly for the neon sign they have in front. Mr. Patel who runs it was very thorough with his explanations with everything from how to turn on the television to how to get to the liquor store. We later learned that is because he gets a lot of high people at his motel who can’t figure things out, like how to turn on the television. The city doesn’t allow anyone to build signs past certain height limits anymore so Mr. Patel will always have the tallest neon sign around. Before heading to our kick ass motel we were able to get in touch with our friend Xachary who lives in Portland.
We met Xachary last summer when we drove to Oregon for What The Fest, an arts and electronic music festival. At the festival, Xachary was the first person we met and we referred to him as our ‘spirit guide’. We would always bump in to him while we were wasted and it was just really nice seeing a friendly and familiar face each time. This guy is a really unique person, and for work he aims to make the parks in America more efficient and able to provide campers with better experiences while aiding conservation. What better person to learn about the national parks from right? We met up with him and went to a brewery called Cascade. Here, they specialize in ‘sours’, which are sour beers usually served in a 2 oz, 4 oz, or 8 oz glass. I was so confused when I was looking at the menu, I mean, why would I want a beer that’s any less than 16 ounces? The sours were aight, more like ciders or wines, but I found out that I had died and gone to heaven – Portland is saturated with breweries that brew IPAs. India Pale Ales are my favorite beer, and it seems like Canada was a little slow to bring them in to the craft beer scene, when comparing Canada to New Zealand and now the States. The beers in Portland were great, but if only I had more time and money I would have been able to drink, drink, drink them all!
We met up with Xachary again that night, had some beers, and he drove us around to some cool local spots. We laid in the grass, looked at stars, then listened to Xachary play his guitar in our motel room before he headed off into the darkness, after a final round of hugs. Our spirit guide will some day guide us again, for ever more.
After Portland, I was feeling a bit seedy, so we decided to have a short driving day and we made our way to Newport. What is Newport? I’ve only heard of places called ___port while we were in New Zealand. Westport, Newport, places with ‘port’ at the end are always on the coast, which makes sense, and they are usually a bit unknown to average tourist. Welp, turns out Newport has been our favorite stop so far. So much, that we are doing our first 2-day stay of the trip here. Newport caught our attention because we love being near the ocean, and we thought it would be cool to touch the Pacific now, and touch the Atlantic when we get to the other side of the States, just like they do in the Netflix series Departures.
The town is full of seafood, so we ate like gods. We had freshly caught fish and chips, smoked oysters, and candied salmon. I also tried some New England style clam chowder from famous Mo’s diner, which was actually just okay. I learned that they really like Bigfoot here, so the souvenir shops have stickers saying, “Hide and Seek World Champion” on it, with a silhouette of Bigfoot in the background.
Our camp site at South Beach State Park just outside of Newport is fantastic. The
people, the scenery, the beach, the wildlife is all superb. There are tons of birds here – hummingbirds, pelicans, plovers, oyster catchers, and other ones I’ve never heard of. When we went into Newport near the docks, they have 10+ sea lions just chilling on some jetties. It’s just a really nice place to settle down and unwind after the journey
so far. We found Portland a bit stressful especially trying to drive around in a busy, unfamiliar city. We feel more at home being in a small coastal town like this since
it was what we were used to in New Zealand. Metropolis’ are great, they can just be
a bit overwhelming.
We sure like that the speed limit on many of the highways is 80mph, which is like 130km/h. We are zooming all the time! At first we were a bit uncomfortable with it, but now we feel like anything less than 80mph is too slow. Another thing we learned is that we shouldn’t talk politics or religion, because everyone so far seems like a fanatic in some way or form and its just best to tread lightly in that regard. I learned that we are going to get injured often – tripping over things, falling while drunk, etc. Jess and I both got some bad bruises early on in the trip, mine happened before I even left my home! Jess fell over a metal camp fire in the dark and got bruised all over.
The main thing I learned on this trip is that us humans are creatures of habit. We love routine, even if we love change or being on the road. Knowing that everything in our van has its place, or ‘allocation’ as Jess calls it, is comforting. Have a nightly routine of brushing, changing, and going to bed at a similar time feels like home. Even taking a couple days off to relax and do nothing like we did in Newport makes me feel more at home. I didn’t work 7-days a week back in Calgary, so why am I pushing myself to travel hard 7-days a week now? Once I realized that I need to ground myself, that’s when I started to truly enjoy this trip. Every day has been stellar in its own way – the people, the scenery, the animals, the air. Although traveling again has been harder than I remember, it gets easier the more you do it. As I will always remember from one of our yoga teachers, “it’s not ‘yoga perfect’, it’s ‘yoga practice’. You’ll never be perfect at anything, but you can get better at everything, it just takes practice. Take time for yourself, think about your health on the road spiritually, physically, mentally. I’m even getting muscle pain from driving often. Once Jess and I started alternating at every stop, we started to enjoy things more too. Prior to that, I would drive all day one day, she would drive all day the next. This technique was quite taxing on us. All we need to do is find our rhythm, and it seems like we have found it now, but we will still learn every day and get better and better and be able to enjoy every moment just like we have so far.
Now that we have destressed a bit and caught up on some sleep the last two nights, we are ready to hit the road again. We are California bound!
Kusz & Moore, out!