Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alaska Trip Days 16-18: Fort St. John, BC to Durham, NC

I've already talked about the drive back from Alaska in general; all that's left is to provide a few more pictures and random thoughts from the drive home. Next up...aww, screw it, let's just go the whole way!

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I'm combining the last three days of the drive home from Alaska into a single post because, well, I think this trip recap has gone long enough. I'll try to keep this short.

Alaska Trip Day 16 (Fri Jul 9): 938 miles; 14 hr 14 min

Fort St. John, BC looks like it's very far away from home on the map, but that's just because of the map projection. It's actually no further than Seattle.

It's going to be pretty much all prairies and flatland for a while. You sure can see the rain from far away out here. Maybe that's why I like the plains so much. It's the weather geek in me.

Quiz: where was this next picture taken?

There's only one possible place where this sign could exist. Notice that one side of the sign says "Alberta" while the other side says "Saskatchewan", implying that we're near (or, in this case, on) the provincial border. And where does Trans-Canada Highway 16 cross the Alberta/Saskatchewan border? Why, Lloydminster, of course!

Lloydminster is a single city with status in both Alberta and Saskatchewan. Is it one city, or two separate cities? From what I could tell, it's one city, and it's more associated with Alberta than Saskatchewan. That's based on two things: Lloydminster follows Alberta time (Mountain with Daylight Saving) rather than Saskatchewan time (Central without Daylight Saving), and the gas prices are more reflective of Alberta gas prices no matter which side of the border you're on in Lloydminster. I found that second part really intriguing. Let's talk about it some more!

Gasoline taxes in Alberta are 6.5 c/L lower than in Saskatchewan (source), yet, gas prices on both sides of the border in Lloydminster were about the same. Are the gas stations on the Saskatchewan side of the border in Lloydminster subject to Alberta provincial gas taxes? Must be; otherwise, why would anyone want to open a gas station on the Saskatchewan side? Maybe this helps explain why the Highway 16 Alberta welcome centre is actually located on the Saskatchewan side of the border. This town doesn't really know what province it's in. It's a "tweener". Sure, there is technically a "provincial border", but I don't think the locals really care. The two sides of the border seem to get along just fine. What provincial border?

This is up there with the Welcome to California sign along US-50 as one of the smallest state or province welcome signs ever. At least the California sign has graphics and color. Maybe they feel the border is barely even worth marking?

On the other hand, the case can be made that the border does actually matter here. In addition to the non-descript sign, there are some interesting-looking red poles erected along the border (visible in the background of the Highway 16 sign photo). The town's slogan is "Canada's Only Border City". And, the two sides of Lloydminster are in different area codes (306 in Saskatchewan, 587/780 in Alberta). The border does matter after all! I'm really surprised by the separate area codes. How can the two sides of the border can have the same time zone and the same gas taxes, but not the same area code?

The map geek in me finds the border town of Lloydminster absolutely fascinating. What an interesting town!

Moving on...

Yep. Looks like Saskatchewan.

Amber really likes the yellow.

I always like the lame slogans that some of these small towns come up with. Wynyard: "A town with a future."

Finding a gas station is more difficult in Canada than it is in the United States. When you're on an interstate highway, blue signs at each exit will point you to various gas stations. In Canada, though, there are no blue directional signs. Instead, all you get are signs that tell you if a particular town has a gas station. But where is it, exactly? Who knows? We had to take a rather interesting detour through suburban Saskatoon to find a gas station, but that's okay, because it was a nice part of Saskatoon.

Like many hotels in Canada and the Upper Midwest, our hotel in Yorkton, SK had a water slide. We felt obligated to ride it a few times, despite the fact that we got to the hotel less than 7 hours before our scheduled wake-up time the next morning. Weeee! Seriously, hotel water slides are very, very common up here. These aren't wimpy slides, either; they have twists and everything, and many are over 10 seconds long!

Alaska Trip Day 17 (Sat Jul 10): 997 miles; 14 hr 59 min

Good morning! This picture was taken in the early morning hours, just east of the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border. Literally, as soon as we crossed into Manitoba, the terrain became more interesting. Manitoba (which we visited in detail on our honeymoon) is more interesting than Saskatchewan, but I think I'd rather live in Saskatchewan, given the choice.

I thought this was just too funny. This is in the town of Gladstone, Manitoba. Get it? "Glad stone"? Hahahaha!

I'd like to have been there during the Gladstone town meeting when they came up with the idea for the "Happy Rock". That must have been a fun meeting. Amber thinks the Happy Rock is kind of creepy, but I love it. (This is also the last Mo the cow puppet picture of the trip.)

Skipping ahead to Minnesota:
- I-94 through downtown Minneapolis was closed, preventing me from "clinching" I-94 through the entire state. Darn.
- It seemed like the Minnesota Twins game was on like five different radio stations in the Twin Cities area.
- We stopped for gas at a "Kwik Trip" (not to be confused with "Kwik Fill"). Kwik Trip has its own brand of sports drink: "Kwikade"! We saved the bottle.

As for Wisconsin...oh, I don't know. It was getting dark.

Alaska Trip Day 18 (Sun Jul 11): 952 miles; 14 hr 15 min

The last day of any vacation is always the least fun, right? And there isn't really anything you can do about that, especially when you're driving. Sooner or later, you have to drive that two-hour stretch close to home that you've done a million times before and you absolutely loathe. I wouldn't say that I loathe the I-40/85 Durham to Greensboro drive; it's just gotten old. It'd be nice if they built a teleport from the Durham/Orange county line to, say, the Virginia border.

So, here's a brief summary of the last day:
- Illinois: We didn't take the most direct route through Illinois, mostly so I could visit more new counties along I-39 and I-88. And it doesn't really matter which expressway you take through Chicago; you're going to pay a toll sooner or later.
- Indiana: After driving through Minneapolis/St. Paul and the endless Chicago suburbs, Indianapolis seemed quite small. That's it?
- Ohio: Amber's parents drove down from Toledo that day to meet us for lunch in Dayton. Just like with us, a two hour drive for them is basically nothing.
- West Virginia: This was the first time I'd ever been in West Virginia so soon after being in the Rockies. West Virginia's mountains have never seemed so small. Still pretty, though.
- Virginia: Are we there yet?
- North Carolina: Home at last, at 10:45 PM that night. Good thing we didn't have to go back to work the next day. It's always good to have a day to catch up at home after a long trip without having to worry about work, so we planned for that extra day off.

So, there you go! One awesome trip to Alaska recapped in excruciating detail. I'm going to go take a nap.

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