Day 2 – Feb 28th

Today I woke up with my alarm at 8am at the Super 8 hotel in Lewistown, Montana. I then reset my alarm to 9am. Then I pressed the snooze button twice!

Getting ready to get going sure goes a lot faster when you don’t have 5 cats to feed!

I stopped for coffee at McDonalds (wow, how unusual!) and I discovered that they still serve Cinnamon Melts at US McDonalds. That was an exciting surprise!

Today’s trip took me through Billings, MT, then past Crow Agency where the Little Bighorn Battlefield is located. Then I crossed into Wyoming and went through Sheridan and Casper and finally only a small place called Douglas.

Up until this point the weather was very nice. The temperature was about -4C with some wind gusts, but nothing bad (I thought). It was mainly sunny and clear, with some clouds. The roads were mainly dry, flat, and very straight.

Near Douglas, WY, however, the interstate message signs started to indicate that the I-25 was closed just south of Douglas, but it didn’t say why. Finally, I got to an exit just south of Douglas, where there was a rest stop, and the highway was blocked off and closed. I pulled into the rest stop, with dozens of other people, and started looking at my GPS. My new nav system disappointed me as it had trouble taking in my commands to find a way around. Finally, I had to get Waze out to work its magic, which it did beautifully.

I ended up taking State Hwy 319 south to Glendo. I ended up following 3 other vehicles and 1 transport truck along this route. At Glendo, we all tried to get back on the highway with no luck, so some of us kept going south on the 319. We tried again at Fish Creek Road, and failed, again. A few of us attempted another trip south, some gave up because it was a dirt road! (Thank god for Subarus and winter tires.) This dirt road went to Hwy 26, which then went to Hwy 320. This finally brought me to Wheatland, after 2 hours of driving the backroads. I tried — yet again — to get back on the highway at Wheatland, and, one more time, I was DENIED!

Holy shit. It was around 6:30pm at this point. It was only 2.5 hours to Denver and I had no way to get there. When I had originally checked, it said the highway was closed because of an accident. But the backroads I took followed the interstate and I never saw an accident. Plus, the original post said the interstate was open at Wheatland. I checked again, and it appeared they had now closed the highway due to wind and ice.

Okay … I’ve driven around North America a lot, in both the summer and the winter. I’ve seen roads closed because of massive amounts of snow and because of major traffic accidents. I’ve seen bridges closed due to high winds. But I’ve never seen a major highway closed due to wind and ice. Here’s the thing … according to The Weather Network it was -3C with a windchill of -7C in Wheatland, and while it was windy, the gust were apparently only 20 km/h. Maybe the weather station in Wheatland is in a protected area or something, but that didn’t seem, to me, as bad enough weather to close a major highway. The ONLY highway, I should mention, between multiple locations in the area. I can tell you for sure that the weather conditions were a heck of a lot worse in February of 2015 on Highway 16 just west of Edson when I pulled my car over at a rest stop to clean out the wheel wells and broke my shoulder. And the highway between Edson and Edmonton was insanely bad on my drive after that with a broken shoulder and only one arm with which to drive!

Needless to say, I really do not understand the highway closure, so being forced to stop in Wheatland, so close to my final destination, was really frustrating. I am glad, however, that I decided to leave a day earlier in case I was delayed. I just wasn’t thinking a delay would be this … silly.

Fun fact … after I got to Wheatland, they closed the backroad highways I had taken from the rest stop! Those roads were definitely worse than the interstate, but still drivable.

(When I say “they,” I mean the Wyoming Department of Transportation, or whatever they call themselves.)

So, here I am, stuck in Wyoming, in a little town that thankfully had some hotels. Those hotels, by the way, are now all full because I wasn’t the only one who got stuck here. Oh, and they only seem to have one restaurant that delivers — Pizza Hut. Boy am I glad I didn’t have Pizza Hut last night. I guess there is one upside. I was able to cancel tonight on my reservation in Denver (I checked I could do that before I booked it) and this hotel is $100 USD a night cheaper, so I did save money.

What I Learned:

  • McDonalds in the US …
    • … doesn’t understand that it’s possible to put milk in coffee, apparently only cream exists down here.
    • … has slightly different tasting coffee.
    • … must measure their “2 Splenda” differently than Canada.
    • … still serves Cinnamon Melts – which is AWESOME!
  • Gas is insanely cheap. I filled up twice today at an average of $25 USD a tank, that’s about $33 CAD! In Edmonton I consider it cheap gas if I can fill the tank for $45 CAD. This means my gas expense estimations are going to be way less than I expected.
  • I don’t miss TV commercials.
  • HBO really isn’t that great.
  • That the Little Bighorn Battlefield seems to be currently located on or near a Native American reservation (although they seem to still use the term Indians here) — which is, of course, extremely ironic.
  • The outlet mall I’m going to tomorrow has an Arc’Teryx store!

Observations:

  • Starbucks are few and far between in Montana and Wyoming. I’ve only seen 2 so far.
  • The scenery between Edmonton and the border (along highway 36) and between Sweet Grass, MT and Wheatland, WY is all pretty identical. But there are more cows down here.
  • Wyoming seems to like coal-fired power plants, I pass two today in the short distance between the border and here. (Dave Johnston Power Plant and Laramie River something-or-other.) This is in addition to the one coal plant I saw in Alberta.
  • The Comfort Inn & Suites in Wheatland seems to be much more wheelchair accessible, but still doesn’t have recycling bins in the rooms.

Tomorrow I will attempt to get up at a decent time and be on the road as soon as possible. I’m going to drive right to the outlet mall and go shopping, then check into the hotel. If the highway is still closed, I’m going to scream (in my car, where no one can hear me, but where it’ll make me feel better).

 

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