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2016-december-10-north-dakota-copyDECEMBER 10: RETURN TO CANADA

There’s a sheriff on the scene when I pull into a station for gas and wiper fluid this morning. He’s calmly taking a report from the lady behind the counter. A car “fishtailed” out of the garage without paying.

I’m not going anywhere fast today because my car is sluggish in the minus 29 degrees Celsius weather and I’m having trouble getting my hood up to fill the windshield washer tank. A customer at another pump helps me. Thank you Mr. American.

My fingertips are so cold, my toes are numb, my car is taking forever to warm up and my phone is slow to charge.

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Within a few hours of leaving Minot, North Dakota, I re-enter Canada at a little place called Portal on the Saskatchewan border. I pretty much just drive through after I’m asked how long I’ve been in the States and if I’m bringing anything in. There are no other cars.

2016-december-10-tim-hortons-copyWhat I remember about the many times I’ve driven across Saskatchewan is that gas stations can be few and far between on the barren prairies. So I don’t want my gas tank level to fall below the halfway mark. The first town I come to is Estevan, where I top up with gas and pick up a couple of cups of hot water and a tea bag from Tim Horton’s.

Around four o’clock, I feel so sleepy on the flat, boring, northbound road to the Trans-Canada Highway, I stop at a little pull-in that says No Trespassing Do Not Remove Any Material. There are some very large lumps of earth. After a brief nap, my brain is foggy and I’m thinking, “Am I still on the road and falling asleep or am I actually in my car having a snooze.”

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After 15 minutes, I climb out and run around the car seven times. It’s minus 21 and every time I reach the driver’s door, the harsh wind whips at my face. I climb back in, breathing hard and feeling like an ice cube. But I’m ready to hit the road again.

I make a pit stop in the city of Moose Jaw just before five. I pull into a full-serve gas station so I don’t have to freeze pumping gas, then I pick up some groceries and a coffee at a nearby Safeway.

After Swift Current, I run into bad weather. The road is partly snow-covered and huge wafts of snow drift across the road, obscuring the white lines. The road is deserted and I can barely see in front of the car. It slows me down, until I catch up to a commercial truck. I keep my distance to stay clear of the veils of snow its tires kick up, blocking all visibility in its wake. Carefully, I calculate an ideal distance between being far enough away to avoid the clouds of snow but close enough to see the red tail lights at the top and bottom of the truck. The scariest part is, two or three times a truck passes me and I drive completely blind for a few seconds. I’m seriously tense as this lonely snowy drive goes on for a good two hours all the way to Medicine Hat.

There are enormous benefits to following a commercial vehicle. It warns of problems ahead by flashing its rear lights. For example, we come across a stopped truck with little triangles all around it. Further along there’s a car moving at a snail’s pace with its hazard lights on, which is kind of creepy, and the truck warns me of that as well. With the truck leading the way, I’m able to pick up the pace to between 100 and 120 kph.

2016-december-10-medicine-hat-deer-copy-2I take another break in Medicine Hat, top up the tank again and drive down the deserted Main Street – deserted except for a magnificent deer that is wandering around.

Only a couple more hours to Calgary after Medicine Hat. Thankfully, the snow stops, the road is fine, and I arrive just before midnight.

Over the past four days, since leaving Ottawa, I’ve put four thousand kilometers on these wheels. My ears are still buzzing with road noise.

JUNE 28, 2015. THIRD DAY OF JOURNEY HOME

Crew change at Melville, Saskatchewan

Crew change at Melville, Saskatchewan

In Saskatoon by mid-day, when I detrain for a 16-minute walk along the entire length of the train and back, we learn we have dropped significantly behind schedule during the night. Freight train congestion and work slowdowns mean we will be running consistently four hours late for the entire trip. And apparently the 30-plus-degree heat expands the rails, forcing the train to move more cautiously.

beehive condos on the Prairies

beehive condos on the Prairies

When they dim the carriage lights in the evening, and there is nothing but darkness outside the window, it seems like I am on a huge ship, hurtling through some deep ocean. The rumbling of wheels on rails is the humming of the ship’s engines in the bowels of the hull, pushing the boat onward. The soft swaying of the carriage and the creaking structure are the ship holding its own against the powerful force of nature, challenging each swollen wave valiantly and persistently. There is a warm sense of safety from the elements in the large vessel, mumbling us to sleep in its great belly.

My daughter and I are staying the night in Room No. 8 at the Sweet Dreams Motel in Broadview, Saskatchewan. It’s nearly midnight, and we’ve been driving since 11 this morning, Ontario Time, which was really 9 in the morning Saskatchewan Time. What starts as a warm sunny day turns into an evil driving rain by dusk on the Prairies. A stone hits the windshield, leaving small slices veering in three different directions directly in front of my daughter’s eyes. A silver slick highway reflects the tail lights of a thousand transports, which kick up veils of mist, making me blink and swerve uneasily until we turn off the road towards the “Motel 24 hours” sign.