Days 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 I had hoped to blog the entire trip from Anchorage to Chicago, but our time in Missoula was gloriously filled with too much friendship, if such a thing is possible. So I’ll break it all down into one post, we’ll call it Anch to Chi, the Highlights. Day 5 – Plains, Mountains and Borders We left Edmonton early, as everyone was looking forward to a couple days of rest in Missoula. The sun sprang up like a northern flower and showered us in golden warmth all the way to Calgary. The plains can be boring, if you have no imagination or if the sky doesn’t put on a show for you. Today we talked about seeing our friends, about living in Chicago and about the last few days. After Calgary, the plains gave way to verdant hills that grew into mountains. The trail through the Canadian Rockies is beautiful and perhaps underrated. The border crossing back into the U.S. was uneventful. A border guard asked if I had any guns. I said no. He looked at me for a long moment and said, “You coming from Alaska and all, I find that hard to believe.” I had no answer for him, and he let us go.
Days 6 and 7 – Missoula, our Mountain Home Our heart is in Missoula. So is our house, for that matter, but it’s the people from our community there that we miss dearly. The three greatest buddies a guy could have were waiting for me with a growler of beer when we finally arrived around 11 p.m. We conversed for a few minutes around a roaring pine-cone fire. As I recovered from more than 2,000 miles of driving through Alaska, the Yukon, B.C. and Alberta, I wanted to sleep, but the thought of missing out on any time with these guys kept me going. Though it was a blur, with kids farmed out across the city and trying to see as many friends as possible, I felt rested when we went to bed on our last night there. Day 8: A Thousand Miles in a Day I woke up motivated to get some miles under my belt. With Missoula in my rear view, Chicago and a new life loomed up over the badlands and all the flat country in between. We flew across the familiar Montana countryside and gassed up just the other side of Billings. From there on out, everything was unfamiliar. New miles, new states for the kids’ collection. I had wanted to see the site of Custer’s Last Stand, or more appropriately these days, The Battle of Little Big Horn, for many years. When we left Montana in 2010, it was with some regret at not having seen so much of the breathtaking state. So we stopped and scoped out the battlefield in record time, hoping to make up the time with the 75-mph speed limits. Somewhere between the flattest parts of Montana, Wyoming and the South Dakota border, we saw the sky darken like night falling fast. The cold metallic gray filled the horizon all the way to the ground. Lightening struck in the distance, and rain drops plopped on the hood and window of the car like some giant’s tears. Within a few moments, the skies opened, and a deluge filled the world around us. Traffic on I-90 slowed to a crawl as every driver lost visibility instantly. Cheryl and I scrambled to find the emergency flashers so the semi behind us would notice us before plowing through us. We crawled through the storm at 5 or 10 miles per hour. Eventually the sky lifted a little as the storm bounced off of us before setting down a few miles away and off the interstate. In a few more miles, the roadway was completely dry, evidence of the storm’s whimsical nature. We reluctantly passed by Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park, hoping to put ourselves within 8 hours of the windy city by midnight. Day 9: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois We left our Alaska-chilled hotel room on the border of South Dakota and Minnesota in a sultry morning heat blanket. We opted for air conditioning over gas mileage. Minnesota did not disappoint, the verdant fields were a great relief after the drabness of the western Midwest. Amish country rolled past our windows as if we had gone back in time. Suddenly we were at the banks of the Mississippi River. And even though the last 1,500 miles were in unfamiliar territory, there was something so final about crossing the wide blue boundary marker. Wisconsin’s eastern border is beautiful country, worthy of coming back to explore someday. But the 101-degree heat and the road ahead kept us on the highway with the air conditioner blasting. Madison loomed in the distance, but we drove through and lunched on the other side of the city. The toll roads are the tell-tale sign that you’re nearing Chicago. We scrambled for change and dollar bills as we drove through half-a-dozen collection stations. The blue dot on my iPhone’s navigation app drew ever closer to Our new home in Palos Heights. Finally we left the freeway and struck out over land, navigating out way through Oak Park, Worth and finally Palos Heights. The neighborhood, shaded as it was by huge oak trees, was as idyllic as one could imagine. Driving through, I could see my kids riding their bikes to their friends’ houses or skateboarding down the quiet streets as neighbors water their lawns. It wasn’t too hard to see this new place as home. But more on that later. Tim