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Sunday, September 3, 2017

I am pulled from my sleep by a combination of factors – my need to use the washroom, Ben’s snoring beside me, and Jenny’s whimpering beside the bed (indicating she has similar needs to my own). I try and be as quiet as possible when slipping through Sarah and Dwight’s room to the washroom. It’s not easy; any time you try and be quiet, you make so much noise you might as well not have bothered. I want to hang out in their room for a while, because it’s nice and cool, while ours is a veritable sauna.
I quickly feed Jenny while I’m making noise anyway and take her downstairs to answer nature’s call. Another hotel guest has a dog with her. This dog is either on a flexi-lead or is not leashed at all. Jenny just wants to get down to business, but three times this dog tries to interfere, and three times the dog’s owner tries to call her dog back to her. I’m too tired to chew her out for her dog’s horrible recall, since my dog’s not on duty at the moment anyway, and I go back upstairs to wait for the others to wake up.
It’s 9:00 before we clean up our garbage and load most of our unnecessary items into the trunk of the car. We make our way to the hotel restaurant, where I am asked (for the second time in three days) if Jenny is “my” service dog. I smile and say yes, and the four of us are seated, ordering our coffee and juice (thanks, Dwight, for being odd man out). We consult the menu, and I order Idaho trout with potatoes and toast.
As soon as we place our order, we talk about the trip home. The plan has been to make a stop in Radium Hot Springs, but I think all of us are tired and just want to take the shortest distance home. We’ll have to visit Radium another time.
Over our breakfast – including big cubes of potatoes – We reminisce over the past days and think about what we’ll do with our day off tomorrow. We drink more coffee and Dwight drinks more juice, and we mentally prepare ourselves to hit the road again.
Once our breakfast bill has been paid, we swing by the gift shop. I find another T-shirt (my fourth this trip, if anyone’s counting). It’s blue with a picture of the Montana state flag, and it says “Montana – My Happy Place” across the front. I can’t resist.
We leave the unopened alcohol in the room, with a note for the cleaning staff to help themselves when they’re not on-duty, do one more pass-through to make sure there’s no more garbage unaccounted for, and pick up our backpacks and trek downstairs to check out of the Izaak Walton Inn. We’re told that the highway through West Glacier National Park is closed due to wildfires in the area; this would have been the route we would have gone to get to Radium. We’re glad we didn’t have our hearts set on it today.
We load our backpacks into the trunk of the car and then find one of the refurbished train cars to take pictures of each of us wearing the communal jacket. We laugh at the absurdity of it all, this small leather jacket being worn by four people, and are grateful for one more memory to carry home with us.
We get back to the car and Ben runs inside again, bringing the two propane bottles we purchased earlier in the week – one full, one empty. We can’t take them with us across the border, so the hotel staff might as well get some use out of them.
Ben gets into the passenger seat, while Sarah takes the wheel. Jenny’s not limping anymore, so the frequent massaging seems to have made her more comfortable. There’s so much leg room now that there’s no food in the car that we can reconfigure the other bags so that all four of us can enjoy it.
Sarah starts the car, and we head north toward home.

Izaak Walton Inn – Edmonton, Alberta
Distance: 432 miles (695 km)
Travel time: 8 hours (including stops)


We plan on getting gas in St. mary, but the driver in front of us is driving unnecessarily aggressively. Ben marvels that this driver’s car has Alberta plates (proof that Alberta has the worst drivers), then he and Ben exchange words at the gas station. I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s times like this I am glad I don’t drive and don’t have to deal with it.

Our tank full of gasoline, we continue to drive north. I reflect on this week, and realize I’m not the same person I was when we loaded up the car nine days ago, and that’s a good thing. I ask Ben and Sarah about their experiences, how they feel, what they experienced. They also admit they’re not the same individuals either, and their relationship with each other (and with me) has strengthened and changed in unexpected ways. Dwight agrees and thanks us for inviting him along. We thank him for providing some much-needed perspective and levity; without him, we may have self-destructed as a group.

I ask the others about their favourite experiences (Little Bighorn and Yellowstone being most popular) and most memorable stop for food (The “zen Wendy’s” and KJ’s Truck Stop prove unforgetable). Who has the worst drivers? Alberta, hands down. Favorite wildlife sighting? The boldness of the wildlife in Idaho was incredible, but Wyoming has some amazing natural beauty.

We cross the border into Canada, and are instantly struck with the irony that we’ve spent the past several days with friendly people. The border officer is noticeably abrupt, and fellow travelers we encounter at the Canadian rest stop are likewise pushy – so much for Canadian friendliness!

We stop by the Nanton Candy Store to indulge our individual sweet tooth. We’ve been in the store for a couple of minutes when the store owner approaches me and takes me aside. I have a feeling of dread that he’s going to ask me to take Jenny outside, but he surprises me with his respect and discretion. he makes it abundantly clear that I am absolutely welcome in his store accompanied by my service dog, but he tells me he has an employee with severe allergies and asks me to be considerate of that. Our conversation is so discrete that even my traveling companions have no idea it ever took place. I used to often wonder what I would do in a situation like this – where a very real severe allergy is present – and now I know: treat this man and his shop with the respect he just showed me. I pick out a Jones soda and pay with some of our leftover American money, then walk outside to wait for the others.

We top up on gas in nanton as well, and this leg of our journey feels so very long. Home is within striking distance, REALLY, but we still have hours to drive.

Sarah puts on some of her music as a sound track, since Ben’s music is repeating the same songs over and over and over again. Dwight, Ben and I dose now and then, sometimes asking questions about the bands or vocalists we’re hearing.

Traffic crawls through Calgary, and it starts to rain as we top up the tank for the last time in Innisfail. We stop at Peter’s Drive Inn just outside of Red Deer and order big burgers and milkshakes. The sun peaks through the clouds as we hit the Edmonton city limits, and a sense of deep sadness fills the car. We’re home! But we don’t want this epic road trip of awesome to end. Ben toys with the idea of just driving around Edmonton for another couple of hours, holding the magic in this little Nissan for as long as we can. But this trip needs to end sometime…

We pull up in front of our house and divest Hoshi of all of her extra baggage. Everyone grabs their own backpack or duffel bag, and only Sarah removes her sleeping gear from the roof bag. Our kitties greet us noisily, and it’s like we’ve never been gone. We invite Sarah to stay for coffee, and she eagerly accepts. We put Pink Floyd on the record player and just soak in the music; too many words would devalue the experience. It’s hard to believe it’s all over.

But soon enough, Sarah picks up her duffel bag and takes off for home. Ben, Dwight and I are all exhausted, and turn in early.

But for me, it’s not over.

Not really.