Posts Tagged ‘2007 Mazda 6’

Day 83: Big Sky Country

August 21, 2010 10 comments

Location: Missoula, Montana

Miles Driven: 428

Total Miles: 20,628

I think it was around 6AM when I started driving this morning, and I didn’t feel tired at all.  I was excited that I would be crossing the border later that day.  My initial plan was to first hit Waterton Lakes National Park, just north of the border, and connected to America’s Glacier National Park.  However, I changed my mind after seeing the haze in the western skies.

So I was a bit worried that my views at Glacier would be obstructed by the haze.  But as I made my way towards the border, the skies started to clear up.

I thought I might be able to pass Customs relatively easily, given that I didn’t think I was on a major route that goes into Montana.  I was wrong.  There was a long queue of cars, and it took me about 40 minutes to get to the window.  But I was able to take advantage of that waiting period.  I reorganized my junk in the back seat, cleaned up the front a bit, and washed the windows.  While washing the windshield, I discovered a giant bug caught in one of my wiper blades.

R.I.P. big dragonfly

For the third (and last) time on this roadtrip, I crossed into American territory.  I was sped right through once again, and actually had a nice chat with the officer about my trip and future plans.

Soon I arrived at the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park.  The Going-to-the-Sun Road spans across the park about 50 miles, and I was going to take it the full way to the western side.  The last time I was here, I drove west->east, so it was cool to get another perspective of the park.  It wasn’t long before I was smiling, windows down, recognizing some of the most beautiful country in the U.S.

St. Mary Lake and Goose Island

It was a couple hours before I made my way to the other side.  There was a good amount of road construction, but those waits allowed more time to take in the views.  Here are a few more pictures from the drive:

Jackson Glacier

In Glacier, there a lot of waterfalls just coming down the mountains near the road

The familiar U-shape of glacially-formed valleys

Lake MacDonald

By early afternoon I had exited the park, and being a bit tired, I stopped at a cafe not far from Kalispell.  It was there I realized how very dirty the car was.  The Mazda hadn’t received a wash since Alaska, and over a week’s worth of dirt, bugs, and grime had taken their toll.  I was able to find one of those coin-operated car washes and spent a lot of extra quarters working to get the dead bugs off the front.  Here you can see the before and after:

Looking good as new, once again

Speaking of bugs, I’m not sure if it’s something about the northern U.S., but I don’t have to squeegee my windshield as often as I did in Canada.  In Canada, it seemed every 50 miles or so, the windshield would be covered with dead bugs.  I have witnessed the demise of so many of those little guys (and some big ones…ugh).  My brother Jon bought me a new squeegee when I was in Houston, and already it’s pretty filthy.  Here’s hoping the run-ins with the bugs continue to be limited.

Also, it seems bees are strongly attracted to bug guts.  In Canada, whenever I parked my car, within a few minutes I’d have near a dozen bees milling about the front of the vehicle, and behind the rear view mirrors where bug guts were plenty.  So washing the car offers more than just aesthetic values, I also reduce my chance of getting stung.

I was hoping I could find a park in Kalispell where I could get exercise.  As luck would have it, the first park I found had an empty basketball court.  I haven’t had a chance to play since I left Georgia, so I grabbed the ball from my trunk and got to it.  Since I had my camera, I figured I’d make a video and see how many shots in a row I could make:

Needless to say, I stopped filming video shortly after.  But it was good to get some exercise.

Around 9PM or so it started to get dark (what one might consider “normal” compared to Alaska sunsets), and it was a clear night, so I thought it might be a good night to pull out the camera and tripod.  But then I realized my old nemesis, the Moon, shone bright in the western sky.  It wasn’t full, but near full, and it would seriously hamper my night vision.  The moon wouldn’t set until after 3AM, so I decided I’d have to wait until another time to take some astrophotos.

I slept for a little bit, and then woke up around 3AM Saturday morning.  Not able to fall back asleep, I figured I make my way further south.  It was on this drive I realized the skies were still dark, and now moonless, so I took advantage of that and found a dirt road away from Hwy 93.

It's not often you see Orion in the summer night sky. But around 4AM in the summer, sure

Clouds came in fast, but they helped create some cool effects for the photos.

Eventually the cloud cover took over, and I packed up my equipment.  Great to take in some stars once again, especially against the backdrop of some Montanian mountains.

I made my way to Missoula, a place I’ve spent a night once before, but I won’t linger too long today.  I’d like to get close to the Billings area today, and from there I’ll head south towards Eastern Wyoming.  The over-arching goal is to arrive in Boulder, Colorado on Monday, where my friend John has kindly set me up at a hotel.  That will be a real nice treat after all this car-sleeping.


20,000 miles and still going strong

August 19, 2010 15 comments

I thought hitting 20,000 miles on this trip was a fairly significant milestone that earned its own post. And now that I sit here writing this, I have little to say.

I did initially expect to drive in the neighborhood of 20,000 miles by the time this trip was over, but to actually sit behind the odometer and see the distance I’ve gone is pretty cool.  A bit tiring to think about, but very rewarding at the same time.  That being said, there’s still a lot of driving yet to do, but I haven’t gotten sick of it.

So I figured this was a good opportunity to posit a question to the readers of  See, I’ve been asked many times the past few months, “Joe, what’s been the highlight of your roadtrip?”  I can never name one thing.  I usually end up rattling off about 10 things or so, and that’s before I even start really thinking about it.

So, dear readers – What has been your favorite part of the trip?

I’m actually very curious what others might see as the highlights, and I wonder if responses will jive with mine or be totally different.  There’s now about 80 or so posts on this website, so feel free to review the archives (on the right hand side) if you need a refresher.  If you have time, leave your response in the comment section and let me know.



Day 69: Dreams realized

August 7, 2010 20 comments

Finally arrived

Location: Fairbanks, AK

Miles Driven: 610

Total Miles: 17,068

Well, as you can see in the picture above, I finally made it to Alaska.  Over 17,000 miles since leaving Acworth, Georgia…I’m finally here.  Feels great, and it’s pretty surreal.

Now that was a picture taken earlier this afternoon, but there was a lot of driving before that photo (and after), so let’s go back to the morning when I was in Whitehorse.

I’ll readily admit I’m not the handy-est of people.  My skills with a car are limited to changing tires and jumping batteries.  So when I realized I needed to replace two headlight bulbs, I was hopeful I could get someone at the NAPA Auto Parts store to give me a hand.  See, my car owner’s manual was not incredibly helpful.  In the section entitled “replacing headlight bulbs” it said:  Be sure to visit an authorized Mazda technician…  Not the biggest of helps there.  So I got to the NAPA store shortly after it opened, and checked with the mechanic dude that was working there.  He was real kind, but admitted he’s never been under the hood of a Mazda before…and after a quick look inside realized there was more to take apart then your typical bulb change.  My experience was limited to changing bulbs on an old Mercury Topaz years ago, and I recall little to disassemble in that operation.  Not the same here, it appeared.  The mechanic suggested I hit up a Mazda dealership in Fairbanks, and not to worry about the law where you need to keep your lights running during the day.  “You’re a tourist, you’re fine…hell half of the tourists don’t even know the law.”

An added bonus I didn’t think about…what better place for your headlights to run out than in these northern latitudes.  In Whitehorse, there was still daylight the previous night after 10PM.  Daylight will last even longer when I’m up in Alaska.

So I was in the car and got back on the Alaska Highway, heading northwest towards Fairbanks.  I had about 600 miles ahead of me, and it seemed a bit daunting, especially after all the driving I had done since the start of the week.  But it actually went by quite smoothly.  The nice scenery certainly helps there.

It’s difficult to make progress driving when you’re distracted by all this spectacular scenery.  I found myself pulling over quite a bit for some nice views.

For some reason I had a good amount of energy, and outside of the occasional gas-up and leg stretch, I was able to keep plugging away along the 600 mile route.

Kluane Lake

Around 3PM I was approaching the Canada/Alaska border.  There was a rest area just 20 miles outside where I stopped.  Another clear blue Canadian body of water – Pickhandle Lake.

Before I knew it, I was at the border.  The “Welcome to Alaska” sign was just before Customs, so I got out to take some pictures.  Met a nice couple from Michigan and the man kindly took my photo (the one you see above).

Amazing to see that sign in person

I made it through Customs relatively unscathed this time.  The officer asked me a lot of questions, but I think he was more trying to see if I would trip up than he was actually paying attention to my answers.  He didn’t like my passport.  Apparently I’ve bent and warped it a bit in my travels, so it doesn’t easily scan.  As he put it, “Since your passport has been to the Himalayas and back, it can’t be read by the scanner.”  He told me I need to get a new one.  I think he just doesn’t like typing.  Also, I have never been to the Himalayas.  I was expecting my car to be searched like the previous border crossings, but he waved me through and I was on my way.

I didn’t have to drive long to see some of the beautiful country for which Alaska is known.

I experienced a bit of rain not long after crossing the border.  Can’t complain about that.  I could barely remember the last place I saw any sustained rain in my travels. I think I narrowed it down to when I was on the way to Big Bend, in Texas.  Almost a month ago.  I’ve had some great weather while touring the western US and Canada.

I arrived in Fairbanks not long after 8PM.  Still a lot of daylight remaing when I arrived.  In fact, as I write this, it’s almost 11PM and there’s still a good amount of daylight out there.  I love it.

For the first time since Will’s place in Vancouver, I have a home to stay in.  Thanks to I linked up with a Fairbanks local, Ericka.  She has been extremely generous, having offered me her couch with limited notice, in addition to hosting another couchsurfer.  She even plans to take us out for some outdoor activities…maybe go out on a lake or go hiking, even.  I’ve only communicated with her using email and text messages, but she sounds like a great person to link up with.

I’ll go to Ericka’s later tonight, get some much-needed rest (and shower), and then tomorrow is my first full day in “The Last Frontier.”

Coming here was just one goal, of many, along this trip, but was definitely the major goal.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have been so supportive along the road here.


Day 58: Mazda gets the A-OK

July 27, 2010 4 comments

Location: Beaverton, OR

So as I mentioned in the last post, I had scheduled a car appointment with a local Mazda dealership here in Oregon to a) get an oil change, and b) make sure the car is still in good working order before I leave the country and head North.  The technicians said everything was great except they recommended a new set of tires (in fact, one had a slight bulge).  I probably could have gotten a little more life out of the four exisiting tires, but I chose to err on the side of caution and get them replaced while I was still here in the lower 48.  I imagine it would be a bit more complicated, and probably more expensive, if I chose to replace them in Northern Canada or Alaska.

So turns out I paid $600 total on this car appointment, which included an oil change, four new tires, alignment work, and a new air filter.  Thanks so much to my Owego friends who earlier had given me a $100 Visa gift card.  I put that to good use here, since the bill was originally $700.  In the big scheme of things, not a huge expense, given that I had originally set up a very padded budget regarding car maintenance for this trip.  Even with this cost, I remain under-budget overall.

New tires and ready for the major destination

I couldn’t pick the car up til after 4PM, so I decided to stay in Portland one more night (thanks to Mike and Heather for the extended visit).  On Tuesday, I’ll head up to Seattle (about a three hour drive).  I luckily have a place to stay there with a friend from high school.  Seattle is the last major stop in the contiguous 48 states for the next couple weeks.  From there, I head to Vancouver, British Columbia, and beyond.

Unfortunately, I have to say goodbye to this cute kid

Thanks again to everybody here in Portland that made me feel right at home.


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