The day I left for California was exactly two years from the day when I arrived in Calgary. The mixture of feelings leading up to it was weird, to say the least.
I found myself making note of everything I learned in Calgary to help me with the craziness of living in the US. A huge part of me was telling me I was doing the right thing for myself at this time, even though the occasional questioning of that decision popped up in my head.
Planning the Start:
The plan was to get to Missoula, Montana that evening. We had rented a 10-foot UHaul van to take some stuff from Calgary to Missoula.
When Dad couldn’t get across the border last summer, he put our stuff in storage in Missoula. We were going to swap out the 10-foot UHaul for a 15-foot UHaul in Missoula and drive the 15-foot UHaul back to California.
I planned out all logistics of the trip with the UHaul and accommodation. I had got a deal to use Hotels.com and I decided to try it for the trip. More on that later.
Choosing a Border Crossing:
The day before we left, Dad and I had the unenviable decision of which border crossing we would use. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place for the following reasons.
I found a good border crossing that was pretty direct from Calgary to Missoula. Then, I found that it had limited hours.
Dad reminded me that since we were driving in October, we should try to avoid roads that might be closed because of the season. When I told him which road it was, he told me that the road is generally closed at this time of year.
We were trying to avoid the crossing at Coutts, AB. Eight months before, there was a blockade there because of the Trucker Convoy.
After living overseas for so long, we know the following from experience. If there is a dire situation at a border crossing that makes international news, try avoiding going through that crossing!
Tensions will stay there for months afterwards, and the anniversaries of said events make border guards even testier. Don’t start on me because you think I’m getting political! It’s not politics, it’s common sense!
Dad regretted trying to go through Coutts when he tried to move to Canada but got denied. However, he knows how to go from Coutts to Missoula via Helena because of growing up in Montana. He never went across the border, but he knows the area.
We ultimately decided to go through Coutts because it was most likely to be clear this time of year, and it would be open whenever we decided to leave. We were hoping there would be no regrets about that decision.
Before Starting Out:
There were so many little chores Dad and I had to do once we got the moving van! As I said in my last post, I drove on Deerfoot Trail for the first time!
Btw, if you want to check my last post to see if you can see my photos, please click here: https://thirdculturekidcan.com/goodbye-calgary/. You might be able to see that beautiful feather that my magpie gifted me!
I sorted out my photos, so I hope you can see them!
I got snacks for us to eat along the way after we got back with the van. There were some logistical problems with loading up. We also knew we would have to get up freakishly early to finish packing up the van!
We woke up at 6 am and couldn’t sleep anymore, so we decided to finish packing and eat a bit before starting out. We also had to clean because of the apartment inspection.
At least I had already filled in my part of the inspection report before moving day! That would have been a pain otherwise. Also, pictures or it didn’t happen applies to apartments as well as car accidents!
The magpies came by at 7 am and for once I didn’t have food for them. I felt my eyes tearing as I watched them having a Goodbye Corvid Party for me.
I decided to start us off driving. Panic attacks are a problem for me when crossing the border, but I only have a panic attack behind the wheel if something is genuinely wrong.
Here’s the biggest laugh of my post. Our UHaul got a parking ticket for being too close to a stop sign! 🤪
I had carefully done a 3-point turn to get it in a good position the night before, even though the road was wall-to-wall with cars on both sides! It was my first ever ticket, parking or otherwise.
It happened while I was a foreigner in a foreign land too! Those are the funniest tickets for me! 😅
Oh well. We decided to pay for it later, which we did. Now, I have a souvenir for being a delinquent in Canada. Lol.
So, I decided to test myself driving through the border. I wanted to see if being in Driving Mode would override my Border Crossing Panic.
The last time I was in a UHaul van was over 20 years ago and I was still a kid! This time, I was one of the drivers and had 10 years of driving behind me! Quite an honour.
Hitting the Road:
After packing up and locking up, we had a bite to eat while warming up the engine. Great life hack for a UHaul!
We got the wheels turning at 8 am. I had programmed my phone to take us to Coutts via Lethbridge. I had never driven in Canada, so I completely depended on Google Maps to guide me!
Dad held my phone for me and he recited any directions back to me. It was weird trying to escape the Calgary city limits on intricate road networks. I must have changed trails 2 or 3 times before Deerfoot turned into the road to Lethbridge.
I noticed that all the traffic on Deerfoot in the other direction was a total clusterfuck! My respect for people who get jobs that make them go in the other direction from typical commuters is deep!
I was curious to see how long it would take to get outside the city limits. It took half an hour. Not bad compared to most cities, but the intricacy of doing so is too weird.
There wasn’t too much to report landscape-wise as we headed towards Coutts. Although, we did stop for a rest in a pretty area.
Dad found it fascinating to see a tower being held down with guy wires in all four directions. He said you don’t see that in Montana at all. It’s funny how places with similar landscapes have different microclimates.
My response was “Well that’s Four Strong Winds for you!” Quite an appropriate song when driving through Alberta, especially if you’re moving away because things didn’t work out.
We stopped for “gas” (read: get our bearings). Even though there were signs for how to get to Coutts (thank you, Lethbridge!), it was still weird.
Fortunately, you could tell the cars that were going to the border, so I just followed them. At that moment, I figured out something about driving in Canada.
Even if I didn’t have Google Maps, I would have found my way. I don’t know what it is, but Canadian drivers are really easy to follow.
I just knew where these cars were going and I followed them so easily. Of course, I followed from a safe distance, but even so, I was grateful for the drivers being cool with me following them.
We got to Coutts at 11:15 am and decided to pull over to do some stuff before waiting in line. There’s a nice space in Coutts to pull over to use the porta-potty and freshen up before waiting in line to cross the border.
Just FYI, it’s windier there than meets the eye!
I thought I didn’t need my jacket when I went out to the porta-potty. I was not only wrong but Alberta’s four strong winds made it impossible for me to put it on!
After walking and trying to wrestle with my jacket that had become a sail, I got it on when I got to the porta-potty. I needed a good laugh though.
We got in line at 11:30. It didn’t seem too bad.
Then, we realized we had escaped the lunch rush by the skin of our teeth! There was a line behind me as far as my side mirrors would let me see!
I could tell the people in line who were trying to conserve gas because, like me, they didn’t let their engines idle. UHaul vans are not known for their fuel efficiency and I noticed the dial measuring fuel efficiency was hardly ever green.
Dad initially had an idea that if we had got to Missoula before 5 pm, we would go to the storage unit and drop our stuff off. Since we were in line for an hour, that wasn’t going to happen.
Border Crossing Nerves:
I felt myself getting nervous while waiting in line. I tried looking at the landscape and taking photos though. Enjoy!
This is the only time you will see me taking photos in the driver’s seat. Plus, it’s one of the few times you will see me use my phone in the driver’s seat.
I take being a defensive driver VERY seriously! I learned it from a legendary driving instructor in London and I have NEVER backed down from it!
This is why I suddenly got nervous about the parking ticket from earlier. I’m about to cross the border after having evidence of being a juvenile delinquent as a foreigner in Canada!
The magpies have had a bad influence on me! They brought out my delinquent side! I’m innocent! 😅
Okay, I was freaking out, so I tried reciting the following comedy routine to myself.
The crossing went surprisingly well. I tend to babble when I’m nervous though or share too much information.
It helped that we are US citizens (and we’re white) and returning to the states. The guard treated us like he was rejoicing about us spreading American values abroad.
The joke’s on him. I’ve been spreading TCK values!
I don’t know why American border guards do that. Seriously. 🙄
When I told him all our stuff was more than 2 years old (which was true) and had no contraband, he welcomed us home.
Normally, I get salty when someone refers to a country I have lived in as “home”. This time, I felt at peace.
That peaceful feeling made me understand that I’m where I need to be right now. I can’t figure out why at the moment, apart from the fact I could finally start my business and do my major chores.
I sailed right into Montana on Interstate 15. All I had to do was step on the gas and cruise along.
It’s the easiest road I have ever driven on. Dad said it’s quite a lonely interstate and I believe it considering the only other ones I have been familiar with are Interstates 5 and 80.
Those roads are anything BUT lonely! However, I recognized a lot of people from the border crossing, so that was cool.
I took these pics at a rest stop in Montana. Talk about being similar to Alberta! Enjoy my TCK commentary!
I-15 didn’t make any difference to our fuel efficiency though. The 10-foot van wasn’t too bad about fuel efficiency compared to the original 15-foot van we had.
We didn’t have to fill up as often as we did, but we did it anyway. Dad has a thing about filling up with gas whenever possible while driving in the boonies.
Dad almost got caught out once with a low gas tank in the boonies. I’m a city girl, so it’s nice to learn some country skills.
Geographically, you feel like you have not crossed a border. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you haven’t crossed a border.
It gives you some space to mentally transition to another country on your own time. Driving on I-15 provided that peace for me.
We paused for a bit at the source of the Missouri River so I could get some pics and stretch my legs! Unfortunately, when you stop, everyone else wants to stop too. 😒
And I did a video:
Things got a bit more scenic after Great Falls, so Dad drove while I took pics. There will be plenty more where that came from on my IG soon!
I have a rule that any time we pass by something that looks like the photo below, I say, “Someone’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes!” Just like in Blazing saddles. 🤪
I drove again for a bit around Helena, and then Dad took over while we drove into Missoula. It was dark by the time we got there.
Fact: I had never driven with km/hr speed limits before! Yep, England uses mph! It’s in the EU, or more appropriately “on the Continent”, where they use km/hr.
However, while driving through Southern Alberta, I found myself saying “Hey! I like driving in km/hr!” It makes me feel like I’m going faster, while still being safe.
After crossing the border, I had to switch my brain to mph. Hmph!
I didn’t speed though. At least the speedometer had markers for both mph and km/hr. I just had to look at a different part of the dial. Also, having driven for 10 years, I can guess what freeway speeds should be and the vehicle lets me know the Basic Speed Law.
It’s easy to ignore the American flags plastered at random places if the landscape is the same as in Canada. However, there are times it hits you that you are in the US.
Before we left, I showed Dad the Canadian comedy routines I like that make fun of gun-loving Americans. Yep, they are making fun of gun nuts up North!
There were a few times we saw a road sign that said something about guns, and we would quote the following from the above routine: “Another sign that is redundant in Canada because they already know that!”
I also found myself quoting another comedy routine as a way to prepare myself. “We don’t all have guns, but just assume we do. Guns keep Americans happy. And it’s important to keep Americans happy because they have guns!”
I haven’t seen many circular arguments in comedy, but that works!
Missoula, but at Night:
Missoula is where three rivers meet. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any good pics of them because we didn’t get to drive around a lot.
Dad took on the role of Tour Guide, especially as it relates to the Good Ol’ Days! However, I still had to direct him to the motel because that area was new to him.
Dad suggested we have some Good Ol’ Montana Beef for dinner, which I agreed to try! I’m a vegetarian, but I am still partial to local delicacies, whatever they may be. TCK trumps Vegetarian!
However, we were disappointed in the place we chose, which was Jaker’s Bar and Grill. It was overpriced and the quality didn’t match it. That’s my chef’s palette talking.
Also, now that I’m a copywriter, I found their advertising was off-target. They like to say, “You haven’t been to Montana until you tried our food!”
Dad was so underwhelmed and he’s a Montana boy! Their ads have the same line for Colorado and I have lived there! Dad and I agreed that it was bad advertising and they don’t deliver.
Anyway, I loved the motel we stayed in when we were in Missoula: Brooks Street Motor Inn. They had the cutest sign at the reception welcoming dogs!
I eventually came up with a plan to coordinate the two UHauls we would have to deal with. We would pick up the 15-foot van, go to the storage unit, empty the 10-foot van, fill up the 15-foot van, and then return the 10-foot van.
We decided that I would drive the 10-foot van to and from the storage unit and Dad would follow me in the 15-foot van. That way, I could use Google Maps to guide me, and by extension, Dad.
Dad and I found a cute cafe nearby for a nice, hearty breakfast! Ruby’s Cafe has very Montana-y food, which is amazing if you have a long day ahead.
Before we picked up the 15-foot UHaul, Dad showed me around a bit, so I got some pics and a video.
Our new UHaul was a piece of junk! I have never driven a vehicle where you had to use TWO hands to turn the key in the ignition!
I kid you not, we almost had to jumpstart the thing to get it out of the yard. Dad immediately discovered the van didn’t accelerate well on the freeway if the engine was cold.
You could literally floor it and only do 65 mph until the engine warmed up! It happened even when we stopped for gas.
That’s why Dad was only doing 65 mph when the Chevy Silverado rolled into us. We begrudgingly admitted that the driver probably did UHaul a favour by totalling that truck.
And yes, the accident report confirmed what we already knew: both vehicles got totalled.
I want to take a moment to talk about insurance.
I had a personal rule: I booked the UHaul, so I’m in charge of the insurance coverage! So, I got comprehensive coverage, which included Roadside Assistance.
Dad initially grumbled at first about me getting Roadside Assistance coverage. He asked, “When would we ever need that?!”
I reminded him of one time we moved and we had a blowout. We didn’t need Roadside Assistance, but we could have been in that situation.
No, I didn’t even CONSIDER the possibility of needing Roadside Assistance for an accident! I just clearly remember my economics professor teaching a class on Risk Assessment and using insurance as an example.
The conclusion of that lesson was it’s better to pay more for comprehensive coverage and not lose money when something goes wrong. Paying less for basic coverage might save you money in the short term, but costs you dearly when you get minimal repayment for a claim.
So, I stuck to my principles and got comprehensive coverage. Dad swallowed his words and actually thanked me for getting that coverage.
I even got him to admit that he has a problem with underinsuring in general. Bottom line: we don’t know the full benefits of insurance until we actually need it.
We’re in a hole financially, but I didn’t care. Insurance is a PRIORITY, not a luxury!
Although, there is one immediate benefit to getting comprehensive insurance coverage. The company you get it from treats you well because they know you understand risk.
They prioritise you as a customer and actually listen to you. Any further problems get addressed quicker, and they might throw in a few more perks.
Fill ‘er Up:
For several hours, Dad and I worked to get all our stuff into the 15-foot UHaul. Even though I kept quoting Alexis saying, “Pretty sure I can figure this out”, we actually did figure it out!
We went to a different, and much better steakhouse, Paradise Falls. Now that place has some good Montana meat!
I tried my first elk burger there. I have had bison burgers before and I wanted to see how an elk burger was different.
An elk burger has a different and richer taste and texture than a bison burger! It’s super flavourful!
Dad and I got super stuffed on Montana food that night which helped us sleep off all the work we did before and recharge before a long drive the next day. If you are moving or driving all day, hearty Montana food is where it’s at! You just need to know where to go to get it.
My one regret was I didn’t get to try a good Montana beer, Moose Drool. Dad and I didn’t want to drink on this trip, so we thought of getting a 6-pack of Moose Drool and taking it to Mission Control and getting sloshed with the family.
It didn’t happen. Those states are weird when it comes to liquor laws.
The Saga of My Jacket:
The funniest part was it raining while we were loading up the van. I realized my jacket was paper thin and I had to wear a hoodie under it.
And the irony is, why didn’t the Four Strong Winds of Alberta let me know I needed a new jacket? When I told Mum about my jacket, she said we could figure out where to donate it, or if it wasn’t donatable, we could find a way.
And then the accident gave me a head-to-toe shower in auto glass. Even though Dad shook my clothes out, we were still finding pieces of auto glass for several days after the fact.
I had to assess whether to keep my clothes or throw them out. When I found out there was no getting auto glass out of a worn-out 7-year-old jacket, I threw it away.
I don’t like throwing clothes away, but I couldn’t even consider donating that jacket. I waited until we knew we were going back to the Bay Area, and then I threw the jacket out.
For once, I was hoping some homeless person in Reno wouldn’t dig my jacket out of the trash. It would be like in the Sound of Music when she says “The poor didn’t want this one”.
So that was Part 1 of the move done. Stay tuned for Part 2!
Up Next: Calgary to California: Part II