Kelowna - Evely Rec Site

 

    The drive from Kamloops to Kelowna is mostly uneventful, except for the last stretch of road that we had to drive to get to our new rec site.  The rec site is located just off of a mountain-side road, this one no wider than the gravel forestry roads, but now paved, intended for two-lane traffic, no shoulders, no guardrails, super twisty-turny following along the shore of the big lake…….Jeez!!!…..but so goes the risk that one assumes when attempting to camp at these rec sites!   We found the site easily enough, and it is located a few hundred feet below the road at the level of the lake, so it is a steep few switchback curves to navigate on the way down the mountainside into the campground.  We had read in the map book, that some of the more popular rec sites charge a small fee for upkeep etc., and the cost is somewhere between $8.00 and $16.00 per night.  We had expected to be charged at the rec site in Kamloops, but as it turned out, the fee collection at that particular park was either over, or the attendant was pretty lax in collecting the fees, but nevertheless, we were not charged anything at the previous site.  At this site, we would pay a paltry $14.00 per night!

    Once we arrived at the base of the rec site, we did as we had done previously when arriving to rec sites, and went to check out the available sites, as there were several other campers here.  We did notice that there seemed to be a “camp host” site, and sure enough, someone was shortly flagging us down in a B.C. Parks truck.  Oh dear!!  The camp host was literally scary looking!!  I know that seems so mean, but honestly……I would’ve believed that she was made up for halloween if someone had told me that….This ‘woman’ had scabs/sores all over her, on her face and hands, and neck…..it was awful, some of them were clearly infected……even the nurse in me was grossed out!!  It was all we could do to focus on what she was saying while not seeming to be staring at her!!  She was quite perplexed that we were there in our rig and said nobody with a rig this big ever comes here and that we wouldn’t fit……She seemed a little dodgy, so we told her we would go for a walk and check out the sites before we dragged the camper through the site.  Paul was quite confident once taking a wander through the sites, and deftly swung our rig into a beautiful site that was directly in front of Lake Okanogan, where we could watch the sunrise and hear the waves crashing on the shore in the brisk wind.  We got set up for the four days we would be there and started a campfire to cook our dinner over.  No sooner than Paul had lit the fire, did the creepy park lady come wheeling over in her truck getting quite excited about how big the fire was.  The fire had only just been lit….and it was inside a big steel rig that cannot be moved out of the earth……Paul assured her that we were responsible adults and we would be ever-diligent in monitoring our fire…..Well….he kinda said that, more or less, in his own way!……The creepy park lady would give us shit every day for some non-existing infraction, and it didn’t take us long to realize that she was probably just lonely, and wanted to strike up conversation, but in a really, strange, not-a-part-of-regular-society type way.  Anyway, she was harmless, but sketchy nonetheless, and a general pain-in-the-ass!!

    Access to fresh water was a far easier mission at this rec site than the last site in Pass Lake……I forgot to mention it in the previous blog entry, but probably because my brain was trying to repress the memory of how painful my shoulders and neck were after carrying two 5 gallon buckets full of water up a steep hill 5-6 times….I knew I would pay for it when I was doing it, but I like to think I’m pretty strong, and also I’m stubborn, and the day I was doing it, it was rainy and shitty and I was in a bad mood, so then that gives you extra “rage strength” and you do way more than you should…..anyway, I digress…….So water fetching was easy here, since our site led right down to the beach, and I could just walk out about thigh deep and scoop out crystal clear lake water…..Easy!!  Then when I was finished with the water chores, I was already in my swim suit, so I took a quick swim in the lake and shampooed my hair etc…….It was only once I got out of the lake and was wandering around the site in my bathing suit that I realized what hippies we were becoming…….My camp neighbours were wearing their winter coats around a daytime campfire, staring at me like I was three quarters of the way crazy, and I was just puttering around in my bathing suit on our site, after having spent a half an hour in the water……just chopping up a bit of wood with an axe…..in a bathing suit and flip flops…..rainy day, middle of September……hey, nobody’s the boss of me, I’ll do what I like!!

    In similar fashion to the previous two rec sites that we had stayed at, we went looking for firewood in the off-cut areas of the forestry roads.  These roads are not as common around here, but there are lots of building lots that are being roughly cleared, so trees have been cut down and pulled out of the ground, so the wood is there, but is not cut up into manageable pieces, so we did have to do a little more work and searching to get a load of firewood.  On one of these firewood missions, dusk was just beginning to fall and as we were collecting wood, Paul heard a rustle behind him, and as he turned around to check what the noise was, he saw a black bear cub climbing up a tree nearby, with a big Mama bear climbing up underneath him!! Yikes!!  They were just as startled by us as we were of them, so while I kept a close eye on the Mama bear and cub, Paul quickly collected some more wood and we high-tailed in out of there!!

 

    Speaking of wildlife encounters, very late one night, while Paul and I were out sitting by the campfire, Paul was sure he could hear a rustling in the bushes in front of our site, between us and the water.  I didn’t hear anything, and every time Paul would try and get me to hear it, he couldn’t hear it just then either.  Just as I was ready to turn in for the night, Paul was still convinced he could hear something, so he got out our big flashlight and stood on the picnic table shining the light into the bushes……and lo and behold, after several minutes of being absolutely quiet and still, several deer walked out of the bushes and were grazing on leafy bushes and shrubs throughout the campground.   There were about 10 deer, which was sensational, because they made barely any noise at all in the tangled bushes, and ate just as quietly!! They seemed cautious of us with the flashlight, but soon settled back into their late night smorgasbord. To think they were only about 6 feet away from us, and we didn’t even know if for most of the evening!!  Just another awesome experience with nature out here in B.C.!

     We were about a 30 km drive north of Kelowna, and the road to get there was just as tight and winding as it was getting to our newest site!  We drove up to Vernon and down the eastern shore of the lake into Kelowna.  Kelowna was absolutely beautiful, and the drive through the Okanogan valley is awesome! It’s really fascinating to see where a good part of our country’s fruit and fresh produce come from, and even in the middle of September, there was still lots of fresh produce and product available at many local roadside stands and farmsteads.  Kelowna is similar to Kamloops in how it is built into the mountainside surrounding the big narrow lake.  I was quite happy to be exploring the climbing altitudes in the truck and not on my bicycle……everything moving out of Kelowna is inescapably uphill….uuuggghhh!!! 

We parked one day at the central public park in Kelowna and walked all around the city checking out the sights.  The park was expansive and lush and had great big, open, green grass patches under huge shady oak trees and the grounds are beautifully landscaped and have gorgeous flower gardens throughout the park. There was a big plaque that explained some significant relation of the park with the people of the great nation of the Netherlands, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the importance now that I go to write about it…….Anyway, the take away message is, Dutch people are generally fantastic and they have beautiful flowers and mad botany skills…….Or something along those lines!! The park has basketball courts, an outdoor amphitheatre, tennis courts, beach-volleyball courts, a paved trail all around the lake and town and access to the huge public beach on Lake Okanogan.  We had brought our bathing suits just in case of a miracle, but despite the day being nice and sunny, it was cool and super windy and the sand on the beach felt like tiny needles against any exposed skin on your legs.   

    All in all, we had a wonderful time in the Kelowna area, and between what we had been told of the beautiful summer climate and frequency of sunny days, paired with our own experience here, we left Kelowna feeling like this could become “home” for a while once we decided to settle down again for a bit.  As we had in lots of the towns that we had travelled to, we cruised past the local hospital to check it out…..just the outside I mean, generally to get a scope on its location in the city.  Then I would do a little research about that facility and see if they had any kind of work that I was interested in doing, and use it to rate the “livability” of the new town.  After our four day stay, we packed up once again and hit the winding road heading further south and westward eventually headed to the coast and Vancouver.  The road that we had to take towards Kelowna, which felt challenging in a pick-up truck, felt all the more nerve-wracking with the house on the back of the truck.   We approached an area that had construction going on against the mountainside……they were blasting and then spreading out the blasted gravel to make more road……However, as we approached where we knew the construction area to be, there was several cars and trucks backed up on the road.  A young lady from the construction site was walking up and down the road informing people that the road would be closed until 2:30…..It was not quite 12:30 at this time, and with absolutely nowhere else to go, and nowhere to turnaround, we, along with many other people, turned off their vehicles and sat and waited…….for two long hours until the road opened up again!!  What a situation……we did relatively little driving, and yet, it still felt like a long, road-weary day!  Oh well, no real big deal in the life of a couple of nomads……we spent a quick overnight in Penticton, at the south end of Lake Okanogan and hit the road again the next day.

    

    

   

Little Fort, Kamloops: The Rec Sites

    

While we had been in Prince George earlier in the month, we had purchased a book from an outdoor outfitters called a “BC Backroads” book, it is one of several in the provincial series that outlines a chunk of the province, right down to the backroads, trails, fishing streams, public boat launches, and subsequently, what are called Recreational Sites.  As well as detailed information on such things as ATV trails, horseback trails, back-country fishing holes, snowmobile treks, private and provincial campgrounds, the map book has a whole section about these “Rec sites”. These are established, user-maintained, non-serviced, campsites throughout the province that are free for use on a first come-first served basis.  They are rated in the book as to how rugged they are, how RV friendly they are and what kind of activities are popular in the area, i.e.:hunting, fishing, swimming, bird watching, hiking and so on…..

    We did a little research in our book and decided we would try out one of these rugged sites, about 20 minutes west of the village of Little Fort, BC.  It stated that there were 6 rugged, reasonably RV-friendly sites at this lake that was known for its trails and fishing.  What also helped us decide, is that is was just off of a paved provincial highway.  We got to “Goose Lake Rec Site”, and with a little hesitance, pulled off the highway into the site.  We put the truck in park and went for a little walk deeper into the site.  There were indeed 6 large sites stretched over an area of 10 acres or so with decent gravel roads through it, so we decided on a site just up above the lake so we could see the lake as we walked out of the camper.  There was one other gentleman there with a small snail trailer in the back of his pick-up truck and his dog, but they would head out in the morning, leaving us there, in the middle of the BC interior all by our little selves.

    Each site has a huge, sturdy picnic table and a big stone fire-pit ring.  We had noticed lots of forestry roads as we were driving out to the site, and all kinds of piles of wood at the sides of the roads that were left-overs from forestry harvesting, so out Paul and I went to search for firewood…….we would not have to go far, in fact, the forestry industry is so prevalent in the area, surely one could heat their home for the winter easily on just the smallest fraction of the off-cut waste that is left over once the desirable parts of the trees are harvested.  The wood we found that first day was already bucked up into reasonable pieces, so we just had to toss it into the back of the truck, and chop it with an axe once we got back.  We took a drive for wood everyday, and everyday we filled the back of the truck in minutes and had ripping fires for the four days we were there.  The sky is so dark out here, that it makes star gazing at night fantastic!!  We saw all kinds of shooting stars, we saw the northern lights twice while we were out here, dancing crazy routines in the dark night sky and as much as we were in the middle of nowhere, in some way, it was obvious that on a cosmic level, we were nowhere close to alone out here.

    It was rather eerie being so deep in the BC wilderness, we had not seen anyone close by for a few days, and the only other signs of life were the occasional forestry truck that can be heard rumbling down the highway……we kept the music on reasonably loud and our lantern faced to the woods for fear of a bear creeping up on us out here.  With the help of our B.C. backroads book, we took a hike that would bring us through the woods behind our site and out to the forestry road, relatively close to another rec site down the road called Deer Lake Rec site. It was a long hike, uphill all the way there….about 20km in total once we returned home…….We really earned our fire-cooked dinner that evening!  The other rec site was beautiful also, but would have been far more challenging to get our camper into a site there…the trees were close to each other in this site, compared to the site we were in, which was a bit more of an open meadow.  That site had about 10-12 sites and there was nobody there either…..It was however, early September, and all the kids have since gone back to school and the camping season is in the very tail end of its popularity for the season…..never mind at these particular sites that offer no amenities….well except for rugged beauty, and peaceful serenity!

    After a four day stay at Goose Lake, we scoped out another few potential rec sites to check out in the Kamloops area, and off we headed with a site in mind. The first site that we came to was just off of a major highway, and we needed only to pull into the site and right through to see that all of the sites were taken at this particular site. we had somewhat expected this, as it so close to the city. We had a plan B, just in case this exact thing were to happen.  This next particular rec site was described as “large, 50 sites, RV friendly etc…”, sounded right up our alley!!  We would have to take some forestry roads to get to the site, but in our limited experience, these were wide, hard packed gravel roads sturdy enough to get a transport up and down the rugged mountainsides, so we were confident that we too, could manoeuvre these roads.  So, as good as a forestry road can be, they are still very much platforms cut into the sheer face of a mountain face for the sheer purpose of dragging out lumber…..there are no guardrails, and the drop off the side of the cliff is not a sloped grade, but very much a sheer, 1000’ cliff face that plummets into yet more vast, deep, thick green forest…….If one was to go off the road, there would be absolutely no hope of survival, in fact, there would be little chance that anyone would ever find you or even know that you went over the side……It is very much between you and the universe at that moment, and although peril faces us each each time we step behind the wheel, never have either of us been more aware of our mortality in that moment……At one point, the road, which is quite literally, winding along the side of a twisty mountain, becomes so narrow, that when an approaching pickup truck nears us, the truck has to go into the other side of the road, against the wall of the mountain, so that we might crawl past, on the outside lane…..no guardrail, no shoulder, no second chances…….it’s almost comical…..it really, honestly feels like a Looney Tunes cartoon with the roadrunner and Wyle coyote on the mountainside!!….slightly white-knuckled, but Paul Payne handled it like the boss he is captaining our rig!!  So once we had driven about 30 kms down this road, which had taken us close to an hour, given the terrain and the crazy road, we came across what was supposed to be our ‘RV friendly’ rec site………

    There was no chance that we were going to bring our rig into this site…….the site itself was about 200 feet below the road, and the road down into the site, was all but washed away from mudslides……we walked down the steep washed-out hill into the site, with the truck and rig on the road with the 4-way flashers on, while we explored what surely, could not be the site we had read about……..How utterly disappointing……Two rec sites in, still no place to stay, in was now cold and raining, and the road, remember, was challenging at best, so we actually had to go about another 15kms down the road until there was a driveway large enough for Paul to back the rig into and turn around.  We told ourselves, we would drive to the other side of Kamloops where we would check out one more place, and if this place didn’t work out, we would head to the town limits and book into a private place.  The last place we attempted was on the west side of Kamloops and it turned out to be just perfect!  It was called Pass Lake Rec site, and it was a pretty large spot, with about 30 sites.  There was one other camper there for the few days that we were there, and there were plenty of fishermen who came in daily to launch their small vessels and go fishing.  The lake was small enough, that only trolling motors were allowed.  It was quiet, and serene…… Thanks in part to the fact that it rained for nearly the entire time that we were there!!

On one of the rainy days, we headed into Kamloops to explore the town and do some chores.  One of what would become one of our handiest acquisitions, we got at Princess Auto in Kamloops.  I had never been to a Princess Auto, and Paul was excited to take me there, he thought that I would get a kick out of how much junk they sell in there, and was I ever!!  But we got a small submersible pump that would allow us to pump clean lake water into our camper to use for dishes and showering when we were at just such a rec site that didn’t provide water hook-ups.  The fresh water capacity in our camper runs out long before either the grey or black tanks can fill up, so we needed a way to be able to get water into our rig ourselves, and this was just the ticket!!  

    Kamloops has really interesting landscape around it…….the town sits in a valley and the town is built into the hillsides surrounding the valley.  The valley itself is surrounded by vast areas of rolling grasslands.  The grasslands, in large part are a protected ecological habitat, but there is just as much space that is public crown land available to anyone to hike, bike, snowmobile, ATV, dirtbike……whatever you can imagine….All we could keep thinking was how much my brother would love it out here, the dirt biking possibilities out here are endless, and there are visible trails everywhere through the rolling grasslands…….it is a veritable wonderland for the off-road crew, and it seems to be a very popular thing around the area…..while driving through Kamloops, almost every house has some kind of a toy or two….a camper, a dirtbike, an ATV…….recreation seems to have a certain priority out here in the more laid back west already!!

    After exploring the Kamloops area for a few days, the cool, rainy weather had us antsy to get on the road again and exploring new ground.  We decided on a rec site on the west side of Lake Okanogan, about 25 minutes north of Kelowna, and hit the road on the way to new adventure!


Barkerville B.C.

    We hit the road from Rick and June’s just after the labour day weekend, on the way to an historic gold mining town, which would take us just less than 200 km to the southeast of Prince George.  An easy two hour drive brought us to an essentially dead end road, after which, the now protected town of Barkerville sits.  There were several campgrounds to choose from, but they are generally self-maintained, so we selected a site and would head into the historic town later on to square up the bill.  These sites have no water or power, but with the generator, that’s no problem, and there was a sani-site at the campground, so we could easily fill up the fresh water reservoir.  It was cool enough in Barkerville to run the electric heat in the evening, so the generator came in handy, and there were only three or four other sites occupied in the whole park, and the generator is quiet, so we could run it whenever we needed, even though the campground “rules” had specific times that they should be run……rules, shmules….

 

    Once we were all set up, we headed into town only 5 km away or so.  It was not a very nice day and we got there around 4:30……there was almost nobody around….the office was locked, and the few tourists milling about were on the way out.  So we took some information about the town, as we intended to spend the next day exploring, and headed back home to our cozy camper.  Our site was surrounded by brush and trees and dense bushes, and until you actually get to Barkerville, there is almost nothing around for the last 80km east of the main highway, so we were deep in god’s country out in there.  We stopped at a little roadside shack to buy some firewood, again, nobody is around, and the shack just has a cute old antique cash register to put your money in, it just runs on the honour system.  We had a campfire that first evening, despite the crummy weather, and as we sat around the fire, before darkness fell, a red-coloured fox walked right through our campsite, without a care in the world!!  It was excellent!!  Of course, old Molly the pug, snored through the whole thing…..thank god we’re not depending on the dog for security….Jeez!

 

    The weather was even worse the next day when we woke up, but we decided to go and explore Barkerville anyway, so we put on our rain gear and headed to the town office.  We payed for our site and, since June and Rick had given us a certificate for our admission, our bill was pretty small for the two days we would be here!!  So a little Barkerville history here….Barkerville was the main town in the Cariboo Gold Rush in the BC interior, founded in 1862, and actively mined for gold until the early 1940’s.  During the gold rush, the town had a booming population between 5000-8000 people, many of whom were Chinese migrants that had come all the way to British Columbia for the promise of gold.  Barkerville was deemed an historic town in 1958, and has been impeccably preserved, despite once burning to the ground in 1868 and then being quickly rebuilt. In only 6 weeks, 90 of the buildings that had burned to the ground had been re-erected. There are many buildings in the town site that were originally built between 1868 and 1877, and are still in perfect shape…..The town is “inhabited” by actors, who stay in historical character the whole day, leading tours, telling stories, leading court, and so on.  We took guided tours through both the European and Chinese parts of town.  Each tour is about an hour long and the “actors” leading them, are more than just pawns, for example, the woman who led our tour through China town, was indeed dressed in character costume of the time, but she was also an esteemed human anthropologist visiting for the season from China, who’s focus throughout her career has been the migration and subsequent lives of the Chinese migrants who came to this area to mine and have a better life.

 

    There is an entire schedule throughout the day that offers visitors anything from hands-on gold mining experiences, to both guided and self-guided tours, to theatre and re-enactments to Chinese language and school lessons.  It is honestly like going back in time, the buildings are preserved perfectly, the personal effects of people are still left in hotel rooms after the gold rush went bust….There are all kinds of artifacts of the era, such as gold weighing equipment and glass making tools. There are whole homes that are fully furnished with original furniture and big iron stoves, there is an old preserved saloon and games room, a blacksmiths, tailor, Chinese laundry, and of course…..a whorehouse!! Not to mention a church, a school, a Chinese herbal pharmacy, a theater, doctor’s office and barber’s (where ‘bloodletting’ was a popular practice of the time!!).  We walked the roughly 45 minute uphill climb to nearby Richfield, where provincial court was held since the turn of the century until the town’s dissolution in the 1940’s.  The courthouse was built right at the turn of the century and is big andbeautiful, tucked into the hill and woods of what is now the “Cariboo Trail”.  Since we were the only people that had braved the walk in the crappy weather to hear “Judge Begbie” preside over his court, we instead got a personal tour, done by a young gentleman in character of the young judge, and then spent a half hour just chatting to him about how he got the job there and how he liked it. (He loved the job, he was a theatre major from Edmonton, and worked the summer season while not in school.)  The courthouse had a big iron stove that had a fire lit in it, so it was so nice and warm and dry in the courthouse after the walk in the rain, so we were nice and warmed up for the hike back, this time, in lighter drizzle, taking the time to read all the information plaques that line the trail back into Barkerville.  

    In addition to all of the staff-interactive offerings in the town, there are in total, 169 buildings in the town, 107 of which are original heritage buildings, and 62 of which are replicas that have been rebuilt.  Visitors are encouraged to explore everywhere, and there are lots of windowed rooms that are blocked off topublic access, but allow you to see the rooms and houses and buildings preserved just as they were left.  So if it hasn’t been apparent in my writing so far, I LOVED Barkerville!!  I’m a bit of a geek for history, and for me, it was like being there in 1890……I felt like a kid on what would surely have been my favourite field trip if I had ever gone!!  We spent all day exploring the town and all there was to see, and we nearly had the place to ourselves since it was just labour day and the town is closed after the 28th of September, so the season was winding down as well.  If you are ever in the area, I would ABSOLUTELY recommend spending a day there.  The admission price for a family of four is only $15.00, and if you are so inclined, you are able to use the receipt from your day’s admission the next day if you want to come back and do more exploring, which I would have loved to do if not for the foul weather.

 

   

Stone Creek RV Park

    After a fantastic eight days in Jasper, we hit the road on our way to the Prince George area of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.  The landscape changed from sharp, rugged, snow-capped mountains to flatter, rolling, thickly forested country.  We were on our way to visit the childhood friend of my mother-in-law, June, and her husband Rick, at the campground that they owned in Stoner, BC.  We arrived to Stone Creek RV Park in a bit of rainy drizzle and were met by a very enthusiastic fellow, dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, rolled down rubber boots, curled up straw hat……we introduced ourselves, as it turns out, to the man that we would forever after refer to fondly as “Uncle Rick”……What a character!….June came to meet us outside as well, and though I had never met her, I felt like she had always been a part of our extended family, as Paul’s mom had spoken lovingly about her for as long as I had known the family.  We got our rig all set-up, with an incredible view of the mighty Fraser river right behind the camper.  We caught up with June and Rick outside on a beautiful late August day, and it quickly felt like we were catching up with old friends.

    We had arrived to the area in the season that native fisherman have the river gill-netted for sockeye salmon.  The time allotted to fish for the salmon is announced and closely monitored by the ministry, and the season lasts between 2-5 weeks, depending on the numbers of salmon in the river. There are three salmon nets in a several kilometre area that are tended to by a camp of native fisherman close by.  The nets are emptied every three to four hours, 24 hours a day, around the clock while the season is open.  We could see one of the nets across the river fill with salmon, as the white buoys holding up the nets would dip below the water with the weight of fish. Once in a while, the fishermen will throw an old fish, or the guts and bones, onto the beach and guess what swoops down to collect the scraps??  Bald Eagles!! 

Bald Eagles were high on the list of wildlife that I wanted to, but hadn’t yet seen, so I was thrilled when we got the chance to see them feast in the sand.  Uncle Rick is an avid fisherman and hunter, and had a super powerful sporting scope, and we could check out the majestic birds up close.  Rick took us for a few rides in his boat and we saw eagles everywhere along the river, once getting right up underneath a big, juvenile eagle sitting in a tree, and once coming across a group of twelve eagles soaring in the thermals on the riverbank.  The eagles are incredible, they look just like you expect them to, almost like a cartoon, with bright intense black eyes and bright yellow beak and strikingly white feathers on their heads and tails……really incredible!  Paul and Rick saw a black bear walk out onto the beach across the river from us, but sadly, I wasn’t around for that sighting! Darn!

    Paul and I had discussed the option of owning and operating a campground or number of cabins for a long time, and since we had intended to stick around Stoner for a little bit, we asked Rick and June to put us to work doing tasks around the campground to get a taste of the campground life.  Paul was put to work cleaning and filleting salmon, and I was tasked with peeling bushels of apples, and when we were done, there was a freezer full of fish and peeled, diced apples ready for the next season!! 

Paul was also tasked with helping out with firewood chores, and he’s had years of practice after the four winters that we heated our big, drafty house exclusively with wood.  Since we had cooked our meat over the open fire in Jasper, we could no longer go back, and since the weather was beautiful and the firewood was plentiful, we had a nice campfire every night, and lots of times in the morning, and cooked our dinner over the fire every night.  Most nights we were joined by Rick and June and our new friends and neighbours Mike and Charlene, and we had a blast playing guitars, singing, telling stories and lies and generally having a good laugh and a great time.  

    We had dinner together several times with Rick and June, both at their house, and at our camper, and it was really nice to have a family atmosphere with our new friends.  Paul and Rick got along really well…..as they are both outdoorsy jokesters, both enjoyed nature and hunting and fishing…. and both just the slightest bit dodgy!!…….Paul had a blast smashing golf balls across the river with Rick, dragging trees out of the woods and getting some archery lessons…..and I really enjoyed June and spending time with her, she is very cool and relaxed and has a calm, warm energy about her.  We had no trouble chatting our faces off together no matter the topic it seemed, and had a good time going into town together running errands, and Paul and I were both very happy to have made new friends in Rick and June.  I guess we did an alright job at our chores too, because they left us in charge of the campground for the day while Rick was out of town and June had appointments to tend to…..and we were busy!!  We had two new RVer’s sign in and a family come and have a picnic at the riverbank, plus an employee from the town who came to test the water quality……handled it like bosses and didn’t burn down the place…..so far so good!!


    
    Rick and June have three sweet little dogs named, Trooper, Jeannie and a tiny tulip-eared chihuahua named Lily.  They cruise around the campground, following June around, keeping an eye on things…..They’re the sweetest things and were super mellow around our old Molly, who is pretty mellow herself in her old age!!  The four dogs would veg on the floor together and snore while the humans dined and laughed and carried on.  The campground is very pet friendly and many other campers have sweet little fur companions with them.  I tried for all ten days I was there to cuddle the little tulip-eared chihuahua, who would have none of it……Finally, on the day we were to leave, in a staged photo, June gave me Lily to hold for the picture, and she was as sweet and beautiful as I had imagined she would be……then she bit me on the ear and squirmed away……total dog FAIL!  

    We stayed at Stone Creek for 10 days in total and had a fantastic time there. It was a great introduction to BC and we quickly felt at home after spending only a few days here in Stoner.  Rick and June had generously given us a free-pass admission to the historic town of Barkerville, an old gold mining town in the BC interior, which was about a two hour drive from their place, so after the labour day weekend, we packed up once more and said our goodbyes to Rick and June, and most other campers at the park who had now headed home after the summer season, and headed to Barkerville for the next few days to check out an integral part of the province’s mining history.
   

Jasper National Park

    After our slightly disappointing exploration of Banff, we were told that Jasper is Banff on steroids, and without all the people….so we were stoked to be moving to our next destination in Jasper National Park.  Before we even got to the border of the park, we saw a whole mess of big-horned sheep at the side of the road….just minding their own business!!  Just as we drove across the boundary into the park, a big wolf trotted across the road and off into the meadow with prey about the size of our pug in its mouth……Sweet Jesus!!

    The mountains are massive and majestic and explode out of the earth towards the heavens in such a splendour of natural beauty and power, that it is easy for me to get a little misty eyed while exploring…..There are bright turquoise lakes everywhere and most of them are just above the freezing mark, even in the heat of the summer, because they are mostly glacial melt lakes.  There are a few warmer lakes in the park that are either from snow melt or spring-fed….but DAMN, they’re cold too!!  No swimming was to happen while we were in Jasper!!  We registered for our site at the gate house and proceeded to our new home for four days…..well, really for two days and then we would have to move to a different site in the park….we had booked with only three weeks of notice, so I think we were lucky to get in at all, and plus, we’re sorta pros at this camping thing, so a move is no big deal to us!!

    Paul’s cousin Jen and her husband Colin met us at Jasper after a gruelling eight hour drive from Fort MacMurray and we caught up around the campfire with some cocktails and good times.  Colin and Jennifer had been to Jasper a few times before, so they were able to show us around and recommend some great things to do.  Any trip that you take in the area is an absolutely beautiful and scenic drive; weaving around lakes and valleys while climbing thousands of feet into the mountainous terrain….only to find another vibrant turquoise lake plopped right in the middle of the bowls of mountains……thousands of feet above sea level, trapped on the mountainside.  We drove about 100km to the Columbia Ice Fields to check out the Athabasca glacier.  The glacier looks rather unremarkable from afar…..but HOLY COW!!  We took a bus ride to the beginning of the glacier and from there, we boarded a gigantic 6x6 ice crawling machine called a TerraBus that actually takes you right onto the glacial ice……talk about feeling small…..the glacier is way bigger and deeper than you can even fathom when you are standing on it, and in comparison to the entire ice field above it, it’s like standing on the head of a pin.  As it turns out, there are 24 of these TerraBusses in the world, 23 of them run between April and September in Jasper National Park, and the only other machine on the earth is in the Antarctic!!  Quite the experience!!  Even though the outside temperature was about 20 degrees or so, the glacier has so much effect of the weather there, that earlier the same morning, two feet of snow had fallen in the area, and it was evident as it melted off the roofs of the buildings.  The wind coming off the glacier is freezing also and I was well bundled up…..although there were a few people in flip flops and shorts…….they didn’t stay outside on the glacier for very long!!  

    We headed into the town of Jasper the next day to check out the town and see the sights and get some information regarding the whitewater rafting trip that we would be taking.  Jasper is beautiful….it’s this little protected town, nestled in the base of mountains and surrounded by the most beautiful scenery you can imagine…..Throughout the town and park there are elk and deer everywhere!!  They are reasonably tame, but still very much wild animals.  There are warnings everywhere telling you to keep your distance and not to approach the wild animals……but some brave/stupid tourists heed no such warnings….we watched some try and get close enough to pet a big-horned sheep……JEEZUS!! 

Later, we took a drive out to Maligne Lake, a huge glacial lake in the park, and did the only proper thing that a newfie family should do on an outing to a lake……Went for a row!!  We all rented a row boat and did just that!!  Of course we snuck aboard a few bubbly’s for the trip and had quite a time out there!!  Drunken newfies at it again!!

    Our evenings were filled with huge campfires and great dinners!!  You have to buy a fire permit for $8.00/day at the park, which is a bit of a money grab, however, the wood to burn is included, and you better believe that we burned our share of firewood!!  We cooked all of our meat over the fire, and it was fantastic!!  In fact, since Jasper, we’ve cooked over an open fire every day!!  We ate like kings for the four nights we were together!!

    Our final day in Jasper together found us on our whitewater rafting adventure!!  Paul and I had whitewater rafted the Ottawa river a bunch of times when we were in our early twenties, which was intense and really scary to me!  On these younger trips, we got tossed out of the raft a few times, we all had scrapes and were bleeding, I had to get rescued after floating down a hydraulic that held me under the water…….Totally terrifying!!  So that’s what I expected, but this trip was not to be like the early days of the Ottawa river…..thank goodness!!  This trip was a family friendly trip that was more scenic than anything else.  It’s a whole different ball game out here as far as the water temperature goes.  The raft guides are good at reminding you that the reason that the water in the Athabasca River is so cold, is that 18 hours ago, it was frozen to the side of the Athabasca glacier that we had visited a few days before!!  The water was about six degrees celcius…..and a wet suit is an absolute must!!  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a very good view of the mountains that day because of the smoke from the wildfires burning in Alberta, BC and Montana, but we had been among incredible natural beauty for several days now, and it was no big deal….the river and surrounding terrain are beautiful in themselves.

    We had to say goodbye to Colin and Jen after a fantastic four days together, and they headed out on their long drive around 11:00am.   Paul and I had since decided over the course of the previous four days, that we were not yet ready to leave Jasper.  We attempted to prolong our stay at the campground we were in, but no such luck, and no surprise either.  However, the attendant did tell us that there is an open lot for RV’s in the park, and that it is a ‘first come, first served’ situation, so we headed over there in hopes of extending our stay in the park.  Hooray!!  They had lots of room for us, so we booked in for another four nights.  Now this site was a whole lot less scenic and private than our previous, and was quite literally, a paved parking lot with power outlets for rigs.  However, it was surrounded by a great, big, open bowl of green space and access to all kinds of fantastic trails.  I should mention that Jasper has an extensive network of organized hiking and biking trails that are amazing!!….more on that in a bit though…..Despite the open nature of the lot, there is so much wildlife around that on several occasions, elk walked into the yard, just grazing and wandering around.  Once, a huge double eight-point elk buck walked in after two young does came into the bowl…..he was sniffing the air, and scuffing his hooves and shaking his rack…….we had been warned that as much as you should be afraid of the grizzlies around, you should be equally afraid of a male elk in the rut, and they were just coming into the season, so everyone watching the display was very cautious of how far away they were from the big buck and how close they were to their trucks/trailers!

    Paul and I took our bikes into town on one of the trails in the area and cruised all around for half the day on our bikes…..so far nothing has brought me back to childhood as much as riding my bicycle has.  The trail was generally smooth, most of it is limestone gravel and there were not too many difficult inclines on this particular trail.  It was so much fun! So fun, in fact, that we thought “Hey! Let’s step it up tomorrow and go on a harder bike ride!”.  The trails are graded like a ski hill, green for easy, blue for moderate and black for ‘oh f@%k, what have I done’ or ‘hard’ as the athletes call it……Anyway, Paul and I had a hiking map that we had gotten from the info booth in town, so we selected a blue, or moderate, trail to check out on our bikes the next day.  We would have to ride our bikes a few kilometres to get to the trail head, and then the trail would end at the top end of Jasper, and we would have to ride our bikes home from town, another 4-5 kilometres, so all in all, we would ride for a little over 20km…..nothing to people who ride regularly, but big news to me.  Let me just quickly preface something here, as a kid, Paul, along with his own brother Daniel and my brother Mike, was an avid mountain bike enthusiast…..they would ride all damn day up hills and for some reason enjoy doing it….sick, I know.  Paul still has a fancy mountain bike, with all kinds of aftermarket upgrades, suspension, gears, forks, blah, blah, blah….. and I have a 5-speed Schwinn beach cruiser…..with no kind of suspension and the gears are broken……so essentially I have a 1-speed Schwinn cruiser, but it has a nice comfy seat for my ample bottom!!  

    So out we headed the next day, well prepared, ate a good breakfast, good pre-hydration, sunscreen, bug-spray, bear spray on belt, buck knife on belt, all ready to go!!  Getting to the trail head was no problem at all, so off we went on our first few km to get warm for the trail.  We got to the trail, which began reasonably rugged and there were several other couples hiking along the same route, which makes me nervous, because along with having a bike not fit for the task, I am also a pretty terrible bicycle rider.  I had already almost taken out a lovely older British couple on a previous ride the day before….almost!!  We rode past the other people without incident and the trail took an aggressive route upwards…..for forever……For the next few hours, I alternated between riding down kidney-rupturing, shoulder-jarring, bumpy, steep downhills and pushing my cruiser up rockslides and what seemed to be a never-ended incline towards the sky……Just when I thought we were as far up as we could get, we had to rumble down the path and up yet again, even higher into the trails…….At one particular point of the adventure, I was sure that I had pushed myself as far as I possible could, and I hung my body over my bike in the middle of a rocky, uphill slide and cried…..literally sobbed, thinking I might die here on this hill.  I trudged up finally to the very top where Paul was waiting for me, for god only knows how long at this point, only to hear someone breathing heavily behind me.  Much to my wondering eyes should appear…..but two Danish mountain bikers…..still riding…if you can imagine….still PEDALLING at the top of the mountain, where I was now lying in the dirt waiting for death to come.  They stopped and chatted for a minute….with Paul…..I was dying remember!?!  They exchanged pleasantries about how fun the next downhill would be after this long, horrendous, stupid climb we had all just done. I should also mention here, that Paul is having the time of his life…..I can see him turn back occasionally after an especially nasty downhill, grinning ear to ear, just loving this, only to see me staring daggers at him!!  The one young guy sort of pointed gently at my bike and saw how pooped I was and said politely, “You know, that bike isn’t really meant for this type of riding”, I agreed, to which he then said “On the plus side, this is the very hardest trail”, I just thought that he was mistaken, due to the language barrier, as Paul and I had a hiking map that said this trail was only moderate.  The young Dane then relinquished the mountain biking guide, which, unbeknownst to us, was different than the hiking trail guide, and graded everything differently based on the fact you’d be on a two-wheeled death trap…….This was in fact, a black diamond trail, the hardest one in the park, clearly a challenge for these studs all outfitted with the proper equipment, and here I was on a rusty, one-speed beach cruiser…..also my front fender was hanging off at this point too……turns out, the hardware isn’t meant for rattling down hills!!  

    The tough stuff petered out shortly after this and we began our long decline out of the mountains towards Jasper town, and towards home.  I was truthfully so exhausted, that it took until the next day to even appreciate the effort we had made, but in retrospect, it was awesome, and I didn’t die, so I guess I would do it again……just not too soon!!   That evening, we took the 60km drive out to the Miette hot springs on the outskirts of the park to soak in the hot water.  I anticipated that you could just sit in these carved out mountain basins of hot water, but that is not the case.  You actually go into a facility where there are four pools of different temperatures, 40 degrees, 37 degrees, 19 degrees and 15 degrees.  The two hot pools are filled with water from the hot springs, and the two cold pools are filled with water from a nearby snow melt creek, so you can go back and forth warming up and cooling off.  It was absolutely fantastic, we were in the pools from 9:00pm until they closed at 11:00pm…….what a way to end a wild day……needless to say, we slept like the dead that night!!

    On our final day in Jasper, we headed into town once more to handle the domestic tasks of camping life……grocery re-up and laundry!!  Jasper is an absolutely beautiful town, and the same is true of their laundromat!!  The laundromat has about 50 machines in it, there are leather chairs all around the place, wifi, cell phone chargers, hot showers, and a cafe bar that serves delicious coffee and sticky treats…..What a place!!  The most interesting thing about this place, is that there are people from all walks of life here…..it seems nobody lives in Jasper permanently, people are just moving through …..I heard more languages being spoken in the Jasper laundromat than I did at Brampton Civic Hospital…..and that’s a lot of languages!!  One more thing that unites us all in humanity……dirty laundry!   

    That evening, Paul and I had a big, warm campfire in one of the little enclaves off in the woods at the communal campsite.  As dusk came upon the park, several elk does and their young wandered into the bowl to graze……there were 13 elk in the bowl and they stayed in the park all night…..We headed to bed late after our campfire, and the young elk were all bedded down in the grasses around the park……In the morning, Paul rolled over in his bed and glanced out the window…..the elk were still bedded down in the park sleeping!!  By the time we got up, they were long gone, but I imagine an elk starts its day WAY before the Payne family does!!  

    Our next stop along the way would find us crossing borders again and moving into our westernmost province…..the land of milk and honey…..British Columbia!!  Our next stop would be Stoner, B.C., just south of Prince George……Paul’s mother had a life-long girlfriend that lived out here with her husband, and they owned a campground that we would be heading to for the next little bit, so we packed up in jig time and got moving down the road once again…..Geez…we’re getting pretty good at this adventure thing!!

Calgary, Drumheller and Edmonton.

    We left the ranch on another beautiful sunny day, where it was expected to be a scorching 36 degrees in the rolling, treeless, prairie lands…..a perfect day to go for a cruise with the air conditioning on!!  We took the roughly four hour drive northward to a town named Cochrane, just outside of Calgary.  We arrived around 3:00pm, set up the rig, which by now, is seamless and takes no time at all, and got ready to meet up with friends in the nearby town of Airdrie for drinks and dinner later that evening.  We met with our friends Michelle and Darren at the local pub “The Pour House”, had a great dinner and a few cocktails and carried on late into the evening.  

    The next day, we hiked to a nearby waterfall that Darren had recommended and since the hike was challenging but reasonably short, we hiked it twice, the second time without any breaks or rests….which was a good bit of cardio!!  The trail followed a meandering creek that came down the mountain in several dramatic waterfalls…it was beautiful of course!! Check out the photos!!

 

    That night, we had our friend Adam Petch (AP!) and his girlfriend Jenny in to the camper for dinner.  Adam grew up with us in our hometown of Acton and had since moved out to the west several years ago. We laughed and told old stories and bad jokes for hours and found 50 empty beer cans between the two fellas in the morning…..evidently it was a pretty slow and quiet morning at that!! Thanks for the great time A.P., we had a blast!!  

No sober photographer = this being the best pic of AP and Jenny we have.

No sober photographer = this being the best pic of AP and Jenny we have.

    The time in Calgary would prove to be a busy one filled with visits with friends new and old, drinking, carrying on, and having a time in general!!……which is just as well, as the spot we were camped in was alright, but very much an RV park….close, small stalls….no trees, nothing special, but it was in a convenient spot.  The next afternoon, we drove into the thick of Calgary to visit with another couple of friends who had recently moved away from town to the wild west.  We had plans to have dinner with our friends Brett and Jessica Manes.  Jessica is the youngest sister of one of Paul’s best friends and the best man in our wedding, Joel Petkoff, and she is married to Brett Manes, who's parents live on the property across from the home that we just sold before we came on this trip, and played baseball and hockey in town with all the local boys. Great news for this young, little family, they are expecting a baby in the near future, and Jess looked beautiful with her round little tummy starting to sprout!!  Brett BBQ’d us some absolutely beautiful, bloody, perfectly rare steaks…..uughhhhh…..I’m drooling thinking about it!!

     After dinner, we continued our new tradition of exploring local ice cream parlours; we found a little hole in the wall, tucked away in an alley in an artsy area of Calgary and had maybe the best ice cream treats we’ve had so far….I know, I know, I always say that…..but this ice cream parlour was all homemade ice cream, using clean, organic ingredients, they make the waffle cones as you order them, and put your ice cream in the still warm, cone……I had a berry sundae made with organic vanilla bean ice cream, crumbled, buttered oatmeal crisp and homemade wild berry compote…..yeah, I know right!?!  It was killer…..and we were stuffed!!  We bid goodbye to Jess and Brett and dropped them back at their place and headed back to our campground, once again aware of how lucky we were and how grateful we are to have such wonderful friends spread all across this beautiful country!  

    Our final day in the Calgary area found us taking a drive to Banff to see what all the hype was about.  It was about 90 minutes from where we were in Cochrane to Banff, so we headed out mid-morning to enjoy a nice drive into the mountains.  And what a nice drive it is…..I was happy not to be the one behind the wheel, as the views and the scenery are truly breathtaking, and I imagine distracting if I was driving!!…….we drove from where the scenery was nothing special , into the mountains that seem to explode right out of the earth….they are so big and so widespread and so majestic, there is really no way to describe how you feel once you are moving through the valleys of countless mountains towering above.  Just before we entered the park, we had to slow the truck and wait for a group of big-horned sheep to leisurely cross the road in front of us.  Unbelievable!!  They seem tame….and they are…… from a distance!!  Unfortunately the rest of our Banff experience was less than tranquil…..I guess since it’s within a reasonable drive to the Calgary area, it is absolutely PACKED everywhere!!  We attempted to go and see Lake Moraine and Lake Louise, and quite literally between the two places, we spent three hours just moving through the traffic, only to turn around at the end of the parking lot….we couldn’t get even close to either lake, and got a fleeting glimpse of Lake Moraine, but decided that it would be better to come back to this area in the fall once the tourist traffic has subsided……for those of you reading this that grew up around me, Banff was like the badlands on Olde Base Line in Caledon on a holiday weekend with the whole of the GTA out there!!……painful!!

    The next stop on our tour was Drumheller…The Dinosaur capital of the country and home to the Royal Tyrell Museum!!  We camped at “Dinosaur RV Park” in Drumheller…Naturally!!  The town has scores of public walking and biking trails all over that go from the centre of town, out through the badlands and to the museum, so we took our bikes through the town for several hours and did a preliminary check out of the badlands around the museum, which we would be visiting the next day.  It is surreal to be cruising around on trails through an area where dinosaurs one lived in huge numbers…..I half-ass expected a scene from the movie Jurassic park to explode out of the surroundings, but no such luck!!  We headed to the Royal Tyrell Museum the next day and proceeded to have my mind absolutely blown……It is hard to wrap your head around the scale of these great, huge beasts, and all the more mind-blowing to see a gigantic fossilized Triceratops head, found fully intact, by some kids fishing along the nearby riverbank…….or the entirely intact skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, also found by some kids puttering around in the coulee…..the most spectacular of which is aptly named “Black Beauty”. 

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

This dinosaur died in an area of high levels of Manganese in the soil, which caused the bones of the dinosaur to fossilize a dark, shiny onyx colour.  There are hundreds of original, entire or partial skeletons of a giant number of dinosaur species, as well as turtles, alligators, sea creatures, prehistoric birds, wooly mammoths, sabre toothed tigers etc.  The most incredible thing about it all, is that the vast majority of the artifacts have been discovered in a fairly localized area encompassing southern Alberta, Montana and Utah, and of these, overwhelmingly, the most dramatic artifacts come from the area of Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta.  After leaving the museum, I believe that I understood a little better my fascination with dinosaurs…. Almost everything of childhood splendour eventually fades and is replaced by reason and logic and adult sensibility, such as Santa and halloween and the tooth fairy and the like……As I exited the museum, I watched around me while children and adults alike, giggled and chattered with excitement and disbelief in regards to the Dinos, amidst an atmosphere of the surreal, as if the general concensus in the parking lot was, “Did I just really see that in there!?!”.  It was an incredible experience and I would recommend it to anyone coming through the area……it is only $15.00 for admission and we spent half the day there and could’ve spent more, if we hadn’t already explored the badlands so thoroughly the day before on our bike tour of the town.  

    Next stop along the way was the Edmonton area, with the intention of spending a few days checking out the West Edmonton Mall.  We again, camped just outside the city limits at a place called Glowing Embers RV park.  This RV park is huge and has hundreds of campers in it.  Lots of people are semi-permanent in this park, you can tell because they have their rigs skirted and have huge propane tanks outside that get filled by truck.  It seems that many of these semi-permanent set-ups are working people.  They leave early in the morning and come home around dinner.  I wonder if they are seasonal workers that do not live in the area and head home to wherever that is, once the bad weather hits.  The mall was close to our campground and we had already done our research before arriving as to what we wanted to do and how to go about it.  There are several attractions in the mall, but each is about $40.00 each for admission, or for $99.00 each, you get admission to everything that the mall has to offer for two full days, so that’s what Paul and I did.  We played some mini-golf, checked out the mall and headed to the Amusement Park of the Mall to ride rollercoasters.  The first ride we went on was the “Swings of the Century”, the same one that’s at Canada’s Wonderland; a slow spinning carousel style ride with hanging basket swings to sit in, while the ride lifts you off the ground and spins the swings in a circle……for what, incidentally, seems like a half a bloody hour…..what a terrible idea……Adult brains are not meant to be spun around like that…..after about three revolutions, of what felt like an eventual 2000, I felt as sick as a dog……I was sweating and prickly by the time I got off…..only to find Paul getting off on wobbly legs and feeling about the same!  So we did what any sensible adult would do….went on the biggest, highest, rollercoaster in the place with five full upside-down rotations…..in the very front seat of course, at Paul’s insistence!……but not before the “carnie” lost his shit in front of us due to a late break relief……yeah, I felt super safe when he let the switch go….all sweaty and disgruntled, oh Sweet Jesus!!  The coaster was awesome though!!  It doesn’t have a lot of space to do what it does, so the ups and downs are steep and dramatic……I screamed like a school girl…..It was the very front and all!  Anyway, then we were both about to vomit/die, so we split from the amusement park and hit the waterpark and wave pool!!  

    The rest of our time in Edmonton from here on out consists of us drying off when we got turfed out of the waterpark the first night at closing time, and pretty much returning the next day and not leaving again until 9:00 pm!!  What an absolute blast!!  There are 12 or so water slides, ranging in intensity from a leisurely “Walk In The Park” to a full-on swim-trunks-soiling “Oh F*@k Me!!”……three of the slides require you to get into a capsule standing up, a door closes around you to encapsulate you in a tube, and the flippin’ floor falls out from underneath you………you can’t just “lie down” on these slides, because the grade is too steep…….I just could not convince myself to get into one of the drop floor slides…….not even in two days could I convince myself……despite Paul’s encouragement that they weren’t “that” scary……But I loved the longest slides that you have to climb all the wall to the top of the roof for……about 10 stories!…..serious leg workout those days!!  There was also a massive wave pool that we had a tonne of fun surfing in tubes on.  We carried on for hours and hours in our swim trunks like kids, between the hot tubs, the water slides and the wave pool.  We had a super time at the mall, and if I ever went back, I would absolutely spend another evening in the waterpark!  What a fun time……I probably wasn’t too hard to spot in the waterpark…..I was the person having the MOST fun!!  After returning home to our camper and our pup after our second fun-filled day at the mall, we tidied up the rig and prepared to head to Jasper, Alberta the next morning to meet with Paul’s cousin Jennifer and her husband Colin to do some exploring and whitewater rafting in the National Park!    

The Prairies and a taste of ranch life...

Uncle Tim and Aunt Rosie's ranch, Milk River Alberta

Uncle Tim and Aunt Rosie's ranch, Milk River Alberta

  So, packed up and rolling again, and on the way to Regina!!!  Even though anyone that we had spoken to along the way regarding our travel plans had urged us to either put the truck on cruise control and nap through Saskatchewan, or drive through it at night, we were looking forward to the flatness that everyone talks about.  And flat it certainly is!  Beyond flat, there are no trees to obstruct your view and especially in the big, blue, crisp Saskatchewan sky, places that seem within walkable distance, are in reality 100 miles away.  Ontario is so densely treed and the elevation changes are so dramatic, that there is likely no place in the province that could offer a vantage point like the prairies.  I did, however, expect it to be less densely populated.  Certainly the prairies are not heavily populated, but in comparison to being in the vastness of the southern Alberta ranch lands, farms were visible everywhere, and the only stands of trees that could be seen have been planted there to protect the homestead and the farm buildings.

     The easy drive from Neepawa to Regina found us setting up camp again in the early afternoon at King’s Acres Campground just on the outskirts of Regina along the Trans-Canada.  We had booked here for three nights, with the intention of having a bit of a down day one of those days, to catch up on laundry, budget paperwork, blogs and the like.  One of our only three rainy days (the other two had been days on the road driving), was while we were at this campground, so that made for a perfect day to catch up on the domestic side of life…….it would have been a total bummer to do it on a lovely day, so the drizzly day was actually appreciated.  

     We made plans to meet with a friend of ours that Paul used to work with that was originally from Regina and had since moved back to this area.  We drove into Regina that evening and met with Randy and his lovely girlfriend Corrina and had a nice chicken alfredo dinner with a side of fresh cucumbers straight from the garden……Delicious!!  While Corrina had to head to her evening gig, Randy took Paul and I on a driving tour of the Regina area and showed us all kinds of historical sites and points of interest.  I have to say that one of my favourite things so far about meeting up with friends on the road, has been being able to see the cities as something other than just tourists, and getting the tour from people native to the area!!  Of course, the crowning glory of the Regina tour was……wait for it……The Milky Way!!…….an ice cream parlour that has become an institution in Regina, and has been there since 1954!!…and so far the best parlour on the trip!!  There were 50 flavours of ice cream and slushies and all sorts of other frosty, sweet treats.  I had a vanilla/chocolate swirl ice cream in a waffle cone, then dipped in warm chocolate like at DQ…….OMG it was ice cream heaven!!  Then we headed back to Randy’s place to watch the Blue Jays continue their dominating winning streak!!  

    After having seen a little bit of Regina with Randy the day before, we headed in Regina, on yet, another beautiful day to see a little more of the city.  We parked and walked to Victoria Park which is right in the centre of the city, and incidentally there was a jazz festival that weekend that they were setting up for, so we wandered through the park listening to bands do warm up sets and sound checks.  This was only Thursday and the festival started the next day, so mostly it was just the setting up and the preparations, but still neat to wander through.  We headed to the Regina Costco, just to see if it was any better/different/unique to the Costco’s at home………A few of you will understand what I mean when I say that the Regina Costco experience is very much like a Brampton Costco experience, just without the racial diversity!!!  In other words………not going back to Regina Costco!!  

    That evening, we hosted Randy for dinner and were later joined by Corrina at our trailer after she finished work, and we sat and chatted and had cocktails until late into the night, when once again, we bid our friends adieu, hit the sack and prepared to cruise onward out of the Regina area in the morning with our sights set on the ranch in Milk River!!

    Onward to Milk River we headed, and the pancake flat landscape slowly became gentle rolling terrain among carved out coulees. Coming into this area of the country, the view is even more vast than that of the prairies……sure, you can see a far way over the flat prairies, but with little appreciation for the depth of what you’re looking at. Once you start into the rolling precursor to the foothills of the mountains, the little bit of elevation differences makes the ranch lands seem imperceptibly huge.  Distances lose meaning out here and you simply cannot comprehend the amount of space between you and the next thing……which incidentally is super, super far away!!      


    We arrived to the ranch just outside of Milk River, Alberta, in a swirl of dust kicked up by the gravel range roads separating the huge plots of grazing land.  The landscape approaching the ranch is dotted with big, healthy cattle grazing through what is left of the grasslands in the midst of a terrible drought in the area.  Ranchers in the southeast part of Alberta are scrambling to find enough green feed for their animals before winter falls, as most fields are dry, brown and brittle.  Where years before on my uncle’s ranch, the fields and areas surrounding their home were green and lush, and now it looks like a desert, in fact, there are cactuses growing all over the fields, to give an idea of just how dry it is out there.  

    The weather was absolutely beautiful by our standards…..it was hot and sunny, with not a single cloud in the sky, and over 30 degrees everyday we were there…….which we dared not talk about too much, because at the same time, ranchers all over the area, including my aunt and uncle, were praying for rain everyday.  As ranchers watched what they thought were rain clouds rolling in, turned out to be thick, heavy, yellowed smoke blowing in from the rampant wildfires in the American pacific northwest and neighbouring British Columbia.  The smoke in the sky is really eerie actually, it reminds you of tornado warnings in the summer in Ontario…..still, still air, heavy, yellow sky, oppressive heat……but on the plus side, it was beautiful weather to be in the Milk River outdoor pool!!  

    We were welcomed to the ranch by my Aunt Rosie and Uncle Tim, who are WAY up there on my list of favourite people!!  Paul and I had both been there before, so we knew to expect the warm, hospitable, loving care that we were to receive from my wonderful family while we were there!! We enjoyed a few beers with my Uncle Tim before getting right to work on ranch tasks…..pest control ‘Wild West’ style!  (well, it’s playtime for Paul and I, but helpful to the ranchers!!)  Out we headed with our loaded .22 rifles and a few beers into the old Pathfinder to round up some gophers.  The gophers are literally everywhere, and make huge underground networks of caves under the fields, that eventually cave in, causing big holes throughout the field and causing great injury to cattle that absently step in them and break a limb.
    

Super hard!

Super hard!


    My cousins Ben and Josh (Tim and Rosie’s sons) were able to make it home to the ranch for a few days while we were there, and we were lucky enough to have a BBQ and campfire with my cousin Justin and his wife Steph and their little brood Grady, Tyler Rose and Rayleigh!!  What an awesome crew!!  Grady was excited to have Paul to play baseball with, and when Paul produced his own ball bat from the camper, he was “In like Flynt” with Grady!! We played our guitars around the fire, at the kids request, and everyone sang Old Crow’s “Wagon Wheel”……apparently the kids had been talking about it since last May when Paul and I were last on the ranch!

    Paul and Tim rode horses and did manly tasks around the farm and Rosie and I and Josh’s girlfriend Corrine went into Cardston to the theatre to watch Mary Poppins be performed, and it was spectacular……I cried….but I have a tendency to do that at live theatre!! It was excellent!!

    We took a trip to a nearby town called Warner to check out a small museum dedicated to the finding of North America’s first discovered dinosaur egg nest site.  Nearby Warner, is Devil’s Coulee, where the fossilized remains of this nest, with eight volleyball sized eggs were found.  If you don’t know, I’m a HUGE geek for dinosaurs, and this little museum was just a little taste of what we would get to see in our upcoming trip to Drumheller, Alberta.

    In all, we spent six days on the ranch and it was fantastic, as always!!  We met up with my cousin Sarah and her husband Ryan and their little ones Davey and Rhett and played a round of golf at the local golf course.  What an awesome little family!  It was fantastic to see them again and catch up! (and meet Davey’s “horse” named ‘Pink Icing’ which is actually a tiny pink tricycle!!)

    On our final night on the ranch, there was a great big meteor shower that we watched shoot hundreds of blazing bits of rock through the atmosphere.  It wastruly nature’s fireworks show, played on the biggest night sky that your eyes can see…..and we watched it all from the outdoor hot tub on the ranch……what a life indeed guys, what a life indeed!!  With the heavens exploding above us, we settled in for our final night with an easy drive to the Calgary area in store for the next day..

Thunder Bay to Neepawa!

    Well, the time had come to move on from Lake Superior provincial park and further westward, so on Saturday morning, we packed our little life into our little house and hit the road.  We made it to Thunder Bay in good time and started looking for a place to stay while we were there.   We booked a site at Kakabeka Falls provincial park and set up camp once again.  The park is beautiful, the “Falls” are literally in the park and are comparable in their majestic, rugged beauty to Niagara.  The falls are not as wide as Niagara, but nearly as high, and of course there are a whole lot less people……Not a single Asian person with a selfie-stick! (A little homage to a great time in the Falls recently!!)

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls

More Kakabeka Falls

More Kakabeka Falls

    We took our bicycles off the back of the rig for the first time in Kakabeka, and it is probably the first time that I have ridden a bike in the past ten years!  We were camped way above the falls up a huge hill that seemed challenging enough in a 3/4 tonne truck, never mind a bicycle!! But ride we did!! In our bathing suits on our bikes, just like little kids, bombing down the monster hill (well, Paul was bombing down…..I had a handful of back brake almost the entire time……I was distracted by what a potential pothole bail-out would do to my pretty face!!) The swimming area is above the falls, in fact it is a reservoir controlled by the Ontario Power Association.  The water was only chest deep at the deepest all the way across the reservoir and it was bath water warm!! What a flippin’ difference from the mind-numbing cold of Superior!!  There were signs all over warning that if a giant influx of water was going to be released by the OPA, then there would be sirens warning of such………Damn! No sirens the whole time we were there!  We would’ve loved to see something dramatic like that!! Anyway, in true Payne fashion, we trespassed like we owned the place, past signs that warned us to stay away from the area and not to get close to the rapids…….Surely those warnings are there for other people right!?!  Well it was worth it!!  If not for blatantly ignoring those signs, we night never have gotten the perspective that we did!!  

Kakabeka Falls Power Plant

Kakabeka Falls Power Plant

    We trespassed…uh, scratch that……explored the shore line around the power generating plant.  It has been in service to the area since1904 and still provides renewable, carbon-footprint-neutral power to 25,000 homes in the Thunder Bay area.  It really is a very impressive building and system that seems hidden away in nature until you discover it off the beaten path!!  There were very few challenging hiking options at this park, but nonetheless, it was beautiful, and much work and effort has been put into making the park accessible in such a way that the natural beauty is protected.  There are boardwalks built all around the falls that allow several beautiful vantage points, and there are super easy walking trails (read: we took our bikes!) that even a wheelchair could go on.  We only intended to stay for two nights, but we were having a great time, and the park was beautiful, the weather was a scorching 32 degrees in Thunder Bay and the warm swimming water was calling our names…….so we extended our stay by two nights!! …..then spent the remaining several hours of the sunny part of the day lounging in the reservoir on our floaties, soaking up the sun and heat!!

Tough to look hard with a pool noodle...

Tough to look hard with a pool noodle...

    An old friend of ours that we grew up with had moved to T-Bay a number of years ago, and we had been in contact with him as we moved across the province.  We made plans to meet up with him in town and catch up.  It had been many years since we had seen Pete, and truthfully, he was Paul’s brother’s closer friend growing up, but part of the challenge of the mission was to branch out a little, take people up on the offers to meet up, and catch up on old times, and we were so happy that we did!!

    We met with Pete and his buddy Aaron at their place in town and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun, sitting on the back patio, sharing beers, lefties and stories of the old days.  We had a BBQ together and chatted and laughed until the late hours and we finally said goodbye to our buds and headed back to the rig to take care of our little pug, Molly.  What a super time catching up with old friends and new!  A big thanks to our old bud Pete Finney and our new pal Aaron for showing us a great time in T-Bay!!  

    Before packing up and hitting the road again, we took the very short (3 minute) drive into the town of Kakabeka Falls to fuel up the truck…….. and……….this will become a running theme……..have ice cream at the ice cream parlour in town!!!  We left Kakabeka Falls on the 29th of July with Kenora in our sights!  On our way further west while driving, we passed the “Arctic Water Shed”; at this point, all rivers and tributaries north of us will flow into the Arctic Ocean, and all rivers south of us will flow to the Pacific.  Also, while just driving along minding our own business, I saw a black bear on the side of the road in a little clearing!!  I thought my eyes must be playing tricks on me for a minute and it took me a second to be able to blurt out to Paul, “A BEAR!!!!!!!”.  Sure enough, a good sized black bear eating berries or something in a little clearing!! Totally wild!!  We’ve yet to see a moose, despite numerous warnings on the roadside suggesting that they are in the area in great numbers……..but they’re elusive, clearly!!  Mind you, I’ve got no desire to see a moose as up close and personal as we did with the deer!!

    So, Kenora came and went, and we were still in the mood to continue driving.  Not long after Kenora of course, Manitoba welcomed us, and just like that, we popped out of Ontario and it really sank in that, despite being relatively close to home in the grand scheme of things, we were not in Kansas anymore, Toto!  It felt a bit surreal to have the one province that we knew and loved at our backs and the rest of the country looming before us, ready to be seen with new eyes.  We were really on the way now, and it felt pretty damn good to be lost in the right direction.

    We drove until we were about 90 minutes outside of Winnipeg and called it a night.  We pulled off at an abandoned resort and camped for the night in the pull through driveway just off the highway. We learned “resort” is a super loosely used term in Manitoba also!!  In the morning, we arranged to camp at the Winnipeg West KOA for the weekend.  We didn’t think about it at the time, but we were very lucky to get a campsite for the whole long-weekend on such short notice.  The campground was just off the #1 Highway, and is loud, and not private, but truthfully, doesn’t bother me at all.  Up until this campground, I’ve always camped in provincial parks…….which are generally more remote, rugged, treed, have hiking trails and have geographically significant features.  This was a parking lot built out of a swampy piece of property bordering the muddy Assiniboine river……and it was absolutely perfect for what we needed it for!  It is cheap and has water and power hook-ups for your rig.  It has sewer connections also, but that costs more, and there is a dump station on site, so if you are only staying for a handful of days, that’s the way to go!!  The campground was about a half-hour from downtown Winnipeg, which is where we would spend the next few days exploring.

    On Friday, we headed into Winnipeg around noon and spent several hours exploring the downtown core, wandering around, taking in the sites.  We loved seeing all the food trucks on Broadway for the lunch rush!!  There are literally dozens of food trucks lining the main street offering anything from basic street meat hot-dogs and sausages to Korean BBQ, to Ukrainian cabbage rolls and pierogies, to pizza, Mexican……..the choices seemed endless!!  All the trucks split around 2:30pm once the lunch rush is over, and as it turns out, because there is no parking along those places after 3:00pm to accommodate the rush hour out of the city.  That evening, we headed back into the city to see a “Winnipeg GoldEye” AA baseball game at the Shaw Stadium.  It was fantastic baseball, and similar to the food truck dynamic downtown, the stadium food was incredible!!  There were so many choices…..sushi, southern BBQ, Tex-Mex…….uh…I had popcorn and a green slushie…….really went out on a limb there!! Beer was reasonably priced, plus they sling Caesar’s and cocktails along with the beer in the stands…..Bonus!!  After the game, we met with friends for drinks at “The Beachcomber” in the “Forks” area of the city; from there we went to dance and listen to a band play at an old Winnipeg nightlife institution, the “Palamino”, a bar that’s been in business for the past 30-ish years in Winnipeg……What a blast we had!! An excellent day in Winnipeg!!

    Saturday we recovered from the good time that we had the night before and later watched “Rowdy” Rhonda Rousey pound the shit out of Betche Correia at a local Winnipeg Boston Pizza on Saturday night……..what a savage Rousey!!  

    Sunday would be a busy day, as we had both lunch and dinner plans……a hard life I know!!  Paul and I were lucky enough to join my cousin Kate and her husband Derek and their little ones Will and Addie for lunch at their place in Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon.  Kate and I had grown up a province apart and really didn’t know one another as adults, but we quickly felt right at home and it felt as if I was catching up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a few months, rather than the years that it had been since we’d last seen each other.  We had a great lunch with Kate and Derek and mucked around with their sweet little munchkins in the back yard until we had to head out, so as not to be late for our next engagement!! A great big thanks and hugs and kisses to Kate and Derek for having us in, we had a super time and it was excellent catching up!!

    Next, we met with our good pal Devon in downtown Winnipeg at an Indian buffet…..with no appetite at all since we were full from lunch still!!  Devon gave us a quick tour around the area of the restaurant, showing us the MTS centre where the Jets play and some local areas of interest trying to work up a bit of an appetite!!  We enjoyed a delicious Indian dinner……never have we taken so little advantage of a buffet dinner though!  It was super tasty…..we just had no space in our bellies!! After dinner Devon gave us the full native Winnipeger tour, we checked out the “Forks” area that we hadn’t had much of a chance to do on Friday and walked to an old historic basilica in the french quarter of the city where many Catholic bishops and important religious figures in Canadian history were entombed……and we got shouted at by an old lady scolding us for having too much fun……turns out there’s buzz-killers in every province!!!!

    Monday morning found us packing up the rig once again and heading out on the road. This time, the drive was only a short two hour jaunt to Neepawa, Manitoba to visit some more family and check out the local sights.  We camped at Riverbend campground in Neepawa, and lo and behold……an ice cream parlour right on the property!!  Woot Woot!!  Shortly after arriving and getting set up, my Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill found us wandering around the park and took us for a driving tour of Neepawa……which is about the size of Acton, so the tour was pretty short!! We made plans for the next day, parted ways and settled in for the evening.

    On Tuesday morning we headed to “Big Valley” outside of Neepawa with my aunt and my cousins, Brad and Leah.  Big Valley is a river that cuts through the shale landscape and has carved out deep, shale sided crevasses and we walked up the shallow river in the water exploring and puttering around in the beautiful warm, sunny day.  We almost lost Leah and her shoes in a mire of muck and slippery mud, but she escaped…..and rescued her shoe!!  In retrospect, we were entirely respectable as a family, and not a single person got dunked, splashed, attacked or mud-pied……god, we’re getting old and responsible!!  We headed home for lunch and made plans to meet in the later afternoon to play a round of golf together along with Uncle Bill. I hadn’t played a round of golf in about 2 years, but for sheer, dumb luck, I was killing my drives!! We played nine holes all together and Paul and Uncle Bill went on to play out the full 18 together.  We headed to Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill’s for a BBQ dinner all together and ate and drank and chatted and laughed and told tales until it was time to call it a day once more.

Tiny snake found in Big Valley

Tiny snake found in Big Valley


    
    It was so nice to spend some time with our family that we don’t get to see that often, and just like meeting with my cousin Kate in Winnipeg, it felt as if there was no time between us.  The bond of family is perhaps even more obvious when catching up with those members that we don’t see that often, you acknowledge that you share some imperceptible connection, a sharing of similar energy and an invisible thread has connected you to one another all this time.  We went to sleep that night full of love for our wonderful, happy family and grateful for our time spent together; with Saskatchewan in our sights for the next morning!


One week on the road...

 

    So here we are on the road, a week after the “Bug Out” and it is Shangri-la so far….in fact I’m writing this in the late afternoon sun while enjoying an alcoholic cider over ice in our beautiful campsite in Wawa, Ontario!

    But in true Payne fashion, the lead up to the final departure was dramatic!  We had some trouble with a leaking tip-out on the camper and had made arrangements to have repairs done at a local RV shop. On the morning we had to move the camper from our friend’s donkey farm, the leaking tip-out was the least of our worries….as the landing gear on the front of the camper would not come up, and the bedroom slide would not come in.  Well try as we might, we could not fix the problem ourselves, and so, we manually cranked up the camper to hitch it to the truck……what an arm and shoulder work-out to crank up a 10,000 lb camper!!!  The bedroom tip-out however, could not be fixed with a manual crank…..and so we drove down the road with the bedroom slide out, all the way to the RV shop!!

    After three and a half hours of work on the electrical system and the leaking issues, the tip-outs were fixed, sealed, the landing gear in good shape and we were on our way again, with another appointment to have canopies over the tip-outs installed in the next week, just for extra added piece of mind….This way, no water would pool on top of the slides, no matter how well they were sealed.  It wasn’t a cheap investment, but worth it, since this is our home after all!!  Before we pulled out of the repair shop, the owner advised that we take a look at all the joints on the camper and all the vents/windows/seams etc. and reinforce the waterproof caulking.  Upon returning home, we discovered that a very poor job of water-proofing is done at the factory that builds the rigs.  So off to the hardware store we went…..three separate times to get more and more silicone caulking….. in all a total of 7 tubes of caulking was used after we cleaned and stripped all the shitty, sticky, useless, inadequate caulking away, and replaced every single joint/seam/light/crack/window seam with clear silicone……I’m pretty sure the rig is sea-worthy at this point!!

    I guess there’s a difference between packing up a camper for a week or two, and packing up a camper for the next foreseeable future! Everything that went into the camper was carefully considered and placed for hopeful ease of use…..spending a few weeks living in the camper before we left for the road had helped me greatly in realizing the best places to keep things that I used most in handy places and those things that I used the least tucked away and out of sight.  All of our clothes were arranged in several clear totes that fit snugly inside our closet to make it the least pain in the ass to get dressed. We seemed to sleep about four hours a night in the final weeks before leaving…..somehow, with less to do, we had MORE to do!!  


    It was a super busy two weeks leading up to the departure, we were exceptionally fortunate to have so many friends and family members who wanted to catch up with us one last time, we just ran out of time to see everyone……..but how incredibly lucky we are to have such troubles!!  We caught up with some of our oldest buddies and some of our newest friends and were immensely grateful for both.  On the morning of hitting the road, my parents, John and Cathy, came to see us off.  Of course, we weren’t ready to go when we though we would’ve been…….true Payne’s to the end!!  Nonetheless, we hugged and kissed and all tried to hold it together bravely with a mix of excitement, giddiness, sadness and anticipation in the air…….the day that we had planned for…..the day that we had spent years thinking about…..months planning for, weeks of arranging and days of panicking…….was here.   Everything thus far led up to this moment, and my god…….it was here.

    We hit the road with our brother Daniel Payne and our sister-in-law Nicole in tow on the way to Aunt Linda and Uncle John’s cottage a few hours away.  What a beautiful day! We got to the cottage around 4:00pm and quickly caught up with the family at the back of their lovely cottage over cold drinks and a few left-handers.  We swam in the Black River and frolicked at the waterside like grade schoolers without a care in the world, with our family and friends all around and even though we had not been to this particular place before, being back in nature, in the water, the energy was entirely different, and even though we were headed away from it, it felt as if we were at home.  We played washers and told tales and drank and laughed as we ate a late night BBQ and enjoyed ourselves long into the night.

 

    When we parted ways with our family and our friends in Washago, Paul noted that this was the last real obligation that we had…….and as we drove away, we truly had no agenda, and didn’t owe anyone a thing in the world………maybe that’s the true start of freedom……the absence of obligation.  We left the cottage at almost 7:00 in the evening, with the intention of driving for about four hours and staying the night at a truck stop or an abandoned shop along the highway.  We came upon Jerry’s Truck Stop in Nairn, Ontario, about an hour west of Sudbury.  We pulled in alongside a few dozen trucks and rigs, relaxed for a while in the back of the camper and hit the hay, ready to drive the 5-6 hours it would take us to get to Superior the next day.

    Upon waking at Jerry’s on Monday morning, we grabbed coffee and breakfast, fueled up the truck, and hit the Trans-Canada highway, northbound, headed to Sault Ste. Marie.  Although Paul has been to some far northern reaches of the province, we would be breaking new ground today, as I had never been north of Timmins until this trip.  

    A few hours west of Jerry’s truck stop, we were just cruising along, listening to good music, enjoying ourselves, minding our own business, when I absently said to Paul, “It sure would be nice to see some wildlife out here!” Literally, minutes later, a deer popped out of the ditch on the other side of the road, it happened with enough time for us to think “oh f@$k, oh f@$k…….don’t come across the road!!”……but come she did….an eastbound pickup truck narrowly missed her…… praying she wouldn’t hit the front of our truck or the transition between the truck and the rig, yet knowing she was going to hit us in some fashion, we sort of braced for her to hit us.  Simultaneously, Paul shouted while watching his driver’s side mirror…..The deer had missed our truck and the front of the trailer, but jumped up against the side of the rig, almost as high as the windows and essentially slid the whole way down the camper and off again on wobbly legs into the meadow…….”HOLY SHIT!!!!!!”  I had no desire to see wildlife up that closely!  We were unsure if any damage had been done, but for one thing, you simply cannot “swerve” in a 34 foot camper, and you also cannot just pull this thing to the shoulder of the road.  So we drove for about 15 minutes until we had a safe place to pull off the highway.  Amazingly, there was absolutely no damage! There was the scuff marks of the deer jumping up on the side of the wall, and deer hair all over the side of the rig, with a little tuft of deer fur stuck in one of the cable inputs on the side of the camper!!

Deer hair stuck in cable input

Deer hair stuck in cable input

 

    We arrived at the northern end of Lake Superior Provincial Park, about 160km north of the Soo, and settled into our site where we will stay for the next five nights.  The site is perfect, a little sunny, a little shady, level and private.  We really couldn’t have asked for a better site!

    The first morning we woke at Superior, we had a good breakfast and headed off for an 11.5 km hike up Peat Mountain overlooking Foam Lake, deep in the bogs and forests of the park.  Whew!!  The first five km in were almost entirely up hill, along craggy cedar roots and pine needle floored forests.  My heart was screaming and my ass was aching, but we killed it in less than the expected time to finish the hike, so that felt great!!  I can’t wait to get into better shape, all the while, enjoying nature and being outside breathing crisp, clean, healthy air and swimming in clear, cool lakes!!  Spending a beautiful day outside is exhausting, and we were in bed and sleeping by 11:15pm!!

 

    Today we checked out Old Woman Bay, a beautiful sandy stretch of beach along the southeast shore of Lake Superior.  It was way too cold to swim, and walking in the surf for any long amount of time made your feet ache with the cold…….I think even a strong swimmer would succumb to hypothermia in not too long in that cold water, even in July.  The weather in general, especially with the cool breeze of Superior, and the fact that we are comparatively so far north, really makes it feel a lot more like the fall camping we’ve done before.  Further north of the park is Wawa, where we picked up groceries and fuelled the truck.  It is quite obvious the food prices are more expensive and food availability is much less diverse this far north, where the population is comparatively so scarce to the anywhere around the GTA.  Also we had cell reception, which we do not have in the park. That has been nice actually.  I don’t even consider myself to be much of a cell phone junky, but when you cannot use it, you do realize how much you just passively refer to it all the time in our previous life.

 

    After a day of rest and checking out the “beach” (kinda pushing it calling it a beach…..it was a barely dragged out area that led into a silty, weedy, swampy, forest lake!) at Rabbit Blanket Lake where our campsite was, it was time to tackle another tough hike into the interior of the park.  We had to drive to get to this hike, as the park stretches for about 100 km in total, and we were camping at the most northern end of the park.  To warm up for the big hike, we hiked out to the water at Superior to explore and observe the ancient pictographs that were painted on the rocks so very long ago……the walk out to the cliffs was wild, a steep rocky chasm, beautiful with sun creeping through the trees and mosses growing in the dewy valley.  We popped out onto the rocks to find a rugged path leading through the craggy rocks out to literally a little cliff ledge 10 feet above the water.  We were told by one of the park naturalists on duty at the site, that today, was exceptionally calm, and not very often was it safe enough for people to venture out as far as we would get to today because of the calm water.  The pictographs were incredible…..i mean they were reasonably primitive paintings, but the fact that I could go see them, stand in front of them, touch the same spot that an ancient, native told the story of his civilization right here on this very rock, in this country of wonders that I was so lucky to be a part of.  It made me feel both small and huge all at the same time and it was a settling moment of ones connection to the planet and our connection with one another, even hundreds of years after we all the earth.

    Nicely warmed up after the 2.5km pictograph loop, we bug-sprayed, booted, and back-packed up to begin our hike that would be almost two kilometres shorter than our previous hike, but with a longer recommended time for completion and a 150m higher summit….we knew we were in for a challenge!  So hike we did, uphill mostly, at places so steep that you had to put your hands against the roots and rocks to help yourself up, with my heart pounding out of my chest and my thoughts alternating between an empowered “SWEAT IS FAT CRYING!” and a defeatist “please dear god, I hope death comes to rescue me right here on this very mountain”.  As could be expected, the trek was well worth it……..the first look-out that we got to was hundreds of feet above the tallest trees in the valley, and they themselves were hundreds of feet tall from the valley floor where they grew.  The vista was truly breath-taking as we looked out over eagle’ nests heights to see the vast beauty of Lake Superior, deep, green lush, dense forests for literally as far as the eye could see, under clear, royal blue skies in the middle of July on a 25 degree day………If one had a mind to be looking for God in this moment, they would have had no problem finding it in the beauty of the forests and the reflection of one’s gratitude for being allowed to be a part of it.  Aside from the splendour of nature, there was also some cursing with the challenging climbs, and eventually silence on the long, level trek back out of the interior along an old logging road, for two reasons, when you are at one with nature and with your best bud in the whole world, it is easy to take in the silent splendour…….and more than that…..we were simply too exhausted to talk to each other anymore.   Seeing the truck in the distance at the start of the trail head upon our return was like heaven!!




Two weeks in…..I believe the asses have accepted us as one of their own….

And so it goes the life of a vagabond….. No fixed address for over two weeks and loving it!! I’m sure I’m still in the honeymoon phase of full-time RV-ing, but the freedom of this lifestyle is so quickly apparent to me, that even if we had not decided to go exploring, and only decided to sell the house and live like this, I would be tinkled pink!!

I know most kids probably dreamed of living in their childhood camping trailers if they had one, but I REALLY fantasized about living in a camper….. for weeks on end during summer holidays, I would sleep in the camper and pretend it was my little abode, and even though it was only 18 feet long, at the time it felt like the perfect size to live in!! So having this childhood dream come to realization, and being able to do it in a 35 footer is more than 12 year old Amy could have ever imagined!!

With the slides pulled out, the camper is just short of 400 square feet of living space….. That’s a posh condo in Liberty Village!! And although some habits die hard…. (like tidying up after one’s husband), it’s a whole lot quicker and easier to tidy up a mess confined to the space of a bachelor apartment instead of a four bedroom home!!

Life is perfectly comfortable so far in the rig, we’ve had a few kinks to iron out of course, but overwhelmingly, life has been running smoothly! Because of the space limitations, it has taken some attention to move around gently, more slowly than one would in normal space constraints….. There is still the occasional startled waking from a dead sleep with the inadvertent “punching” of low ceilings at the head of our bed….. However, the random callings of the donkeys late at night has become melodious, white, background noise!!

Everything takes a little bit longer….. Cooking, bathing, chores, making beds, tidying…… But that’s perfectly okay! We were looking for a little bit of a slow-down anyway….. All in all, life on the road is transitioning nicely…… It’ll all likely be perfectly organized just in time for our jobs to finish up and the next chapter of exploration begins!!

But until then, we’re fitting right in with our neighbours, a bunch of asses in the front yard and a bunch of clucking, chicks in the back!!

There’s an echo in the house….

After a successful garage sale, a stealthy, late night “donation” to the local second hand store, some last minute give-aways and freebies, and a brother in law who loves to collect things, our house is almost empty……

It seems like a good thing to me that, despite the house being almost ready to move out of, I’ve missed very little of the “stuff” that we’ve gotten rid of. I missed my dining room table this morning, but because I usually fold laundry on it, not because we ever sat there for meals.

There is still a load out stuff for the dump before the final move out I’m sure. And a few things that will stay behind for the family moving here, but other than that, our clothes will get moved the day before the house closes, as well as our kitchen implements, and we’ll fill the fridge with fresh food as we need it……there is an echo through this big house without anything in it.

It’s an absolutely beautiful 30 degree day today, the leaves are beginning to burst out of their buds, the woods are filling in with the bright green leaves of a million trees, frogs and birds are singing, the sun is shining onto the house….. It’s as nice a day as it gets out here in the countryside. There is no traffic to hear, except for the of occasional gentle rumble of horses hooves as the horses run laps on the track at the farm across the road.

l’ll miss that aspect of being out here. It’s beautiful, and quiet, and a little private piece of paradise to escape the rat race for a little while…….I wonder if the family that bought the house is excited to come here….. I bet they will love it!!

You can’t fire me… I quit!

I quit my job today…… Sort of. I wrote a politely scripted e-mail to my boss and the people I thought had to know, announcing that ‘as per our recent discussion’, I would be exploring other interests, and thusly, would be tendering my resignation for the 26th of June, 2015. Or some ‘adult-y’ thing similarly worded….

A part of me, the gregarious, hilarious, audience-loving part of me wanted to rant a little…… Let them know how much my soul has died since I started working here…… Remind them of how utterly disappointed I am morning after morning arriving at work to find it NOT engulfed in flames….. Suggest that I woke up full of positivity, ready to start a fresh day, only to realize I had no further fucks to give….. Convey to them that the next best thing to quitting my job, has been fantasizing about quitting my job……

Refer to those first three adjectives! But of course, I did no such thing….. I could use a good reference at some point I’m sure, and burning bridges is foolish and unnecessary….. But imagine how epic it would have been if only for a minute!! And for all that hot-shot shit talk, I cried for the next three days driving to work thinking of the awesome team I would be leaving behind. Make no bones about it, this has been the worst nursing job I’ve had in my short career, but absolutely the best team of nurses I’ve ever worked with, without question and it will be tough to say farewell.