Road Trip Summer 2017, part 5: The Long Road Home

Anxious to be home, we left Minnesota without indulging in any more bicycle trail explorations.  Following U.S. 10 west, we crossed into North Dakota, through Fargo on I-94, then north on secondary roads to Devils Lake (a mis-translation of the native American “Spirit Lake”), across the causeways built to keep the roads above the lake. Devils Lake varies in elevation from year to year, after a rapid rise to historic levels in the late 20th century, swallowing farms, roads, and parts of towns. We spent a couple of days visiting with Judy’s cousin Fred and his wife, Ann, including a visit to the Minnewaukan cemetery, on high ground above the partly submerged town.

Devils Lake, North Dakota. The lake level has varied widely over the last century, greatly increasing in size in the last decade of the 20th century, swallowing roads, farms, and parts of towns. The level has fallen slightly in recent years.

Turning west once more, we crossed the Bakken oil fields on U.S. 2, now 4-lane across the state, stopping for coffee in Williston, where a great-grandson worked last year. He is now back in his native New Mexico, and many of the temporary barracks that once held oil workers were empty, the drilling boom largely over, except for pipeline construction. Each of the wellheads that lined the highway and beyond had a gas flare, covering the northwest corner of North Dakota with a patch of light clearly visible from space when on the night side of the planet. A pall of smoke from the Montana forest fires hung over the entire state.

Gas flare in the Bakken oil fields. Photo by Judy.

The highway shrank to two-lane crossing into Montana. By the end of the day, we pulled into an RV park in Glasgow, where we not only were allowed to camp in our imitation RV, but got a discount because we obviously didn’t need a full hookup. We got a prized spot next to the shower building: a pair of motorcyclists who came in after us, eyeing the same spot, were assigned a spot across from the office, which turned out to be infested with ground wasps. They didn’t stay, though the campground staff sprayed the nests. As with most RV parks today, there was WiFi, but very poor Internet connections, so we had to do our client updates in the middle of the night.

Uploading files to client web site from camp–in the middle of the night, when the Internet connection actually worked. Computer on top of our 12-volt refrigerator, between the front seats.

Glasgow had a nice coffee shop downtown, which we visited early morning and continued west in intermittent drizzle that cleared out the smoke. Highway 2, the “High-Line,” follows the Burlington Northern – Santa Fé rail line: mid-day, we spotted the eastbound Empire Builder passenger train, reminding us how much more we enjoyed traveling this route by train. By late afternoon, we crossed the Continental Divide. Last year, we drove through Glacier National Park on our trip back from the Midwest: this year, the Going-to-the-Sun highway was closed due to forest fires in the park that had destroyed the iconic Sperry Chalet.

Still in our camping frame of mind, we pulled into the Whitefish KOA. Tired from the long drive, I decided the $50 camp fee was the going price, over Judy’s objections. Fortunately, the power plug at the site we were assigned was incompatible with the extension cord we use to power our refrigerator and computers, so we got a refund and headed into Kalispell, where we used our loyalty points to get a motel room with breakfast for the same price. Camping turns out to be not so economical after all. We had thought we would park at a Walmart in a pinch, but had come to rely on electricity and WiFi, not to mention showers and close proximity to rest room facilities. Fortunately, we had accumulated enough points on our motel card to match the RV park prices.  Unfortunately, WiFi at the motel was not as reliable as at the Kampground.

Flathead Lake and the Mission Range – first snowfall. Photo by Judy.

The rain continued through most of the night. As it was a Friday, we decided camping and motels were both likely to be less available and more expensive closer to home, so we left well before dawn, intending to get home before dark. This day would be 1000 km, but a trip we had made many times over the past 30 years. Driving below the speed limit and avoiding freeways on this six-week-long trip had served us well in the fuel economy department, along with cheap fuel in the Midwest, so we could afford to trade fuel economy for one less night on the road.

We headed south from Kalispell, getting on Interstate 90 at St. Regis, rather than driving across US 2 or Montana 200, as we had planned. All went well until encountering road work and traffic delays west of Ellensburg and again over the pass into the Puget Sound Friday rush hour. Our pre-dawn GPS estimate of 3:30pm arrival stretched to past 7:30pm when we finally arrived at home, exhausted after hours of creeping in traffic both on the freeway and on detours through the back streets of Federal Way and Tacoma.

Crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Photo by Judy.


  • Auto miles:  6730 (10828 km)
  • Bicycle miles:  193 (311 km)
  • Nights in truck:  21
  • Nights in motels: 10
  • Nights in AirBnBs: 5
  • Nights with family and friends: 11

Estimated Cost (excluding food: we ate no differently than at home):

  • Lodging:  ~$1000
  • Fuel: ~$1000
  • Cat Boarding: ~$1000