Okay, so I recently drove from Prince Edward Island, Canada to Billings, Montana. Yes, I know, it is sounds crazy, but it had to be done. Being winter, I was dodging blizzards and trying to move fast, but I had to cover over 2,800 miles—4573 km for my Canadian friends. And with a distance this great, eventually you have to spend the night someplace.
And therein the dilemma…how much to spend on a basic, no-frills, just-a-bed-and-a-shower motel?
It takes about 3 days to drive from Prince Edward Island to Montana if you are highly motivated. (Read ‘highly motivated’ as maniac road warrior.) So here’s how my trip went down.
Which way do we go? Which way do we go?
DAY 1: I left in the afternoon on a Thursday, waiting to be sure the highway in New Brunswick and further south in Maine had been cleared of snow. I drove until about 2am and stopped outside of Albany, New York. (1247km/774 miles)
Didn’t bother with a motel that first night—instead, pulled out the sleeping bag and had a nap in the car. Yes, I know, it sounds crazy, but it was already 2am and I just really needed a nap. And it was so cold that a nap is about all I got—woke up at 4:00 am freezing and warmed the car, then slept until 6:30 am when the cold woke me again. After a bathroom break in the rest area and a walk around, I was good to go for the day.
DAY 2: Drove. The nice thing about heading west in the USA is that you can get on the highway and never get off. In my case, I got on Highway 90 and stayed on it through New York, Ohio and into Indiana. Nothing noteworthy scenery-wise to report. Just drove. At 6:00 pm I decided to stop and found a Super 8 in Elkhart (1146 km/712 miles from Albany.) Indiana is still in the midst of a recession and the motel room was a major bargain–$39.95 for the night. They even mentioned free coffee and donuts in the morning, but I knew I would be gone before the doors were open. Decent, no frills room.
Driving through Wisconsin
DAY 3: Up and out of Elkhart at 6:00 am after cleaning a few inches of new snow off the car.
Finished off Indiana, rolled through Illinois. (Why is Chicago always under construction?) I could tell when I passed into Wisconsin because of the trees and the cheese. Still on Interstate 90, but hardwood trees covered with a frosty costing lined the highway. Every town had a cheesecurd stand.
Wisconsin Cheesecurd Stand
By the time I crossed the Minnesota State line I could feel the gravitational pull of my people, maybe something like how my dog must feel when we he can smell the fresh salt air of the beach and starts jumping and scratching at the car window. Amidst the religious radio stations I found a countdown of the best songs from the winter of 1972. And you know I could sing along with every single one! Bread, Neal Sedaka, Chicago, The Temptations and the Carpenters.
It was late when I crossed the North Dakota State Line. I love the towns on the prairies, with names like Flaxville and Wheatland. Long, long trains transporting grain. I found the Public Radio Station and caught a live variety show called Dakota Air. Things were going so well that I thought about driving straight through to Billings, but it started to snow around Fargo. It was coming down heavier by the time I hit Bismark and by Dickinson I was ready to give up. North Dakota in a snowstorm is no place for a Honda Civic. (1673 km/1040 miles for the day.)
Evidently there is no recession in North Dakota.
I drove into the Super 8 advertising the lowest price in town. It was $96 plus tax. I asked about wireless Internet and the kid behind the counter said I could steal wireless reception from a nearby business whose system was not secure. Nice. I was too tired to check my e-mail anyway. The room was cinderblock walls with a loud heater and a dripping faucet. By the time I woke up in the morning and cleaned the snow off the car, the free lobby coffee was over.
Medora, North Dakota
DAY 4: Blew past Medora, home of great outdoor musical theater with the badlands as the magnificent backdrop. Not in such a hurry now through Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana, beautiful and desolate ‘painted canyon’ country. A family of ringneck pheasants ran across the road in front of the car. Lots of coal trains, methane gas wells and pumpjacks. Turn-offs marked ‘NO SERVICE’ headed to places like ‘Bad Route Road.’ Got to Billings in mid-afternoon, 500 km /312 miles on the home stretch.
Being in the overnight accommodations business, I am always interested in the price of a good night’s sleep.
At our bed and breakfast on Prince Edward Island in the ‘low season’ a traveler can have a beautiful room with a gourmet breakfast for $80. That same room in mid-summer tops out at $120. Attentive hosts, travel assistance and a package of amenities are included with each room. We think that is a great value, but once in awhile we get a guest that feels our prices are too high. I know how they feel. On my recent trip, one night I slept in the car, one night I found a good ‘no frills’ bargain and one night I think I got ripped off, especially when I think about what we offer to travelers for less money.
Maplethorpe B&B/Cafe Today
I’ll be doing the trip in reverse soon, but this time I am going to do a bit more research on bargain sleeps and hope for better weather. The sleeping bag will be handy, just in case.