I'd been apprehensive about this day in particular since I'd plotted this trip.
Our fourth morning on the road found us in Brandon, Manitoba, more than 2100kms from Vancouver (and even more on my odometer, based on the number of times I'd doubled back and detoured to chase trains along the way)
The motel abutted onto a fairly quiet neighbourhood, and I took Lucy for a walk in the snow to stretch our legs before we jumped in the truck again. As we walked, a Canadian Pacific train rumbled eastbound through town in the distance.
On the head-end were two foreign visitors: a pair of armour yellow Union Pacific locomotives, guests from America. They were going my way, and I hoped we'd catch up to them after we poked around Brandon a little bit.
In a way, the Americans' appearance was prophetic; today was the day that Lucy and I would make our crossing into the States. Due to the province of Ontario's blanket ban on pitbulls, even those in transit, we would have to skirt south through Minnesota, Wisconsin and points east on our route to Prince Edward Island.
Lucy's an American dog, originally. She's a California rescue, which explains why she always looked aggrieved when I took her out for a walk in Vancouver's cold rain. And why she enjoys basking in the sun so much.
But we adopted her from a Canadian rescue society, and I'd never crossed the border with her, or any dog, before. I had her paperwork in order (I hoped), but it didn't ease my nerves as we explored Brandon and then hopped back on the highway to run down those UP engines.
We caught up to them outside of the town of Portage La Prairie, close to Winnipeg and a famous railfan locale due to the fact that the CP and Canadian National mainlines come together and in fact cross just outside of town.
I took a few shots of "my" train before dense fog and blowing snow forced us to give up the chase, and we continued through Winnipeg and out the other side, where we bid adieu to the Trans Canada Highway and navigated a succession of back roads alongside CN's Sprague Sub through southeastern Manitoba, toward the American border.
We found a new train to chase, CN Q196, a priority container train from Prince Rupert, BC, to Memphis, TN, and I got a bunch of shots of it flying through the snow and overtaking slower manifests waiting in the wings on CN's mainline to Chicago.
By dusk, we were pulling up to the tiny border shelter in Warroad, MN, and as I idled the truck toward the checkpoint I muttered a silent prayer that everything was in indeed in order.
I needn't have worried. When the customs agent found out I was a writer who'd written about the area (my second book, CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE, features scenes along the Rainy River just east of Warroad), he exhorted me to come back in the summertime and see the area at his best, and cheerfully waved me through.
We were in!
Now it was dark, and we had a hotel room waiting for us in International Falls, a hundred miles distant and reportedly the coldest place in the Lower 48.
My truck's iPhone connectivity was acting up, so I was grateful for the satellite radio subscription Alexis had bought me, and Lucy and I rocked out to new country on The Highway as we navigated the very dark, very empty North Woods.
It was bitterly cold in International Falls, as advertised. We checked into our room at the AmericInn Hotel along US-53, and I bundled Lucy up and took her out for a pee/walk/meal run to the diner next door, where I intended to order takeout and continue to walk the dog while the food was being prepared.
The dog wanted no part of that, even in her heavy winter coat. She felt the blast of warm air from the restaurant's doors and refused to budge, and the hostess kindly let us wait in the vestibule, no doubt thinking we were a couple of loons.
I got a steak sandwich with the diner's "trademark" fries (which turned out to be, uh, home fries I guess?), plucked a can of beer from the snow near the truck where I'd left it to cool, and brought it up to the room to eat and warm up.
Lucy, meanwhile, made herself comfortable.
We'd come nearly three thousand kilometres, and we weren't even halfway to our destination. I was surviving on cookies, oranges and pizza buns during the days, and I still hadn't figured out how to eat properly after checking Lucy into the hotel room.
But the dog didn't hate me yet; she cuddled up to me every night, and we slept as well as ever in International Falls, secure if only temporarily from the wind and the bitter cold outside.