Friday, December 18, 2009
Start: 307427 km
End: 308073 km
Driven: 646 km
One of the main reasons I bought my car was so I could drive it to my parents’ house in Calgary for the Christmas holidays. They were willing to buy my airline tickets for the annual wintertime family gathering, but I wanted to own a car anyways, and having this trip in mind helped to focus my decision making when car shopping – while a pure sports car would have been fun, something more along the lines of a tourer would be more comfortable for the long highway drive I knew was ahead of me. Of course, all of this consideration is predicated on a somewhat larger budget than what I turned out to have available - the choices at under-$1500 are of a more coarse distinction than "sport vs. tourer".
Having driven this route before a couple of times, as a passenger and as a co-driver of a moving truck, I expected the trip to take about seven hours; I did it in a little less than that, about 6:40 or so.
Shortly after leaving Saskatoon, going west on highway 7 I encountered a bit of a traffic jam. This did give me some time to take pictures of the fantastic ice crystals that formed overnight on the twigs and branches of the road-side shrubbery.
Every blade of grass and every twig on every bush and tree were coated in ice.
The traffic jam was caused by a serious accident. Traffic was down to one-way interrupted, and with the heavy traffic this road sees, I was waiting long enough for on-coming to clear the restriction that I shut down my engine. In addition to waiting for the on-coming vehicles to get past, we waited for about five minutes while no cars at all moved past the scene, as emergency workers needed the whole road for some maneuvering they were doing.
Once past the site, the highway was smooth and clear, and I was able to keep up a pretty good pace before stopping for a break in Rosetown. Western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta are pretty empty places, and I didn’t take many pictures for about 400 kilometres.
Yeah, bleak and empty, for a long, long way. This is just on the Alberta side of the border, around mid-day.
One benefit of such terrain is that passing zones are abundant and long.
Minor weirdness, of course, is to be expected on long road trips. It was pretty cold out, around -25°C, so I expect this hardy pioneer was either a bit chilly or is tougher than I.
The sun was hidden or partly-hidden by high clouds for most of my trip. This made the landscape slightly less than eye-wateringly bright, even with my sunglasses on. When the sky is clear in mid-winter on the prairies, I think welding goggles would be appropriate.
As I approached Drumheller, I saw an unexpected sign: “Scenic Route”. Bored nearly out of my mind by the big, dumb highways of the northern Prairies, I immediately hit the brakes and pulled off of the main route onto this storied lane. Surprisingly enough, even though this road ran through west-central Alberta, it was slightly more interesting than the main line.
I’m not sure where my windshield accumulated so much crud; possibly it was when I stopped for lunch in Hanna, Alberta. But look, here on the scenic route, there’s a bump! Excitement!
This is actually significantly more interesting than Highway 9.
Just like central Saskatchewan, west-central Alberta has plenty of flat available.
Possibly my favourite road sign. Unfortunately, this was quite close to the town of Drumheller, and while I like to take squiggly roads fast, I try to avoid excessive speed in and near towns. It's one thing for me to slide off the road, ditch myself and break my car, it's quite another to slide off the road and hit something or (much worse) somebody.
Drumheller is famous for the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the nearby fossil-bearing rocks. The town is full of dinosaur sculptures, including this larger-than-life Tyrannosaurus rex. Note the mittens to keep his undersize claws warm.
Once through Drumheller, the sky opened up just enough to show some colours.
I stopped for fuel only once on this trip, in Hanna. I considered stopping in Drumheller, but I decided to just press on since I knew I could get at least into Calgary on what I had, where there would be gas stations galore. In the end I decided to just go straight to my parents’ house, with just over 500 km on one tank and the needle sitting on the red mark. The fuel gauge in my Prelude is a bit weird, and only shows about the middle range of the tank. Generally I’ll get 100 km before the needle moves from pinned-to-the-full-mark, then about 250 or 300 km through the range of the needle. From Wikipedia I know my fuel tank should be about 60 L; from the driving I’ve done and keeping track of my fuel expenses, I think there’s about 15 to 18 L remaining in the tank when the needle touches the empty line. So I know I can get more than 100 km on what’s in the tank when it says it’s empty.
That night I was able to park my car in my parents’ garage, where the road-grime is especially evident. Calgary's roads were absolutely filthy.