The Drive to Cyprus

Just before dark and with a smoky campfire helping out, I looked up to see hundreds of mosquitoes circling at a point maybe a foot above my head.  Thirty minutes later and they were gone. Canadian mosquitoes, I thought. So much more polite than their American cousins.  They retire at night and leave happy campfires alone.  The sun set, but never fully settled.  It kind of sat just beyond my sight and lit the bottom of the night sky.    This was true when we finally retired (Henna included) at 1 AM.  A few miles east and it was 2 AM.  We were tired from another epic drive through the former Canadian prairie, but stayed awake to count shooting stars (Henna and I each saw one, Corey two).

Where we were was Cyprus Hills Provincial Park, Alberta.  It seems that Canada loves to name parks after 90s rappers.  The night before we camped at Beastie Boys National Park.  Just kidding.  The Cyprus Hills were a culminating event established after 15 hours or so of driving on Transcontinental Highway 1 just west of Winnipeg to just east of Medicine Hat.  The change in scenery was gradual, but I think it became more Western/ badlands scenic after Swift Current.  The towns (Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Regina which is pronounced in a way that made us giggle, and Brandon) all come out of nowhere.  It is grasses, occasional cows, and big sky then boom, a city of maybe 15 or 20,000 people.  No suburbs or sprawl, just these cities out of nowhere.  And Transcontinental Highway 1, the only major thoroughfare through this landscape, is intersected by roads, railroad crossings, and sometimes stopped by traffic light.  Occasionally a sign stated “Important Intersection Ahead” and Corey and I would wonder what the big deal was as we passed an access point to a gravel road leading into a cow pasture.

At the visitor center just east of Medicine Hat the teenage boy working the place (Canada, by the way, is run by teenagers one time I passed the Canadian equivalent of CSPAN and was amazed to see grownups in suits discussing politics.  Maybe all the teenagers running the national parks, visitor centers, hotels, and restaurants are eventually promoted into leadership positions) stated that there was one remaining campsite at Cyprus Hill Park.  I had stared at the same map for days now and knew this park was maybe 30 miles south of Highway 1 and I was longing to get lost in the scenery. Corey, who was driving the last leg of the trip, did not think it was prudent to knowingly drive 30 extra miles only to have to drive those same miles back to the highway the next day.  But I won the argument and off we went, south on a narrow road into a ranchers’ paradise.  A few miles into the road there was a sign stating that we were also headed to the Wild Horse border crossing near Havre, MT.   A strong sense of déjà vu hit and I remembered being on this road ten years past with Corey.  I remembered asking the custom agent if it was a good idea to take route 2 (the Hi Line) home and he said everyone should do it at least once.  It was my first experience with a route and I have been in love with the idea of routes ever since.  I also remembered spying antelope playing in the tall grasses at the side of the road and I was suddenly in a state of euphoria.  Corey was still annoyed and I tried to lighten the mood by asking deep questions (“Do you think Rock and Bullwinkle were both Canadian  or just the moose?”).  

When we finally got to the park I knew something was not right.  It was massive.  There were very expensive homes surrounding a lake and a restaurant, gas station, store, and a boathouse.  A movie was being shown at the pier.  People were everywhere and I realized that Cyprus Hill was more like Disneyland than the ranch over the hill I imagined.  And the mosquitoes were bad.  Really bad.  Until that almost total dark and they went to bed.  And Corey, Henna, and I stayed up telling stories past our bedtime.


A snapshot of people met on the road since leaving Cincinnati.  Grandma, Grandpa, and granddaughter (about 4) in leather jackets riding motorcycles into the hotel parking lot (the little one was in a sidecar).  KOA worker who rigged my line who talked about leaving corporate America.  “The more I made the more I spent.”   He now splits time between Minnesota, Kansas, and South Padre Island and is comfortable living out of a trailer with his family.  An old man fishing at a pier on Lake Bimidji who gave advice to Henna on where to cast her line “the fish here swim deep.”   The middle aged couple (middle aged is always a few years older than me- when I am 75 middle age will be 80) who dropped their two daughters at a language camp in Minnesota then spent ten days camping in North Dakota and Minnesota.  The young man on a motorcycle who appeared suddenly by our campsite from a dirt road to watch the sunset.  He was traveling solo and camping from Washington to his home in Pennsylvania.  The grandma watching two granddaughters and a stubborn big dog at the random lake in the UP.  The kids listened but the dog refused to move from the beach.  The kid sitting outside his front yard who, when asked where the post office was, immediately jumped on an ATV and guided us there.

The Canadian Prarie

This post is not actually about the Canadian prarie although I did drive through the plowed and planted prarie today.  Here are two pictures taken on route 23 just east of Roland, Manitoba.

No this post is about potholes big and small.  Earlier I mentioned big potholes (flooding and politics).  We zig zagged across those by taking 2 to I29 North.  Beautiful interstate- wide open with big sky going 80 to 90 MPH while passing cattle trucks and rusted Pontiac Reliants.  Got gas just south of the border and there was no pay at the pump.  After waiting in a long line to prepay the attendant could not understand what I was trying to do.  You do not prepay in remote northern North Dakota, you just take your gas and pay later.  Slow border crossing but it is always cool to cross into another country.  In Canada we bypassed Winnipeg and drove very lonely roads where it was hard not to exceed 100 (KPH).  Somewhere in that world of empty roads, tall clouds, and yellow weeds there was a campground that Henna begged us not to stop at.  I do not want to blame her for what was next- we all wanted a hotel.  But hotels are hard to come by even on Highway 1 and we ended up in a sterile, expensive place.  We ate a lousy dinner and set off to look for fireworks (it is Canada Day here).  Brandon, Manitoba is a tough nut to crack though and after wandering empty streets we stumbled back to the hotel and watched The Fantastic Mr. Fox until Henna announced that she was done with the movie. 

I love to camp because most days are not like that.  In a parallel world our family stopped at that campground and met another family celebrating Canada Day.  We made the tacos that we were planning on making and then saw a million stars.  Maybe the mosquitoes forgot to come out.  That night would have cost less than $25 with food.  Tomorrow is another day and I look forward to the road.  Here are a few more pictures from the last few days.

What The Road Gave Us Today

What the road gave us today……..                                                                  6.29.2011 Wed.

A lovely morning fire with good coffee

Plans to get as far as Duluth

Cool college town of Marquette gave us spotty wifi, more good coffee, a young Dylan lookalike and good conversation.

A forgiving state trooper who gave a warning instead of a ticket for speeding.

Henna’s urging to find somewhere to fish.

Semi secluded lake, one blue gill, biting bugs and several fawns playing with momma on the side of the road.

A bee in the back seat, with lots of screaming

Sunny warm day with room for alternate plans

Iron county campground with tent site right on Lake Superior, still in Wisconsin (Duluth still in the distance).