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Great Falls, MT to Calgary, Alberta, Canada   07/13/06 (Day 79)

In a cruel twist of fate, the first ever Trader Joe’s store in New York City opened just a few days before we left town. We managed to do a bit of stocking up at the shiny new NYC Trader Joe’s before we left the city in April, but that was our last visit to the grooviest grocery store on planet Earth and we’re not too proud to admit that we’re struggling with some pretty serious Trader Joe’s withdrawal.

It makes us feel a bit better if we routinely search our GPS “points of interest” data bases for nearby TJs locations. None have shown up so far, so you can imagine how thrilled we are when we see a listing called Trader Joe’s in the “points of interest” database of our Navman icn750 as we pass through Great Falls, Montana. Approaching giddy, we command the gadget to navigate us there post haste.

Things smell fishy almost immediately, but we persevere until the school-marmy voice of the Navman announces that we have “reached our destination.” What we’ve reached, however, is not a glorious emporium of cheery service and gourmet foods at shockingly low prices, but a falling-down barn and cattle yard next to a ramshackle bar that’s inordinately proud of its dancing girls. Disappointed does not begin to describe it.

The further north we travel, the more the Montana landscape flattens out until it reaches near North Dakota levels of levelness. Concurrently, the number of no-holds-barred anti-methamphetamine billboards increases until it feels like we’re driving past a huge picture of a woman with her teeth falling out or a guy with sores all over his face every 27 miles or so. Good times.

And then, Canada! That country’s first official representative on the journey so far had better be the recipient of the Cheeriest Border Guard Ever award. Or the loneliest. Hard to tell. After far too many minutes of conversation with him (it’s always awkward chit-chatting with someone in a uniform who’s holding your passport), we enter Canada and are immediately greeted by a few more Canadian ambassadors: a small group of elk taking care of a little landscaping along the highway.
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