Le Grand Détour



8 July 2017

When I was in Maine, I did not make it to Portland. I decided not to make the same mistake when I was in Oregon. I know it is bemusing to mock the United States and Canada for having several cities and towns with the same name within their own country. But before you start doing that, may I remind you we do that a lot in Europe as well. There are, for instance, four towns in Denmark called Ejby.


A full moon settling over the Columbia river next to Mount Hood as seen from Sauvie Island.

I did not stay in the city of Portland, but on an island within its city limits, called Sauvie Island, which is the largest fresh water island in the United States. My friend there should me Portland by night. Or at least, some of Portland by night. Friends of hers had recently purchased a tugboat, that they are using as a place to hold parties.


The night as seen from the tugboat near the St. John's Bridge. The bridge is behind the camera.

That first night, however, there was no party, so mostly a dark boat. So we went to White Eagle, a McMenamins saloon in North Portland's industrial neighbourhood. Here a cover band was playing classic songs from a bygone era, resolving in me being among the youngest there.


This is not the engine room, but it is engine room adjacent.

That was a fun experience, I should say. It was a cover band for the Greateful Dead. If you are familiar with their music, you are older than me. Or interested in music from this era. Their music was definintely better than the beer, but I was too young to remember a lot of this music. Or at least remember its significance.


Like proper musicians they are looking down at their instruments and not just pretending they are playing instruments.

It was unfortunate that I was quite exhausted from my travels during most of the day, so we left before midnight. But boy that full moon was pretty. I really enjoyed my first night in Portland.


Capturing the full moon and its rings is hard, but I may have succeeded.

And I would like to send a special thank you to my host for my two nights in Portland. I hope it will not be the last time.


6 July 2017

After Seattle - or, I should say, Kirkland, because I was never really in Seattle - I drove back to Idaho, where I had been prior to my return leg into Canada where I ended up in Vancouver.

The reason I came back here may in retrospect seem on the wrong pretext, but I fully enjoyed my two nights return to this part of the US. It gave me a time to relax.

Cœur d'Aléne, or Coeur d'Alene as the Americans spell it, is a fun and pretty enough town in Northern Idaho, but other than that, I doubt it is a city that has a place in the collective conscience of the American people. Perhaps due to its strange name? Cœur d'Aléne means 'heart of the awl', an awl being a tool to make hole in things. This term was applied by French fur traders in the region to the Native Americans, because of their sharp wit and cunning trading skills.

When the British traders came to the region, they just used the French name - of course pronounced completely incorrectly, as English is basically just French with bad pronounciation - and the name has stuck ever since.

I actually stayed nearby in Post Falls, but I did see Coeur d'Alene and enjoyed both stays in Post Falls. Particularly my return stay, where I stayed at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast. Indeed, until McBride in British Columbia, I had so far only stayed at hotels and motels (except for the nights I stayed with friends).


Breakfast at Ida Home. Highly recommedable.

And there I had a realisation of how enjoyable a B&B can be. And this, Ida Home, was particularly enjoyable. Indeed, that may have been the most satisfying part of the whole ordeal.

But before this entry just turns into an advertisement for this particular Bed and Breakfast, let me also give a shout out to Les Schwab, a tyre garage chain in the United States.

My left rear wheel was leaking air, and so I had it checked out at a local Les Schwab. The problem turned out to be a nail. The tyre was repaired and was soon back on my vehicle. Despite the quickness and quality of service, I was asked for no charge. Much to my surprise.

I guess not everything here is about money. Good to see that at least some of my prejuidices proven wrong.


4 July 2017

Originally, my plans had been to take the ferry from Ontario into Ohio during my leg from Toronto to Columbus. However, looking at the ferry schedules, that would have been a tight trip, and I would have arrived in Columbus very late, which would have met a meeting with a friend there very unlike, which would have been very unfortunate. [1]

A second motivation for me to take the ferry route was to avoid a busy border crossing for a few reasons. I have heard stories about the treatment of some people at border crossings, and I wondered how being in a car on European plates would work out. Despite these fears, I took the risk and crossed from Fort Erie, Ontario into Buffalo, New York.


Port Angeles, Washington, where two container ships were already waiting.

However, for my leg for Vancouver to Seattle, I decided to stick to my ferry route plan. This was a busier route than the Lake Erie journey, particularly due to the size of Victoria on Vancouver Island, so there were more crossings than back east.


A 1931 Hot Dog Van driven by a man whose character perfectly fitted the vehicle. Also notice how packed the cars were on board.

Still, I had not realised how tight I was stretching it by the time they were packing the ship. I was the second to last to be let on the ferry, and I arrived an hour early than its scheduled departure. Because while there was a crossing every hour between Vancouver and Victoria (technically Tsawwassen - Swartz Bay), there were only four crossings a day between Victoria and Port Angeles a day. And yet - somehow - I made on its second crossing for the day, avoiding a wait of 5 hours before the next crossing.


KWK Excelsus out of Singapore, waiting in the port of Port Angeles for... something.

From Port Angeles, I went West, I wanted to drive around the Olympia Pennisula, and see the rain forest on its western side of its national park. I got to experience a fun drive on route 112, which was a slight detour from the main route 101, but all the more worth it. I admit, given the nature of my car's handling, I do occassionally make detours purely to have fun on the road.


A water fog rising over the shore near Clallam Bay, Washington. Driving through it yielded only a sense of fog, not its contents.

It is unfortunate, that I did not have much time to get to Seattle, because I did not get to see much of the Hoh Rain Forest in the national park. Should I ever be in Washington again, I could see myself visiting this national park again. And I do plan on returning to Washington, because I did not actually see Seattle.


Hoh Rain Forest in Olympia National Park. Odd to have a rain forest this far north and in this climate. But, well, there it is.

Indeed, I stayed in Kirkland and basically remained in Kirkland for the entirety of my stay there. But I had the opportunity to meet two friends there, which is worth more to me than the sights in Seattle. Seattle will wait for another time, just like Chicago, which I had skipped alltogether during my drive from Columbus, Ohio to Elk Horn, Iowa.


[1]For those interested, the route was to take a ferry from Leamington, Ontario to Pelee Island in Lake Erie. Then from that island take the ferry to Sandusky, Ohio. However while the schedule for the former was favourable, the schedule for the latter was only twice a day (and that was only on Fridays and Sundays, otherwise the crossing occurred once).


2 July 2017

I would start by apologising to Vancouver (and apologising is a proud Canadian tradition, so I am sure it will go down well), for not seeing more of it while I was there. I would also like to apologise to you, the readers, because this was intended to be the day where I actually did a lot of updates for this journal.


This is the hotel I stayed at. Probably one of the older buildings cluttering the Vancouver skyline.

That is not to say I did not see any of Vancouver, and I truly enjoyed my stay there. Walking around Stanley Park was very nice (as Canadians would say), and around English Bay, you could see the large container ships seemingly moored not far from where people were bathing. A strange view from a public beach, I suppose. But the ships has to be some way, I guess.


Yes, rocks indeed. I do feel disappointed that they forgot to add a 'sand' sign for the rest of the beach. And possibly a 'water' sign.

The walk around Stanley Park, called Seawall, also has a bike lane next to it. However, the bike lane was further from the ocean than the walking path, and was raised. Resulting in a potentially dangerous situation where bicyclists at high speed hitting the curb and possible hitting pedestrians as they lose control getting down from the curb.


The path on the left is the walking path, the raised area is the bike lane.

Now I realise why it was built this way, so that water from the ocean as waves hit against the seawall would be able to escape back into the sea. But have invented pipes and sewage systems that are far more complicated than what is necessary here to keep the bike lane lower than the walking path, as it ought to be.

But I know why; this is the half-assed solution. Indeed, a lot of infrastructure feels half-assed. As if there is never really money enough, or political will, they just seem to find the cheapest solution and it always feels a bit half-assed. But when regulations do not require better quality, why would one bother?


Siwash Rock by the Seawall. I was not the only one to take a picture.

Regardless, I went back to my hotel to relax. The same night I went to a restaurant called Forage, just near the hotel, which was excellent, if a bit more pricey than I expected. Although I did pick the most expensive item on the menu, so it might be my own damn fault. No regrets, though.


The Vancouver Skyline. Can you spot Trump Tower?

All in all, I had a great time in Vancouver, even if I only managed to see very few sights there. And later, you will see how Vancouver gets its revenge, as I stay two nights near Seattle without ever actually seeing Seattle. Take that!

Back in Canada

1 July 2017

After Yellowstone and a drive to Idaho through a dirt road path, with some excellent driving roads while where it was paved, and a lot of dead trees from a forest fire, I headed North back into Canada.


Dead trees in Montana. Although, some clearly survived.

And what an appropriate day to visit Canada: On 1 July, Canada Day. And as I have mentioned before, Canada was celebrating its 150 birthday. So arriving over the border, the border patrol agent gave me flag with "Canada 150" written on it. I wondered if the Americans would give me something similar if I arrived in the US on 4 July (spoiler alert; they did not, but then again, perhaps a 241st is not as impressive as a 150th one).

Not that I got to see a lot of Canadian civilisation on Canada Day, as I spent most of it driving around their Banff National Park in Alberta, just on the border with British Columbia.


Lake Peyto in Banff National Park. Here, delibrately with some pine in the foreground.


Athabasca Falls in Banff.

I then spent the night in a small town called McBride in British Columbia, thus meaning that driving in from Idaho and into Alberta and back to British Columbia, meant I had to cross the same time zone line twice. Indeed, the time zone lines are a bit odd at times, particularly when one state or province does not have a single time zone. No state or province in North America is practically large enough to require more than one time zone, yet some do, because they allow the counties to pick their time zone.

Then again, you could have a situation like Europe, where everyone [1] is using the same time zone, even though they do not really match their actual location compared to, you know, the sun. The reason? As with everything else in Europe: Hitler.


Far off in the distance, a helicopter arrives. And it will later land on the road in front of us.

After staying overnight in McBride, the next day's travel was to Vancouver, where I had decided to take a beautiful detour towards. My plans were hindered, however, as I am driving South on the 97 just before Cache Creek, the traffic suddenly halts. Police arrive on the scene, and within minutes a helicopter lands on the road. The road was closed and would be closed for 8 hours at least. Meaning I would have to go back again, resulting in a detour of effectively four hours.

I should probably not have been as irritated as I was, but I was bothered by the fact that I did not get to see more of this road to Vancouver, and instead had to endure a late arrival - I was beginning to be slightly exhausted - in Vancouver. So I got to do some motorway driving, and in British Columbia the speed limit is a more reasonable 120 km/h (almost Danish conditions!).

But I now understand why they do not use the term 'motorway'. Apparently, bicycles are allowed to ride on them! At first I thought the cyclists were madmen, but then there were signs warning drivers about them! Clearly endorsed by the authorities. When authorities endorse madness, no wonder these people are mad! But to Vancouver I arrived without hitting a bicyclist. Or anyone else for that matter.


[1]Everyone that matters, that is. Who cares about the Portuguese?

Road Types

30 June 2017

'Highway' may be one of the most ambigious terms over here. Now, North Americans may suggest that it is not, but my impression is that they really do not care about precission. Indeed, that may be one of English's greatest flaws: It is not very precise. And not a very good technical language. But alas, here we are, using English. (Everything would be better if everyone spoke German.)

The thing about 'highway' is that it basically refers to any larger country road. Be it a secondary or primary route, or a dual carriageway or even a motorway. In my mind, those are four different types of roads, but over here; they are the same. Or rather, referred to by the same term: Highway.

Which makes the term useless. But let us not rid ourselves of it so quickly. Indeed. I propose to use 'highway' to refer only to secondary and primary routes. That is, significant country roads. Or - to be more precise, as this language would we would rather not - country roads with a route number. Be it a federal, a state or a county road, they are all highways. Now that is easy to comprehend.

Dual carriageways are called 'divided highways'. I cannot decide on which I prefer, so I default to the British; dual carriageway. Wikipedia struggles to compromise on motorway, so its article on Wikipedia is called 'access controlled highway'. That does not flow off the tongue. Secondly, while a highway can refer to a motorway over here, they might also call them 'freeway', 'thruway', 'expressway' or 'turnpikes'. But they are all access controlled highways, and therefore motorways. If you pay toll, we call it a toll motorway.

While I am on the subject of fixing the English language, motorway exits. In the UK, these are called junctions. Weird. In the US, they are called exits. Makes more sense. But in the US, 'exits' also refers to forks in the motorway, where you switch to another motorway route number. But that is not an exit; I will not be leaving the road type after all. Exits are only for when you leave the road type!

So let us clear this up: Junctions refer to when motorways meet one another, or - for precision's sake (Shakespeare must be spinning in his grave) - motorway junction. Forks refer to when the motorway divides into two or more motorway routes; usually at a motorway junction. And exits refer to when you leave the motorway, that is onto a differen type of road. Such as highway, perhaps.

There is no need to thank me.

If you have read this far, you may be inclined to think why road types and terms matter. Again, precision. But a proper understanding of different road types, also helps one to understand the different behaviours one should strive for on them. And let me just clarify, I have seen a lot of bad driving behaviour over here.

Note: Hopefully I will add pictures later. But I am really arriving late at hotels these days and getting out early, so I do not really have much time to write these!

National Parks

29 June 2017

Rapid City is a strange name for a city. Particularly considering that it did not feel very rapid. In fact, nothing over here does. Indeed, it is not named after its people, but rather the rapids in Rapid Creek by which the city is built.

Driving into the Black Hills, people really only do it for one purpose: To see Mount Rushmore. I do not care much for crowded areas with tourists. It is an experience in a city like New York, but tourist sights far from civilisation? Forget about it! So I decided to approach Mount Rushmore from a more American perspective: Simply driving by without stopping.


Drive by sight seeing. Is this not the most American way to see sights? Here you have Mount Rushmore from the road.

Besides, Mount Rushmore is not as impressive as I had anticipated. Fortunately a Canadian warned me before hand. Indeed, what I found more impressive was a sight nearby called Crazy Horse. This unfinished carving into the mountain was more interesting given its lack of completion and the fact that they are still going.


Sticking to my guns, I decided not get too close to the sight while seeing Crazy Horse.

After a bit more pondering as to why they are so keen on carving out faces in this area, I drove off into Wyoming. And headed North to something called Devils Tower. For some reason, the apostrophe in "Devils Tower" has vanished at some point. But then again, the name itself is a mistranslation of the native name "Bear's House", so who cares? It is technically speaking a butte (not pronounced like 'butt', it comes from French).


This was the photo location that they recommended, so I took it. And this time I could get my car in the shot.

And skipping on that sight, I then went over to Yellowstone after a beautiful drive through the mountains. I thought I had arrived late, so there would less people, but alas I was wrong.


It was not just people who were there, but also bisons crossing the road.

National Parks are rather different from those we have in Europe. National Parks over here are not just protected areas, but commodities, that people can visit for a fee. There are entrance points where you drive your car in. There are plenty of forests and other natural sights in Europe to see, but seldom is it treated like a museum.

Drive around Gorges du Verdon in France, that is an incredible sight to behold, but there are no fees to pay, and two challenging roads line either side of the canyon. That is another thing I have noticed about driving in North America, even their more challenging roads are not as challenging as those you see in Europe. Their hairpin turns are not quite as hairpin as what you would expect, if you are more familiar with European mountain roads like I am.

Let us talk about the car

27 June 2017

To me, there are two main aspects to a road trip: The route itself and with those you travel. You may wonder about the last aspect, considering I am alone on this trip. (I do not have a partner, much less one with whom to do this.)

But I am not alone. This is a trip, on which both me and my car is. I am together with my car. So let us talk about my travel partner, and in particularly what makes it special to me.


My Xantia near a dirt road.

The Citroën Xantia Activa V6 is definitely a future classic. In a sense, this car actually ought to be in a museum. But truthfully, it deserves to be driven.

Mine is from 1998, which is the second of the three years this particular variant was made. Only a total of 2,700 Activa V6s were built. So to begin with, the car is already rather rare.

Like a proper large Citroën, [1] it has hydropneumatic suspension, which means the car runs on mineral oil and gas spheres under high pressure, rather than coils or springs. The end result is a suspension that can react almost instantiously to unevenness in the road, thus creating an incredibly comfortable ride, even over very rough terrain.

You may point out, that Mercedes have an electronic suspension that reads the road and prepares the shock absorbers accordingly. But that suspension was introduced on the S-Class in around 2008. Not only is Citroën's suspension from 1954, it was also available on cars that were compareably much cheaper than the equilivant of an S-Class at the day.

If you want a more true comparison, consider what a Xantia cost in the 1990s compared to an S-Class of the same time. Sure, an S-Class had more features, but the suspension was almost similar, because Mercedes actually used a slightly modified version of Citroën's suspension for several decades.


My Xantia stuck in the rain on the road to the Yellowstone National Park.

The Activa portion is an addition to the regular hydropneumatic suspension, which adds anti-body roll arms to the wheels. While the hydropneumatic suspension already kept the Citroëns very secure and stable, as the wheels would cling to the road, they would still do quite a bit of body roll in corners. The Activa variants do not. There is no body roll.

The Activa variant was previously available with smaller engines, but with the ES9 V6 engine, the variant finally achieved what it should have been. The end result is a car that feels like a scaled up go-kart, while at the same time maintaining a significantly comfortable ride quality, even in the corners. Plus the car is based on a standard French family car, so it is also very practical.

This is why this car is perfect for this trip. It is excellent on motorways and it is excellent on twisty country roads. And remains practical all the way through.


[1]I say 'large Citroën', because I also consider the 2CV, Ami 6 and Méhari proper Citroëns, they were just too small for the suspension. Additionally, the Traction Avant is also definitely a proper Citroën, but the suspension just had not been invented until the very end of its production.


27 June 2017

I know understand why a significant portions of centrally placed US states are referred to as the 'plain states'. But they are not plain in the sense of being simple, but rather that they are mostly plains. Although, you could argue, that from a geographic point of view, they are simple. Their topography are mostly flat.


My Xantia together with a CX and an H-van in Columbus, Ohio. What is less obvious in the picture is an additional CX and H-van in the garage, along with a DS hidden behind the garage.

Driving from Columbus to Yellowstone is a long drive. And the lack of changes in scenery makes it all the longer. It is just fields and fields for hundreds of kilometres on end. So I took the motorway from Columbus through these flatter states. Country roads would not prove interesting. Or rather, not interesting enough.

But I did manage to find one spot I wanted to visit on my way through these plains: Elk Horn, Iowa. This town has a large group of descendents of Danish immigrants, that they pride themselves on, and presenting Danish culture to an American audience.


The Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa, where you can learn about the story of Danish immigrants in North America.

I should note, though, that while their history of Danish America was in of particular interest to me, their take on Danish cuisine is off. There are a lot American oddities intertwined with it, and some of it has origins in neighbouring countries, like Germany or Sweden. But it was fun to visit, and I slightly regret only having such a short time to visit it, before I had to head out to Rapid City in South Dakota.

When you get this far west in the US, it becomes more and more clear that the borders between states are purely drawn based on longitude and latitude with no regard for the physical terrain. I understand why it is less important when the place is flat, but once the Rockies begin to show themselves, the nature of the borders feel far more arbitrary. But considering these lands were divided before they were properly explored, I suppose it made sense.

In their defence, we still have odd borders in Europe here and there. And we have had centuries to fix them. And I know it is not for a lack of trying, just consider Napoleon and Hitler.

Toronto from a Méhari

24 June 2017

In Toronto, I got the pleasure of meeting up with Citroënvie's President, George Dyke. After having eaten lunch with him and some of the local Citroënists, he decided to show me around Toronto. In a 1985 Citroën Méhari.


You know your Xantia is rare, when a guy arriving in a Jaguar E-Type wants to look at your Xantia.

Now, the Méhari is probably the complete opposite of my car. The Xantia Activa V6 is quite possibly the most complicated car Citroën has ever built, to this day. On the other end of the spectrum, the Méhari may quite possibly be the simplest car they ever made.

The Méhari is based on a 2CV, which to begin with is already quite simple. But Méhari went further to reduce cost, increase longivity and ease maintenance. The car is effectively a plastic car on top of some wheels, with 2 cylinder 600 cc engine (same as in a 2CV).


The Méhari we drove through Toronto. Its original paint had fainted only on one side, so they decided to give it this paint job.

As you can imagine, this is a car that gives you attention around a big city like Toronto, where we went through all the trendy neighbourhoods and downtown.

In the suburbs of Toronto, a couple of people were meeting in expensive cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. But the Méhari was the one that got all the attention for the brief time we were there. We had to leave again, we did not want to upstage inappropriately on these guys' event. I mean, when you have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Lamborghini, it must feel tough to get upstaged by a small plastic car, the windscreen of which can fold down on the bonnet.


It felt it was inappropriate to take a picture of their vehicles, so here is instead a picture of Toronto from the passenger seat of a Méhari.

It was quite an experience, and I must unfortunately add, that I now have added a Méhari to my car wishlist. I am still not sold on the 2CV, but the Méhari got me.