An American Tale: Gillian Goes West (and East)

This post is SO LATE! I feel so bad about this particularly because this was such an amazing trip and reminded me again of why I love to go to the States and on roadtrips in particular.

To be honest, I kept putting this off because it was going to be a long post and I need to learn how to be more pithy when I post. Also, I was overwhelmed by the whole 2 weeks and how to condense that into one post. I think that writing it now, 8 whole months after having gone, I’m actually better able to summarize, as I can better pinpoint the highlights, the memorable moments, and the places I would definitely recommend.

June 7-16th, 2015

Creston, BC ->Yellowstone National Park, WY -> Rapid City, SD -> Minneapolis, MN -> Medora, ND -> Browning, MT

This is the first time I’m going to summarize a trip in a single post, rather than day by day. Especially in times when internet is not readily available and days are so jam packed full of stuff to do, it’s hard to write everyday. Plus, who am I to pretend that each day is really that exciting? Particularly when you’re driving up to 10 hours a day…with you, yourself, and your podcasts.

Incidentally, we hosted a couchsurfer last night, and we were talking about roadtrips and how to entertain oneself on roadtrips. Here are a few I listen to on roadies:

  1. Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean
  2. Risk
  3. StoryCorps
  4. Ted Radio Hour
  5. Invisibilia
  6. Snap Judgement

Anyhow, Yellowstone! A must! The buffalo and deer roam freely around the park. The sunsets? Insane. I met my friend Liza, who lives now in Denver, CO. We were neighbours and besties in Korea, having many adventures within Korea and abroad. We also have the strange tendency to dress the same, without planning it. I saw her last on my roadtrip with Leah, and it was great to coordinate another meet-up with her.

Within an hour of leaving home, my GPS died…DNR, no CPR, no intubation, nothing would resusc it. I figured out the cable that connected it to my car, supplying it with battery power, had a piece broken off and it wasn’t until I got to Mall of America and a Best Buy in Minneapolis that I would be able to replace it. Luckily, Jeramy, old-fashioned worried BF that he is, had insisted that Leah and I carry a paper roadmap of Canada and the US on our trip across the US. It lives under the passenger seat of my car permanently, so I pulled it out and along with road signs, I was able to continue my navigation.

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We camped outside the Eastern gate of Yellowstone, at a small campsite, that was largely un-occupied, on a beautiful little site on the river’s edge. The hiking is incredible in this area and we enjoyed a day of hiking up a trail on which we encountered no other humans, forded/fallen-tree-balanced-across 2 overfull creeks, saw evidence of horses, bears, and deer, but only met birds and one deer from far away. From our campsite, we saw the most incredible thunder and lightening storms I have EVER seen, the first night from far off, down at the other end of the valley, and the second night, right in the midst of it, which I still hold clearly in my mind today as simply amazing. Of course, we also had time within Yellowstone Park itself, watching Ol Faithful and the other geysers and mud holes, and the unique and beautiful wildlife. Nothing like passing a buffalo going slow in the right lane first thing in the morning!

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Sidenote: I got to use my new mini cam/videocam for the first time! It’s like a GoPro but cheaper…and honestly, gets the job done just fine.


We struggled a bit with lighting a fire the first night (copious amounts of lighter fluid was used, my girl guide mother would be horrified), but we got much better at it by our last night.


There was no shower at our campground, so we ingeniously (we thought) used the sinks at the seldom-used rest-stop just up the road. So fresh! So clean! I don’t know if your standards get lower when travelling, whether you become more creative, and more take me as I am, or what, but just to have clean hair and a quick once over with a proper bit of hot water was all we needed to feel recharged!

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Sunset from our campsite
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Mt Rushmore!
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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Devil’s Tower
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Looking out over Yellowstone

From Yellowstone, I left Liza and Wyatt (the dog) and moved on alone to Rapid City, South Dakota….still navigating with my trusty roadmap, highway signs, and my sense of direction. Who needs a working GPS anyways?! I went via Devil’s Tower National Monument, popular for rock climbers these days, saw a moose, and had a memorable moment at a gas station in Gillette, when a kindly funeral director helped me check the air pressure on and top up my tires. I have to say, in all my travels in the States, I have only experienced kindness and welcoming, although I do realize that I am a young, white chick!

I reached Rapid City, South Dakota that day, ending my day with a quick visit to Mt. Rushmore. I agree that while it seems quite large in photos and in movies, it is really smaller than I anticipated. However, considering when it was carved and the impressive likeness, it is still pretty impressive! I enjoyed the exhibits, and it was very mysterious with lots of fog rolling around the faces.

My bed that night was a Couchsurf, found at the home of a very kindly and well-travelled mother-daughter pair. The mother (over 80 years of age!) had many stories to tell, still sharp as a tack, and looking forward to a trip to Europe with her daughter in a few days. I hope that I am that wise and well-travelled by her age!

The next day I had a jam-packed schedule set up, with a trip to Wall Drug, a detour through Badlands National Park (very reminiscent of Cappadocia, Turkey), and taking the long way around via a route that to be honest….I can’t recall now! I decided not to stick the main highway though, and boy am I glad I didn’t! The scenery through South Dakota is absolutely stunning: canyons, grasslands, beautiful rock formations – this is the kind of big sky country I could live in! Wall Drug is a fascinating amalgamation of shops, and displays of things like old photos, licence plates, and other memorabilia. It is a great way to break up a drive.

Otherwise, the drive to Minneapolis was flaaaatttttt and straighttttt!! (AKA BORING!) This is where the podcasts come in! I was glad to reach my Airbnb that night for a rest before the wedding of Katie (who I met in Korea) and Brad the next day. Prior to the wedding, I met up with Ilona and Val and their significant others for breakfast and a trip to Mall of America. We had all met while teaching English in Korea, and hadn’t seen each other since then. It was awesome to reconnect and really cool to see the vast expanse that is the ‘American Breakfast’, as well as the Mall of America (huge, has really cool amusement park and giant Lego statues in the middle!). Katie’s wedding itself, beautiful, outdoors, travel-themed reception, lots of dancing, and great fun indeed.

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Campsite in Medora
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Badlands NP
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Medora Musical (Awesome)
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The Korea girls!
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Tipi Camp in Browning
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Badlands NP


After the wedding, I made another big day of driving through North Dakota, to end up in the town of Medora. Medora is home to the Medora Musical, a wonderful open amphitheatre performance including live horses, live music, and a general good time. I very much enjoyed myself. I was able to camp at another campsite right by a river, with very friendly and helpful staff, and a few other campers who were in awe that I would take such a trip all by myself. Honestly, with the pop-up tent (after I figured how to fold the darn thing up), it was SO easy to camp by myself.

Medora is also right across the highway from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While a small park, it is chock-a-block full of prarie dogs, buffalo, wild horses, and other critters and plant life. The loop road through the park takes only about an hour and a half or so to drive through, and you have to be very careful not to run over (or get run over by) the multitude of prarie dogs and buffalo that inhabit the park!

My last overnight stop was a bit of a splurge, but SO cool. I stayed in Browning, MT, with the hope of taking the Going-To-The-Sun road home (not to be, still closed), at a tipi camp! They supplied bedding on the grass and had set a fire in the little stone fire circle in the middle of the tipi. It was SO cool to light my fire and then fall asleep next to it (yes, I was a bit afraid to light on fire). There was an amazing sunset that night, and the drive home next day was beautiful and sunny, the perfect way to end a wonderful trip!

A few tips for road tripping, since a roadtrip is basically the ONLY was to properly see the US and Canada:
1. Snacks!
2. Wet wipes
3. A roadmap
4. Route planning
5. Take the long way around
6. Reusable cutlery
7. A popup tent so you don’t have to waste time with set-up and take down.
8. Spare blankets for picnics/keeping warm by the fire
9. Tupperware containers (will come in handy for many things)
10. Portable USB charger(s)


Really Old Things

I set off in the morning for an adventure to Rainbow Valley, while Ellen rested her sore foot. My group was quite small, just 8 of us, including a very lovely Swiss mother and her grown son. Barbara, the mother, was very talkative, describing herself as a ‘happy retired lady’. She told me that she used to help her dentist hubby when he first opened his practice, though she had no experience as a dental assistant, and she thought every day of divorce during this time, haha! She said when he got a real assistant and she could just do the books, it was much better. When I commented to her that Swiss chocolate is very delicious, she said ‘It’s ok.’!!! A real card, that one.

Our guide was rather talkative, which is always nice. When they are a hand talker and also your driver however…sometimes a bit scary! No, truth be told, I’ve had considerably scarier rides, any city bus at all that I rode in China, for instance. We also picked up a hitchhiker along the way, an older man, who it was translated to me, as an itinerant worker, had been walking for 8 hours to find work.

Yerbas Buenas

Yerbas Buenas is a 7000 year old large amalgamation of rocks/large rock formation. It was originally a place to stay for travellers and now is simply notable for its beautiful petroglyphs. There are many drawings here, many of which tell a story about the times past. They are simply fascinating to look at.

The main face of Yerbas Buenas
One of the mystery pieces – lizard? Rodent?

Our guide delighted in telling us about some of the local plant life as well. The ricarica, good for breastfeeding and digestion, and the pingopingo, from the Ephedrina family, known as the ‘Atacama Viagra’ but good for urinary infection too. Apparently this is no where near as strong as the Chinese strain of the plant, and you should select the fourth section up from where the leaf meets the main stem, as it has the highest concentration of the effective substance in it. He also pointed out a cactus, whose flowers are high in Vitamin C, and were therefore eaten and used to keep scurvy away. This cactus is fondly called ‘the mother-in-law cactus’!

Mother in Law Cactus

Valle Arcoiris: Rainbow Valley

Our next stop was just a short ways down the road. Rainbow Valley, as it is known for the myriad of colour found in the rock, is an estimated 240 million yrs old. Our guide told us that it was originally formed from a magma chamber. The various colours are due to the different minerals in the rock and dirt. We also visited a rock formation that was very reminiscent of Antelope Canyon in Arizona, or the grand entrance to Petra in Jordan, albeit in miniature.

Our Valle Arcoiris Group
Canyon carved by spring floods

Our guide provided us with a snack and we took the opportunity to get to know our group mates a bit better and get into some deep discussion with our guide. He was telling us about how the president of Chile is really ‘just a puppet’ for the 8 families that essentially own all of Chile (business, land, etc). He said that he was originally an architect, but to practice as an architect in Santiago, he would have to work for one of the major companies and just continue to feed into the wealth of the major players. He didn’t want to do this, and so decided to move  his family to San Pedro de Atacama, and go as ‘off the grid’ as he could. He said that they power their home with solar panels, don’t have a tv, buy local/organic, send their daughter to an alternate playgroup rather than a government run preschool, and do whatever else they can to make their money count as their vote. I loved this, as it is how I want to live and try to live, and it’s fascinating to see this feeling mirrored on the other side of the world.

Gesturing hand, telling us about the rock formation and colouring 😉

Afternoon: Moon Valley

Our afternoon tour was considerably bigger with a whole busload of people, though we did get to know a lovely Irish couple, who had lived in Vancouver for a few months. It’s truly a small world.

Our first stop was the 3 Marias, although now technically known as the 2 1/2 Marias. It was originally also used as a resting place. The reason they are now the 2 1/2 Marias is because a few years back a tourist stood on one of them and broke it off. We asked what had happened to the tourist who broke it, thinking it would have been a huge fine and deportation for sure, but he received only a 100 dollar fine!

I’m the 3rd Maria/Death glare at the people encroaching on my photo.

We climbed up a steep slope to the to top of Achachas, a sand dune/rock formation. What a beautiful 360 view! Our very funny guide Simon told us volcano story about the two brother volcanoes Licancabur and Juriques, who stand side by side. Licancabur is the ‘perfect’ volcano, with symmetrically sloped conical sides. Juriques, on the other hand, appears to have been lopped off in the middle, and to the other side of Juriques is an empty spot, exactly mirrored across the valley with a ‘female’ volcano, Quimal. Quimal was supposedly Licancabur’s girlfriend/fiancee, originally located on the same side of the valley as the other two. When Juriques began flirting with her, the father volcano down the valley, Laskar, erupted in anger and chopped Juriques’ head off and moved Quimal across the valley from the boys. A cautionary tale on the dangers of promiscuity to be sure!

After a quick exploration of a cave, studded with mineral crystals, we headed back to town for a well deserved rest!

Tips for exploring San Pedro de Atacama region:

1. Light layers.
2. Good footwear.
3. Water. Lots.
4. SPF 60.
5. Headlamp for exploring caves.
6. Scarf for when the wind is throwing sand in your hair and eyes and also for when it gets cold at sunset.
7. Snack although there are empanadas and water at the main entrance of Moon Valley if needed. I don’t think other destinations like the lagunas and Valle Arcoiris have snacks though.
8. Travel with a locally owned/eco-conscious tour company


The theme of the trip so far seems to be early morning wake up calls! Our flight left for Calama at 0645 so we had to leave for the airport by 0445. Zzzzz….. We used the same shuttle company we used to come in to town and they were very professinal and prompt. Allow time to pick up other passengers, although the shuttle company is usually quite good at coordinating it.

We got to Calama bright and early and easily picked up one of the transport services to SPdA. The desert is a perfect place to capture wind power and there are a lot of windmills on the way to San Pedro.


  The driver didn’t speak English but was very friendly stopped for a view point just outside of San Pedro.


He dropped us off directly at Hostal Mamatierra. This is one of the top rated hostals in San Pedro and it’s not hard to see why. It is very clean, not too big, not too noisy and there was a towel and water provided and they helped us to book all our activities while we were there.

We went into town to run some errands. San Pedro is very cute and small but busy with lots of tourists. I had a delicious lunch of guacamole wrap and learned ‘palta’ is a kind of shortened way to say avocado.

That afternoon we joined a tour to see some of the salt lagoons with a few Aussies from our hostal and others. It was really lots of fun. Laguna Cejara is not for floating in but was gorgeous.  The pool we were allowed to swim in was not as salty as dead sea but quite cold. We saw our first flamingos here! They are just beautiful and look like planes when they fly.




We also saw all white flamingo which we promptly nicknamed ‘Albingo’.

From there we drove to another pool that we could swim in and took shadow photos in the setting sun.




Lastly, we visited Salar de Atacama and saw more flamingos. I almost lost my swimsuit top. Don’t worry,  wasn’t wearing it,  but had tied it to my bag to dry out. Luckily it was quickly relocated! We also tried our first pisco sour. They were delicious! This resulted in lots of giggles with the girls.



The desert gets quite chilly at night and we were pleased to return home for delicious fresh tomatoes and avo for supper.

Going East Coastal


October 13-24, 2015
I set off for a wonderful adventure back to the East Coast to visit my nursing school friends and Jeramy’s family. The East Coast is beautiful in the fall, it is absolutely my favorite season on the whole and especially spectacular in the east. The West Coast is majority big old Dougie firs, and cedars, the evergreens, that make up the rainforest; but the East Coast, on the other hand, is a patchwork of reds, greens, browns, yellows, and golds, spread thickly over the rolling hills. No mountains here, this is pastoral, open land.
I had a great flight out of Calgary and then from Toronto to Moncton, there was a child sitting in front of me that reminded me how little I desire children of my own! This little duffer had a massive meltdown roughly every 15 minutes, even giving his mother a nosebleed. Yuck. I think that with all our technology and innovation today, there should be a better way to amuse and soothe children on a plane. Jeramy on the other hand, had decided to drive across the country to get home. What a nut. Pretty sure this is why they invented planes? Got confirmation that he was regretting it when he called from just outside Winnipeg, saying, ‘You were right. I’m thinking about renting a storage locker large enough to drive my car into.’
I started the trip out in Fredericton, the city where I met Jeramy, went to nursing school, started volunteering at therapeutic riding, and trained for my first half marathon. I never thought that I would say this, but I do miss Fredericton. If the hospital there was a bit nicer, I just might consider living there again. I had a fantastic visit with nursing school friends, tried Chess Piece Cafe (yum!), picked apples at Everett’s Orchard, did some classes at Moksha Yoga, saw my amazing doula friends, met a whole heap of new babies, saw a few of my old profs, and did some shopping at my old Le Chateau. It was so incredibly lovely and I definitely felt nostalgic and sad to leave.
Apple picking with Laura, my fave running buddy. We trained for a half-marathon together!
After that as a few days in Moncton over the weekend, with Jeramy’s parents. It was great to spend time with them and their 4 dogs, all Gordon Setters. We didn’t do too much the first day, just hanging out, and Jeramy and I did some shopping in the afternoon. I also got to take a ride in the sidecar of his stepdad’s Ural motorbike. I have a goal to ride as many kinds of transport around the world as I can. This was my first time in a sidecar! Jeramy’s parents were going to a dinner that night where his mum was going to receive an award for her incredible work with education of everyday people about hands-only CPR. Very proud! Jeramy and I went to the 3D showing of Pan, which was good as far as costumes, music, and graphics but the storyline was a bit off compared with the rest of the stories.
The next day we set off on an afternoon adventure to Martin Head Beach via Alma. Alma is a tiny village along the Fundy coast, notable for delicious sticky buns and seafood.
Martin Head is down the coast from Moncton, past Hopewell Rocks, down a nicely graded dirt road which turns into a bumpy logging road, which turns into what can best be described as a washed out creek bed at a 15% grade. Wheeee!
The beach was beautiful, set along a rugged coastline with cliffs abruptly diving down to the ocean. When the tide is low, you can cross over to the spit of land that leads out to Martin Head itself, which unfortunately was not possible at the time we went. It was such a beautiful day though and with the Fundy Footpath crossing along here, it would be awesome to come back. Martin Head is also a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and it’s not hard to see why. It feels so remote, so serene, and so untouched. There are many birds around and no real predators.
Beautiful grays and golds as sunset begins.


My next day was spent going to Saint John to see Gloria, my former roomie, and Emily, a former classmate and fellow doula. Always nice to see friends!

Jeramy and I set off for Halifax the next day. I got to see the beautiful and wonderful Leah, and she took me into some beautiful little shops and the new Halifax library for a ‘blueberry fog’ (yum!). The new Halifax library is beautiful and very optimally situated and has a great view of the city. We had a delicious dinner at one of the Korean restaurants, kimchi jeon, kimchi chiggae, bibimbap….so good! Our next day consisted of similar:  eating delicious sushi at Sushi Nami with our friend Rachel, shopping at Biscuit General Store, and having afternoon coffee and salted caramel brownie at Apothecary. 🙂 dinner that night was at The Stubborn Goat, sharing a variety of tasty treats like lobster mac n cheese, deep fried avocado, and chickpea fritters, to name a few.

That night Jeramy and I celebrated our 4 year anniversary. We rented a hotel room and drank wine, ate cheese, and generally enjoyed just taking some time with just us in the craziness of visiting.

We drove back to NB the next morning, Jeramy taking a moment to drive me through Halifax Airport – silly guy! We ended up in Cap Pele for lunch at one of the local seafood restaurants with his mum and took the scenic route along the coast to get back to Moncton. The next couple days were just filled with visiting, eating, walking, and enjoying being there. Highly recommend a trip to the Maritimes – everyone is so friendly!

Who am I when I’m not on the road?

I’m sitting here in our basement with the wood stove crackling merrily away, binge watching Gotham (hello, Ryan! Oh, do you not go by that outside the OC?), drinking Davids Tea (Cranberry Orange Muffin), and cutting fabrics for my new quilt.

When I’m not travelling (or spending time planning a trip), I am usually keeping myself quite busy. Apart from being an RN, which keeps me busy for four 12 hr shifts a week, I’ve got two dogs, Newman, 3, a Minpin x Italian Greyhound, and Mac, 6, a Minpin. We like to adventure around our home in the Kootenays of BC, where there are lots of mountains and trails to explore. I try to document our times via Instagram (@trnscontinental) to promote the beautiful area we live in and to remember the beauty in the future.

Mac and Newman
Mac and Newman
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Pet finds quilt to be a snuggly bed. -_-

I’m an avid seamstress/quilter. I’ve completed
2 quilt tops recently (see below), have one cut, and have just started cutting another. I’m told I’m not permitted to just collect quilt tops however, so I’ll have to start actually quilting them soon I suppose! I’ve got 2 pairs of PJ pants on the go for myself, some Christmas napkins, and a couple other little Christmas present projects. Always lots of fun to create something new by hand. Like to think it’ll help keep me from getting Alzheimers!

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Two quilts and one pair of PJ pants
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Another quilt, fully put together and awaiting quilting and binding, and two sets of napkins.

Yoga, horseback riding, reading, card-making, and studying languages are also fun. I like using Udemy and Duolingo to study, although I have about 4 different Korean language apps on my phone. I’m losing my Korean, as I’ve lost my French and Japanese, so studying on my lunch break helps a bit. How do you learn new languages best?

What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not working or travelling?

And yes, Netflix, Shomi, and I are pretty good friends. After travelling and being surrounded by noise, new people, and new places, being home alone is too quiet for me!