Longest drive of our lives

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So, we had been discussing for a long time how and where we might cross the vast expanse that is the middle of the US of A and it felt weird to be finally starting out on it. Neither of us had ever spent 4 full consecutive days in a car driving before and, for that matter, we hadn't tested the Tank in that way either.

Well, we are pleased to report that it was not actually too bad. To be honest, the first day or two driving across Montana and Wyoming wasn’t even that boring as we were passing through some classic "out west" scenery and rolling hills and old iron bridges and winding river valleys. Montana’s state slogan is “Big Sky Country” and they aren’t making it up. The sky really does feel very big. You have a usually straight road heading out in front of you and then all around is sky. Big and blue with the odd big, fluffy cloud looking like a spaceship floating above.

We broke up the journey by stopping in South Dakota at the Mt Rushmore National Monument in the Black Mountains which was pretty impressive really. We had a stroll around and took some photos of giant nostrils and eyeballs (they really are giant – Lincoln’s eyes are each about 11 feet across). It must have been a bugger to make and we did wonder why they decided to do the sculpture in front of a slightly ugly scree face when there were so many pretty rocks and mountains around. Or was it that they created the scree when they made the sculpture? Maybe someone can let us know.

We also managed to break things up a bit further down the road by doing a US-style drive-through visit of Badlands National Park with some of the more weird and otherworldly scenery of the trip so far. It reminded us a lot of some of the places in Mongolia we went well over a year ago now - a sharp reminder of ho w long we have been away and how little time we have left.

It wasn’t really until we had left the Badlands behind and hit the eastern half of South Dakota and Minnesota that the landscape became really flat and dull. Full of wheat and cornfields and dead flat as far as you can see. We drove and drove and drove and stopped for lunch in a crappy service station and then drove some more. We stopped in crummy roadside motels once it got dark (the Tank’s headlights are not that great!) and fell into bed absolutely exhausted. We never knew how tiring a full day driving can be.

We were heading, ultimately, back into Canada and over to Toronto. We had e-mailed a friend from there (who, bizarrely, we had met on a train in Mongolia over a year ago) to say that we might be in town for this particular weekend and she had responded by saying that it was Canadian thanksgiving that weekend but that we were welcome to stay and come to their family Thanksgiving party on the Saturday. So we had a deadline to be in Toronto but for once it wasn’t an issue at all as there wasn’t really anything to see anyway!

The Tank behaved herself admirably and didn’t so much as sputter the whole way across, although travelling at speed on the freeway she did guzzle petrol like it was going out of fashion and she did to a bit of shuddering when you went over 80. The biggest problem we had to contend with was the wind. As you can imagine there is not much to stop it out in the prairies and we often found ourselves on dead straight highways battling the steering wheel against the wind. Then we would hit a bridge or a line of trees and the wind would suddenly stop meaning we shot diagonally across the road in the direction we had been correcting for and then the windbreak would be gone and we would be buffeting back in the other direction.

Our last break in the journey was the little known town of Sandusky, Ohio. The reason we were heading there is because Gordon, rollercoaster geek that he is, had looked up (over 17 months ago now) where some of the reputed best rollercoasters in the world were. And, you guessed it, 2 or 3 of them came up as being in Cedar Point, Sandusky. They were happily having Halloween nights on Fridays so we were able to turn up at 4pm after a long day in the car and head into the park to tick off the best rides. Two of them were definitely up there with the best we had been on. Millenium Force which flung you around a 300ft high track at over 90mph and then perhaps the favourite “Top Thrill Dragster” which shoots you along a half-mile runway before flinging you up 420ft into the air on a vertical track which you then spin over the top off and come flying back down. Losing your stomach on a flat stretch of track because of the extreme acceleration was quite an experience.

After the park, we drove a short distance in the direction of Canada and found a hotel with decent internet so that Gordon could catch the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on, conveniently, at 2am and 4am in the morning, before hopping in the car and back across the border to Canadian Thanksgiving.  We were more than ready for a break from the car, a turkey and some scenery again!
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