Train wreaks, wildflowers and alien anthills

Estevan in Saskatchewan, Canada 49.14494° N, 102.96773° W in a Walmart parking lot for the night. I hope tonight’s stay is less eventful than our last Walmart stop in Minneapolis, Minnesota two days ago, on Independence Day.

After having left Baraboo RV Resort in Minnesota on July 4th, we drove onward toward North Dakota. Kevin pulled off at a scenic overlook so we could take some photos and stretch our legs. Once we’d pulled in, we realized it was a trail—which was much longer than expected, but well worth the trek. We cut some corners on the paved switchbacks where other hikers obviously had on well-beaten footpaths. I found a single chanterelle mushroom, the first fungus score of our journey.

The view was breathtaking—literally, Kevin and I were out-of-breath and ready for a nap by the time we reached the top. The rolling mountains went on forever without a single building in sight.

Back in the RV, we looked at the map and decided Minneapolis was a good goal for the day.

Next we found a Harbor Freight with a Home Depot in the same mall lot which served as a perfect spot to install an inverter to run the Starlink while we drive without needing to use the generator. Our last attempt had failed because it was too small and the wiring didn’t work. Chip, Danny, and I spent a long time walking around the edge of the huge parking lot of the once-popular mall which was mostly uninhabited. The faded sign still stood for the mall out front by the mush newer signs for the two hardware stores that had taken it over, the rest of the building appeared to be abandoned. It was futile, the system still isn’t operating correctly and we are still running the generator intermittently for internet and power. I set a route to the Walmart there. By the time we arrived Kevin was much more sick and didn’t have the energy to mess with it.

While Kevin was shopping in that Minneapolis Walmart, Danny and I had stayed in the RV. A ridiculous security guard Jeep with obnoxious strobe lights drove past us. Our slides were out and the levelers were down, so it was evident we were planning to stay the night. He didn’t approach, so I locked the door and asked Danny to let Kevin in when he returned.

I was so tired from not sleeping well and being so sick that I laid down and almost immediately fell asleep. Shortly after dozing off, Danny came to report a sus dude pacing around the RV. At first, I figured he was just overreacting—it was a long boring drive and he has a very good imagination—but he was not.

The man was walking in irregular laps that came very close to the RV without looking at us directly. He would walk as far as 100-feet away, then wander back. Danny had been watching him in the cameras mounted on the outside of the RV, and could see him checking us out—and possibly the enduro motorbike on the back. I thought it was sketchy enough when we drove in and saw so much trash and abandoned wrecked carts laying around—this was on another level.

I opened the front curtains and started the generator to make it very obvious the RV was occupied without looking directly at him. We stood in the front while I held the phone up, even though I wasn’t calling anyone. The last thing I wanted Kevin “Wheezy” (that’s his rapper name, don’t ask him to rap though) to do was get worried and have an asthma attack rushing over from the Walmart which was a considerable distance. The guy did one more lap after that, then got in a car not far from us, and left. He must have been wandering around like that scoping us out ten times.

Just as we had settled in and dozed off, the rent-a-cop knocked on the door and told us to leave. It made no sense after having obviously already seen we’d been planning to stay the night. He allows wandering creeps but not harmless families on vacation minding their own business who purchased items from the store.

So, we struck out, as dusk fell and impatient Americans began to light up the sky with fireworks. The first place we stopped didn’t have any room for us, so we went another ten miles or so to a rest stop that was wonderfully quiet and extraordinarily uneventful—other than stubbing my already broken toe I’m smashed earlier in the trip. Danny helped me tape it to the next toe over for the night. None of us had any interest in the fireworks displays. We just wanted to rest.

The next day we passed into North Dakota. I spotted a column of black smoke billowing into the sky on the horizon of the flat Great Planes. As we drew closer, the size of the smoke cloud only increased. I looked at the local news online and learned an overturned train with 29 cars had derailed. They were filled with ammonia, sulfur and menthol—our route luckily kept us many miles from the toxic plume. Apparently it is STILL burning.

That night we parked at a Sinclair gas station for the night. We parked next to a truck carrying massive tires which were wider than the RV. I think I was more enamored than Danny was. I hopped out and took Chippy for a walk on a strip of grass that stretched from behind the RV then between a metal building and a Tractor Supply. We had fun playing around with our new Insta360 which is a 360°-angle camera on a stand that extends into a selfie stick with a tripod at the base.

There were little pale-pink morning glories creeping through short grass with delicate soft tassels which were a cream-white with a hint of pale pink. They were so beautiful. All through the Great Planes there had been so many unfamiliar, stunning wildflowers. Seeing new strange plants are my favorite part of traveling.

As I rushed over to mitigate the amount of nasty caked in his fur, and I kicked something metal with my flip-flop just a foot away from where he was rolling. Much to my astonishment it was a set ankle trap! I had bumped it lightly enough so just one-half of the metal jaw had lifted. I yelled at Danny to watch where he stepped, he immediately looked down and all around him, as did I.

Back at the RV we told Kevin what had happened while I made dinner. It was hard to believe someone would do that in such a public space on a recently-mowed strip of lawn. Another dog owner passed by us. I hopped out of the RV and ran over to tell him and his loose golden retriever about the trap. The man was very appreciative, and as shocked as I was.

We settled down for the night and I crammed my silicone earplugs in to drown out the sound of the tire-hauling truck idling beside us and the long horns of passing trains across the road.

For lunch, on our way through a North Dakota valley, we parked just off the main road in a lovely spot surrounded by gentle hills to either side. The dirt drive we were parked lead to train tracks which had run parallel to the roadway for most of the day. I stared moose burgers in the convection oven while Kevin walked Chip. I took a shower while they cooked. Kevin returned with a handful of colorful pebbles. The rail bed was laid on them, some with little crystals. Danny went outside and began filling his pockets while I finished putting lunch together. Afterwards I walked around a bit to enjoy the gorgeous flowers surrounding the RV.

We’d been driving in the long valley for hours and watching bright yellow, spring green, and dark green patches of tidy fields, some with combines slowly passing over them. Round hay bales sat drying in the sun, and little birds did acrobatics across the road in front of us, seeming to fall and right themselves in spirals.

There were dozens of two-digit numbers on the hillsides of the valley we passed through which Kevin figured were graduating classes. The very first one was 85—the year I was born. They were not in sequence and spread out by miles in some places, and clustered in others. Once we finally drove up a rise in the land which brought us out of the valley, we saw the land had changed from perfectly flat for hundreds of miles to rolling hills in all directions with patches of trees in places.

Lone oil dereks lazily pumped oil from wells here and there across the changing landscape, some with pipes with blazing flames of natural gasses. Another hour, and we’d reached the Canadian border. I routed us to the next Walmart to park for the night. There was plenty of daylight left and it was great weather for driving—but Kevin had reached his limit.

The sign for the small town of Estevan, where we are now, proclaimed it’s an “energy” town. We’d passed an immense surface-mining operation for coal just before coming to the town. The landscape was covered in thousands of rounded hills just miles from leaving North Dakota-Canadian border. A crane with a scoop larger than our RV hung over the alien landscape. They looked like huge anthills that covered the once-flat surface. It made me feel strange, and quite out-of-place. Maybe just because it was just so unexpected and unusual. It’s truly amazing the things us humans do to our Earth to manipulate it to our advantage.

The Estevan Walmart has been very loud. I’m guessing the mining operation employs a large number of cocky young men. At 9:28PM the guttural growl of pick-up trucks, cry of crotch-rocket bikes, and little cars with fart cans were increasingly zipping by. Not a single moment of silence exists in this place and Kevin is much too sick to press on another two-and-a-half hours to the next town with a place to park. He is worse again today and coughs constantly, as he’s already prone to respiratory problems I can’t help but be concerned driving into increasingly rural country. Maybe I should drop by a welding supply and pick up an oxygen tank for us all. Funny-not-funny. This is getting a little ridiculous.

This trip has been less than fun thus far, though it has had it moments and we continue trying to make the best of it. We are far behind schedule, and Kevin starts working remotely tomorrow from the RV. Hopefully by then he will be feeling better and we will be most of the way through Canada on the Alcan.

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