Friday, September 30, 2011

Back To PEI

Restored Tractor
P.E.I. and I do not have the best of relationships. I know the "Island" is a popular tourist destination, but every time I try to play tourist there, I get rain, fog or man-eating mosquitoes. One year we planned a week long family "Island" vacation in a rental cottage. It rained for the first three days, and when the sun finally came out on the forth , we sent the children out to play only to have them forced back in by giant mosquitoes. Then it rained for three more days. PEI retained the "Worst Vacation Ever" honor for years.

Now we did give The Island chances to redeem itself. after all it’s always sunny on any of the "Anne Of Green Gables" TV shows, but even on three subsequent trips over we were assaulted with wet weather and mosquitoes. As a result, I wrote Prince Edward Island off as a place to avoid unless absolutely necessary.

Amongst the stack of mail waiting us upon our return from the RV trip was a letter from a delightful lady we had met in Japan. She was our daughter’s Japanese teacher in Japan, and after meeting her there, we maintained contact through letter writing - remember those; envelopes, stamps, and words on thin crinkly “air mail” paper? She said she was coming to Canada on a “study tour” of P.E.I.and she would love to see Alisha and us if we were available.

Alisha was unable to come down from Ottawa, but we decided to make a trip of it, find a nice place to stay, and perhaps look for some interesting things to do on the Island. Our Japanese friend had only a short window when she could meet us, so that left us plenty of time to explore.

Saturday did not bode well, with rain and so much fog that we drove across the bridge without even being able to see the water under us, but at least the fog lifted a bit, and we managed to meet up with Alisha’s teacher, and spent a pleasant afternoon with her, her husband and three other Japanese tourists here “studying” Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island.

Sunday we were on our own to enjoy Prince Edward Island, and it actually dawned with blue sky and sunshine - we thought we were back in Nova Scotia.

The Dawson House
We were staying in a wonderful B & B within walking distance of downtown Charlottetown called The Dawson House. Wonderful old house, very friendly hosts, comfortable room, and delicious breakfast. We will definitely stay here again when in P.E.I.

It was “Farm Day” in Charlottetown, and the main street was turned into a pedestrian only street for Sunday, and filled with farm market booths. At one end there was a really interesting display of restored stationary engines and farm machinery. The men who had restored these old engines showed so much pride in their work as they fired up the old workhorses and demonstrated them for us.

Another nice local beer
I was pleased to find that I could continue my quest for sampling good local beer in P.E.I. We discovered a really great local brew pub called Gahan Brewery, right off the main street in Charlottetown. They not only served their own beer; brewed on site - I had one called “Island Red”, that was great - but the food was also excellent. I had a delicious pulled pork sandwich served with barbecue sauce made with their own beer, and some of the best French fries I’ve had.

On the way home we decided to take the ferry to Pictou, because there was a 70 mile yard sale throughout the area, and a P.E.I. Winery we could visit.

We had a good time in our neighboring province, and it managed to go a long way in restoring it’s damaged reputation as a “vacation location”. We look forward to crossing the famous bridge again.

RV Trip Summary

Sharing the rest stops
It is difficult to keep “Blogging” when I am not travelling. It seems that there are always things that have to be done, and sitting down to write is not one of the “important” things.

I thought you might enjoy a brief summary of the RV trip now that it is over.

You have to be able to see
In general terms, we went from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, but we certainly did not take the most direct route – where is the fun in that? We started in Nova Scotia, but went on a gentle South Western path that took us through the middle of the United States. We went as far south as the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff Arizona before turning north again and heading up through California to get to Vancouver Island. Coming home we did take a more direct route, through western Canada, down to North Dakota and under the Great Lakes to Michigan, then back into Ontario and finally on home to the East Coast again.

When we got home, we went back over the maps and traced our route into the Road Atlas we used as a general guide and I then wrote little short daily notes about routes, stops and campgrounds. We have done the “Cross-country” trip twice before, but I could not tell you our exact route, so this time I tried to keep better notes. Using these notes and my journal, I can give you some interesting information about the trip.

Our "Rig" is only big on it's own.
We did approximately 18,000 km in total distance driven. I had good intentions to have an exact amount, as I zeroed both the A and B trip odometers, planning to use A for each tankful of fuel and keep B running for the entire trip. Somehow B got zeroed along the way, so I have had to simply add the distances recorded for each fill-up. This of course counts all mileage including local trips at each stop.

We were gone from June 29th until August 27th, for a total of 60 days.

We drove through seven provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. We visited twenty five states, including Maine, New Hampshire Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

A Racing Tundra!
We crossed the Canada/US border four times at four different places, New Brunswick/Maine, Washington/British Columbia, Saskatchewan/North Dakota, and Michigan/Ontario. We had to turn in our oranges and tomatoes each time we entered the US, but Canada did not seem to mind anything we imported. Crossing the border this many times on one trip did present some questions. For example, I brought two bottles of wine and some nice local beers across when I entered Canada in British Columbia, and I wanted to keep these until I got home. I asked the border officials and they did not seem to mind. I kept the receipts for things I bought the first section of the trip and if questioned I could have shown the different items, but the border officials accepted my explanation and I had no problems.

We visited thirty three different campgrounds in total, spent two nights in Walmart parking lots and the rest parked in friends or family yards. The longest time spent in one place was at my sister's house on Vancouver Island where we spent six days. The longest campground stop was in Vancouver for five days visiting friends followed by four days in California waiting for new springs for the trailer. Most of these campgrounds were very nice thanks to our diligent “Trip Planner” who researched and reviewed prior to choosing. We had one really bad one, and perhaps two that were “not so good”. We belong to an RV campground service called Passport America that lists discounted campgrounds at 50% off, but we quickly discovered that most of these are in the list because they are well off the main routes, and the savings are eliminated when the extra fuel and time to find them are factored in. We found that in general, the KOA campgrounds are reliable and high quality, if somewhat more expensive. We reserved a spot at many campgrounds, but in general found that campgrounds were not full. The exception to this was in Oregon and Washington where we found everything packed full.

I am not going to give costs of the trip. Fuel was the major expense; the truck gets about 10 MPG towing the trailer, and unless you get a strong tail wind like we had in North Dakota nothing makes much difference. You could tow up mountains, or through cities without a big difference, and I was amazed at how reliable and dependable the truck was. We were surprised at the cost of some campgrounds almost approaching the price of a motel, but in general you pay about $40 - $50 per night. Most campgrounds now have Wi-Fi available throughout the sites, but the quality of the service is spotty. The biggest saving comes with the food. If you cook your own meals in the RV, and plan for lunches on the road in the RV, food is not expensive, but you have to resist the urge to try the wonderful restaurants written up in the tourist information packages.

So, if you are planning a trip across the country . . . . I know the way.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sunny Skies

Sunny Skies in the desert
I wrote a blog about the weather in Spain, because it was so different from the March weather back home in Nova Scotia, but I did not expect to be able to do the same thing on this trip. E-mails from home however, reveal that our home province is not having an exactly stellar summer.

By the time we get home we will have been on the road for almost sixty days, and we have literally not had one say “ruined” by rain. There has not been one day of solid rain. Most have been sunny - we have even looked on a cloudy day as a rarity.

Our first day of rain was in St. Louis, when we took Regis out for her birthday. The day driving was mostly sunny, but it clouded over late afternoon ,and when we were getting ready to walk downtown it started to sprinkle. It was enough to make me break out the umbrella, and although it was not needed on the walk down to the riverfront, it was pouring when we left the restaurant. As I said in the blog about this it was a pleasant warm rain and we enjoyed the walk back even with the rain. We had one other night with thunder storms overnight, but it was dry again when we got up in the morning.

The next part of the trip was through the dry part of the US, so we did not expect rain - “it’s a dry heat”. Through Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona you do not expect to see much rain, and we enjoyed hot sunny days every day; got sort of used to it actually.

Through California is was all sunny days as expected, but when we headed north to Oregon and Washington we expected rain, but it remained nice. Even Seattle, known for it’s damp, foggy “vampire-friendly” weather gave us sunshine.

Sunny Skies in the Mountains
When we arrived in BC, we were told by our friends that they were happy to see us, because we had brought the sunshine with us. BC was having a terrible summer up to this point, but we were rewarded with mostly sunny days for our visit to Vancouver.

The wedding on Vancouver Island was our next bit of rain, but it did nothing but cool the day off a bit, and provide some water to clean the chairs before the guests sat for the service. The showers stopped as the wedding began, and the sun was shining when the vows were spoken - a good sign I hope.

While parked at my sisters, one of the trees that Pete left standing deposited a bunch of very sticky sap on the truck. It looked like water, but when I turned the wipers on not only did it not wipe off, it tore a little piece off one wiper blade. No problem, as we did not have to use the wipers, and I did not find a convenient Toyota Dealer until we parked across from one in Minot, North Dakota.

Even Sunny in BC
Yesterday it showered a little while we were eating lunch on Mackinac Island, but it had stopped in time for Regis and I to take a bike ride around the island. There are dark clouds overhead today driving down I75 towards Flint and the border crossing back into Canada but no rain yet.

I’m still waiting to see how that new windshield wiper works. I’m hoping that I have hooked the nice weather onto the back of the trailer, and I’m willing to give up a bit in gas mileage to tow the sunshine home with us.

As I sit in the KOA in London Ontario - It is raining, actually raining hard. It rained a bit on the way here, but let up when we arrived allowing us to get set up without getting wet, only starting to rain as we were making supper.  Can't win them all I guess!

Friday, August 19, 2011


Macinac Ferry
On our first trip across Canada we decided to be 'Patriotic” Canadians and do the entire trip in our own country. Big mistake; we hated the drive across the top of the Great Lakes. It seemed to be nothing but logging trucks, crummy hotels and road construction. No one argued when I suggested on the return trip that we duck down and come through the US. We found nicer hotels, more interesting scenery, and cheaper gas.

Now the worst place we stopped on the way out was Ignace in Ontario. The hotel was terrible and we are pretty sure that the case of head lice that we picked up was from there. When It appeared that the timing would put us in a place called St. Ignace in Michigan, we were not too keen, but as we pulled into the town it looked like a nice place so we stopped. We were only there overnight, and only had time to explore a bit of the town, but we were intrigued by the waterfront area full of competing ferrys wanting to take you to Mackinak Island. Each company had a gimmick; one was fastest, one was smoothest, one used Hydroplanes, one was jet boats. We picked up some information on the Island and it sounded like an interesting place to visit, and got put on a wish list.
Stately Macinac House

Years later we did the same trip this time in our “Motorhome from Hell”, this time coming across the US on the way out, and the way back. Mackinak was definitely on the list of places we wanted to stop.
This trip we had all our bicycles and the campground had a free shuttle that could transport our bikes to the ferry. We rode all over the island, and took the eight mile perimeter road all the way around.

This year we came back with Dad and Sharon, parking in the same KOA and taking the same convenient shuttle to the ferry. The island hasn't changed much, and this time Regis & I rented a Tandem bicycle (That's another blog).

No Cars or Trucks either
The island is very interesting in that there are almost no motorized vehicles allowed on it. They have a fire department with Trucks, and there are police cars, but they are only used in emergencies. The police patrol on foot or on bicycle. There are no other cars, trucks or even motor-scooters. I notice that they have allowed a few of the motorized chairs used by handicapped folk, but that is the only concession I can see. The many big fancy hotels and resorts pick up their guests in fancy horse drawn wagons, and all the materials and supplies delivered on the island are carried by large utility wagons drawn by big work horses. I saw one woman being chauffeured somewhere in a very fancy horse & buggy, but the main form of transportation is the bicycle. Every house has three or four bicycles parked out front, and hotels have huge bike racks instead of parking lots. There are hundreds of rental bikes from old fashioned looking ones to fancy multi-speed mountain bikes or the “Bicycle built for two”. The bikes owned by the locals are instantly differentiated from the rentals by the handle bar carriers on them. I discovered in China when I relied on a bike for my transport, that a front carrier is much better than a rear one, and the bigger the better. Many of the bicycles on Mackinac have large newspaper carrier sized boxes made of wire attached to the front handlebars, and they were often individualized with flags, or foam padding and bungee cords to protect and hold cargo. I also noticed many Island natives had adapted those nice “Yuppy” baby trailers to cargo trailers outfitted with big Tupperware bins to carry lots of “Stuff”. When a bicycle is your only way to transport things you take it seriously and make it work best for you.

The island itself is beautiful. It was once the vacation playland of the rich and fabulous of the area, and there remain many stately homes and “Summer” residences with big “Private” signs, but many of the old houses have been turned into beautiful Bed & Breakfasts or country inns. There are also numerous big resorts and large hotels, but they are all old styled and there were none of the big chains at all. There was one area of new development where beautiful new houses were being built, but these were being constructed so that once finished you would not realize they was not 200 years old.

The “downtown” is like a 200 year old town with the only traffic jam being three horse & wagons trying to navigate the same corner at once. There are many Fudge shops, something the island is famous for, a number of little pubs and taverns, and many restaurants in the hotels and inns. Of course there are the obligatory souvenir shops with T-Shirts and tacky stuff made in China, but there are also nice places selling local art & crafts or cute shops selling unique products. There was no McDonalds, no KFC, and no Walmart. There was a Starbucks, but it wasn't really a Starbucks, it just advertized they served “Starbucks” coffee with a big round 'Starbucks” sign, but actually had another name. I suspect this will not fit into the revised zoning bylaws after the next council meeting.

There is an airport somewhere on the island, but I never saw an airplane. The most common way to visit the Island is to take one of the ferries. The wild competition I saw the first trip by has gone, and I suspect one company has purchased everything, but it was a comfortable fast trip running every hour.

If you are ever in this area of Michigan, Mackinac is one place I recommend spending a day or two.


On a Bicycle Built For Two
Although not exactly on any sort of “Bucket list”, riding a tandem bicycles is something I have never done, and to be truthful, it wasn't really something I wanted to experience, but when after wandering Mackinac Island on foot for a while I was noticing all the tandem bicycles, and so I guess I must have been susceptible to suggestion, because when Regis started thinking aloud about how we should spend our time on the island, I suggested perhaps we try a tandem bicycle.

To step back a bit, you should know something about Mackinac Island. (Pronounced Mackanaw). This is our third trip to this area, and our second trip to the island. The last time we were here was with the children and we had our own bikes, and we enjoyed a ride around the entire island. The island is about a mile from shore in Lake Michigan, and is about 8 miles around by bicycle. Actually bicycle is the only practical way around the island, because there are no vehicles except fire engines on the island. No cars, no motorcycles, no trucks. They use horse & buggies, and bicycles. If you want to learn more about the Island, I do intend to write another blog about it. It is a spot that deserves a blog entry.

Anyway, after exploring the town and having lunch with Dad & Sharon we decided to go our separate ways. An interesting expression, since Regis & I actually ended up very much attached together.

There are many bike rental places all over the little seaside town where the ferry docks, and we scouted them all out. The prices seemed the same, but the quality of the bikes was not, so we chose a place that seemed to have newer bikes, and upon closer inspection we found they had not only traditional tandem bikes but also newer “multi-speed” models for only $3.00 more. We chose this type, and after getting everything adjusted up for us we were ready to set out around the island.

Now a “bicycle built for two” has to be ridden by two people. That means one person steers, but both have to pedal. To make it work properly you have to work together. It is not as easy as it sounds. Just getting started takes co-ordination, and with so many other inexperienced bike riders also trying to get the handle on riding bikes, the area around the bike rental shops is a bit crazy. You start, wobble back and forth across the road, trying not to hit the other wobbling bikes until you sort of get the hang of it.

Now for those of you who know Regis, you know that she likes to be in control, but she had a glass of wine for lunch, so allowed me to have the handlebars that actually turned the tire. It took a while before she actually gave up control however, and we had to stop at least once to readjust her “stationary” handlebars back to the right spot – I think she was trying to steer. I could feel her tensing up and leaning against my steering and trying to balance on her own. Once she relaxed and allowed me to steer, we did the eight miles around the island with no problem. We had a few stumbles as I shifted gears without her knowing, or she stopped peddling without telling me. but generally we worked it out. She had to keep peddling when I did, so this kept her from falling asleep like she did on the motorcycle one time, and we got a nice work out as a result.

I don't think I'll go out and buy a tandem bike just yet, but it was a fun experience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Alternate Campsites

I think this will work . . . .
Camping in an RV, you are quite “self sufficient”. We carry a supply of water in a tank that can be used for drinking washing and flushing, we have two batteries that provide power for lights, heat and some accessories, there is a propane stove and fridge, and the trailer has a small but serviceable washroom.

Given a choice I prefer a nice “full service” site in a “Regis Approved” campground, but occasionally we end up parked someplace else.

You have probably read about our adventures in Walmart parking lots, and this is always an option if we cannot find a spot in a campground. They do not charge to stop overnight in their lots, but it is not “free”, at least for us. Perhaps some folks pull in and just go to sleep, but it seems that Sharon and Regis usually have a “shopping list” of things we need, and that 24/7 shopping is just to hard to ignore. One night we even found a free WiFi signal coming from a restaurant.

I stopped at my sister’s house and turned a section of her lawn into a temporary campsite rather than at a campground, because I wanted to be close and able to spend time visiting her rather than driving back and forth. Here I was able to run a power cable to her outside plug, and a water hose to their garden connection, so it worked well. We did the same thing at Regis’ uncle’s House in Watrous Saskatchewan, using his driveway to park.

At Dad’s friend in Canmore, we simply parked on the street in front of his house. The neighborhood is mostly seasonal people, and he assured us that no one would mind. It was hard to get the trailer level because the street was on a hill, but he gave us access to water and power, so it was actually a comfortable quiet spot to spend the night.

In Edmonton Alberta, we stopped so Sharon could visit her nephew. We asked him about possible campgrounds, but having just moved to the area he did not have any ideas, but suggested that we could park on an unused roadway just down from him. Although without power or water it was convenient for her to spend an evening with her nephew, and there was a Sobeys right behind his house - almost felt like we were back in Nova Scotia.

So, you see, we can always find a place to park the RV for the night.


Golden Gate Bridge
When people discover that I have done quite a lot of traveling, one of the inevitable questions that I get asked is about what my “favorite” place was.

The first time I was asked this, I had to stop and think, because nothing really jumped out as an obvious answer. The longer I thought, the more I realized that I really did not have a “favorite” destination. Although I have visited many very different countries, I realized that I enjoyed most of them and was unable to pin the “favorite” designation on any of them.

I can’t even say I have a “favorite” type of travel. I’m a big fan of cruising, because it is trouble free, relaxing, and gives you a taste of many different places. RVing is similar in the different places you can see, and I really enjoy driving, so do not mind the time behind the wheel. Traveling to China to work for nine weeks showed me how interesting it is to spend an extended time in one place, and how this allows you to really get an understanding of the local culture. The month long trip to Spain was a result of wanting to do the same thing in another location. When the cold damp Nova Scotia February weather finally gets to me, I am perfectly happy to spend a week at an all inclusive resort in the Carribbean sipping cold beer under a beach umbrella.

I think the secret is to travel without expectations, and with an open mind. I have had many people complain that they found Egypt very dirty, and although we visited when the “rag pickers” were protesting the slaughter of their “compost-eating” pigs by the government by dumping what they would normally recycle by feeding to the pig onto the streets, I just took this in stride and enjoyed other aspects of the country. The Egyptians didn’t seem bother with it, and their ignoring the garbage gave me a better understanding of how they could allow a  national treasure like the pyramids to be so surrounded in litter. Other tourists found this deplorable, but I just accepted it as part of the Egyptian culture.

This attitude also allows me to overcome preconceived ideas of places. I had no interest in visiting New York city because I saw it just as a big dirty city with a high crime rate, but when it was the departure port for a cruise to Germany, I spent an enjoyable day exploring Manhattan and look forward to a return visit. Similarly, I have never had any interest in visiting Las Vegas, because I do no gamble, but my evening there on this trip has elevated the city to “return trip” list.

So, to answer your question . . . No I do not have a favorite place I have traveled to.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Adventure at Walmart

Sorry no pictures of this blog
Parking at Walmart is never my first choice for campsites. The Walmarts are usually open 24 hours, so you never know who will be driving by. They are reasonably safe, for the same reason, they are always open, and there are always people around. There are also usually other RVers parked with you, so it is better than parking in the wilderness, or alone in a parking lot. I would however much rather pay for a site with full service and get power, water, sewer, Internet, and cable TV, but when you have no other choice, Walmart is always there as a last resort.

That is exactly what happened last night. The severe flooding in the area, had closed two of the three campgrounds, and the third was VERY full. We were tired and no one felt like driving further with no guarantee of a campground with available sites. Our only choice was Walmart. We pulled in and found a site among the other RV. We left the truck attached, as Regis had found a nice looking restaurant in the same parking lot right across from the Trailer, and that would mean a quicker start in the morning.

Everyone was tired enough that we all went to bed as soon as it was dark, and settled in for a good night sleep.

So you get extra pictures
We all (well all except Dad who didn't hear a thing) awoke with a start at 1:30 AM, to shouting:




Did I leave 'Law & Order' on the TV? . . . . No, wait a minute, we have no power, we're at Walmart. Whoa, this is real!

The noise seemed right outside the trailer, so we cautiously got up and peered out through the back window, trying not to open the blinds too much.

There were five police cars and about eight police officers with guns drawn surrounding a gold car with all four doors open. They had a guy on the ground on his stomach with his arms handcuffed behind him. This was taking place no more than four yards from the back corner of our RV.

The shouting and questioning continued for about 30 minutes with the “Perp” denying any knowledge of a gun, but the police officers seemed to think he did have one. It ended with them taking him away in a police car, because his continued insistence that there was no gun got abusive, and things got quiet again. Fine for them; probably went and took a coffee break, but it is not easy to just go back to sleep after such excitement so close to 'home'.

The wind was strong in North Dakota, and it got stronger as the night went on. The trailer shook like in a hurricane and the wind was blowing things around. A metal pop can rattled around the camper for about 15 minutes, and something banged up against it at one point. It was wild enough that you couldn't get back to sleep.

Regis got to thinking about the police, and said “I heard something bump the RV before the police came. I bet it was the bad guy hiding the gun in between our trailer and the Motorhome beside us.”

I tried to convince her that this scenario was unlikely but she insisted on going outside to check, and she made me check the back of the truck in the morning. I was sort of hoping to find a discarded Glock 9 or a stolen Police issue Colt, but no such luck.

The wind seemed to get louder and wilder as the night went on, and just as that stupid pop can rattled out of hearing range, the wind shifted and it rolled back. I found it in the morning, still rolling around – one of those “Power Drinks”, the one with the wings . . . . crushed it flat – it will roll no more.

Meanwhile, Dad and the dog, slept through it all, and when we explained about our mid-night adventure dad questioned whether we were making it all up. At least one of us got a good sleep – we made him drive in the morning.

Flooding . . . .

Flooding in North Dakota

One of the real advantages of travelling is that once you have been to a place, you can relate better to news broadcasts involving places you have visited. I understand better the situation in China from being there, and I can relate to the economic situation in Europe and especially Spain because I spent time there. We went to Nashville just after the flooding last year and our trip showed first hand the devastation it caused. This spring I listened to news reports of flooding all through the west, but did not really understand it until I tried to find a campground in North Dakota.

We drove from Watrous Saskatchewan this morning, and along the way we could see the water in the sloughs and ponds along the way. The ducks and Canada Geese were enjoying themselves, but you could see that much of the farmland was still too wet to work. The closer we got to the US border the more water there was. However as we drove through North Dakota, the landscape changed from flat prairies to gently rolling farmland and we left the water behind.

This next part of the trip we have no friends to visit so we have almost a week of driving without significant stops. We decided to put some miles behind us on the first day, so we aimed for a place in North Dakota called Minot where we knew there were at least two campgrounds listed.

After six hours on the road everyone was ready for a rest, so we set the GPS for the closest of the campgrounds. We passed a billboard advertising it, went a few more miles down the road and followed the GPS onto a side road and into the campground. The Piles of sandbags out front of the industrial complex by the highway, and the piles of rubble at the campground entrance should have warned us, but we continued in, as we could see trailers there. One of the trailers was however boldly painted with a company logo advertising “Flood Damage Repair Experts”. You could see the damage everywhere. The river beside the campground was littered with the picnic tables that used to be neatly parked beside each site, and you could see water stains half way up the office building and many of the RVs remaining in the park. The office door was blocked with two cement blocks – I think they were closed.

We decided to try the KOA a few miles down the road. KOA are usually top class parks well managed and usually very nice. They are sometimes a bit more expensive, but usually worth the price. This park did not live up to the high standards set by KOA. It had an even bigger pile of rubble out front, and a string of red tape across the driveway. It looked like it was hit even harder than the other park. It seems that not only do they build RV parks close to the train tracks, flood plains are also a popular location.

Fortunately I saw another park behind a RV dealer and it was at the top of a hill, so we swung around and went back, only to find it with a big NO VACANCY sign. It was actually underlined on the sign, so they were obviously full. I'd say everyone from the flooded parks had moved there and there was NO room for us travelling vacationers. Good for their business – bad for us.

Fortunately, there was a Walmart just down the road and they will let RV park at the edges of their parking lots. We have had to use them one other time when we were unable to find a spot in Oregon, but there is no power or water and most of the Walmarts are 24 hour affairs, so not the quietest spots to stay. As we pulled in it was obvious that we were not alone in frustration in finding camping sites. There were more RV's in there than I have ever seen in a Walmart. The edges of the lot were three and four deep with Trailers, Motorhomes and camper vans. We found a spot and pulled in, leaving the truck attached to get an early start in the morning.

Don't tell my children we were camping at Walmart – they don't approve of the company . . . . . . .

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More Old Cars

Growing a Pontiac
For those who have been following my blog, you would have read about my difficult search for old American automobiles during the trip. Strangely, now that I am back in Canada, I have found all those old cars.

There are still lots of old cars out there, they are just hidden away from main roads where you don't notice them. The best way to find old cars is to ask someone who has lived in the area for a long time and knows everyone. I found a wonderful collection back home by visiting an old friend who took me to a neighbour who had twenty or thirty cars back behind old buildings and trees. While visiting Regis' uncle in Saskatchewan I asked him if he knew where any old cars were. He didn't really understand at first that I didn't want to see the nice beautiful restored cars, I wanted the old ones slowly sinking into the surrounding fields and vegetation, but after he thought for a moment, he suddenly smiled, “I know!” he said “I know a guy that has a whole row of old cars along his field.”

The first stop was his own old farm house where I remembered an old Pontiac sitting. It had been moved but was still on the farm, now sitting on four cement blocks because the frame was so rusty. He also had an old 57 Mercury one-ton in the barn. He tells me this truck was only available in Canada; built in Canada and only sold in Canada. It was in service constantly, hauling grain from the combine to the grain storage bins, and still works well.

Inside the Quonset
Next we drove across the road to his nephews farm, where after a few minutes of introductions I was sent down to a Quonset, where I was assured there were a few old vehicles. He wasn't kidding. There was an old Dodge in beautiful original condition, a 31 Oldsmobile with suicide doors, a 61 Impala convertible, two or three old pickups, various engines and parts, and hidden way in the back was a 1927 Nash, completely disassembled and labelled for rebuilding. When I mentioned it to Regis' uncle, he exclaimed “Hey, I used to own that car, bought it for $70.00, it ran like a top.” Coming out of the Quonset, I noticed some roof lines down a tree line behind the barn, and when I asked about what was there, His nephew had to think a minute before remembering that indeed there were a few old “wrecks” down there too. I have usually found that the people who, instead of trading in or recycling their old cars “put them out to pasture” tend to remember the few good old cars in the buildings, but the ones out back get forgotten, and they are amused when they discover that those are the ones I am really interested in.

Automobile Fence
Finally we drove to the farm where the “supposed” line of old cars was. As we swung into the road we were confronted by a massive 4 wheel drive tractor with triple tires on each corner with a 50' wide cultivator on the back. He stopped and was a bit hesitant at first when asked about his old cars, but instructed us to a parking lot that was itself full of old cars. After we chatted a bit and he realized that Regis' uncle and his father were old friends, he said it was Ok to take a few pictures in the parking lot, and when I came back to interrupt the ongoing talk of grain, tractors, combines and other “Farm” talk, I was invited back to the farm to look at the real row of cars. In fact, I was even told that I could take the dirt bike across the field to the trees hiding the cars.

Dodge Brothers Truck
This row of old cars was exactly what I look for. There was over a ¼ mile of cars from the 50, 60, and 70 all lined up bumper to bumper along a line of spruce trees. Most were Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Oldsmobiles, from the 60, but there was an old Dodge Brothers truck, a Desoto, and even an old Honda Civic stuck on top of something a lot older. There was a definite “Brand Loyalty” here and I decided we were lucky to be allowed in the yard with the Ford truck we were driving. Many of them were decorated with scrap farm implements, bicycles, and other metal bits. Some of them were completely covered by vegetation taking over, and some were almost unidentifiable. I could have spent hours there taking pictures, but did not want to overstay my welcome, and Regis' uncle was waiting in the truck, so after walking the length of the row, I chose a few of the best to photograph.

I will have to come back again to take some more pictures. I bet he knows some more good “hidden Vehicles”

Friday, August 12, 2011


Not a real train . . . . . an art studio

I have discovered an interesting connection between trains and RV parks while on this trip. We have very few trains left in Nova Scotia, and many of the old rail lines are now Trans Canada Trails, so trains are no longer part of our lives.

On the trip to Tennessee with Regis’ mom and uncle & aunt last year, her Aunt Monie asked us to try to find campgrounds away from trains, because on another trip, she had one sleepless night due to loud trains. We only had one night where a train was heard, but on this trip I learned to appreciate her concern with trains.

We have had a lot of campgrounds that were in close proximity to trains, and at least three that had trains running directly behind the trailer. Of course this fact is rarely advertised in the campground books and flyers, and the tracks are usually hidden by trees, so unless someone mentions it in online reviews, you don’t find out about they until you get settled and the train goes by.

The worse was the campground in Lake Louise. There was an emergency exit from the park close to our site, and because it was not a regular road, it did not have an elevated crossing or automated lights and barrier system, so every train had to blow it’s whistle to warn of it’s approach. And, there were trains all day and all night.

I have decided there is a connection between these trains and the RV parks. I got to wondering why there seemed to be so many trains so close to campgrounds, and I think I have a theory . . .

A Train Behind the Trees
Trains are loud, so no one really wants to live right next to train tracks, so houses and apartments are build with a buffer between the tracks and where people live. That then gives you some perfectly good land, often nicely positioned to services and attractions, that is not worth much. It is good for business and industry, but someone also figured out that it could also work for RV parks. After all, the people who use them are only there for a couple of nights, and then on to another park. If the park has “seasonal” (those folks who use their RV as a “camp” and leave it in one place all year), can take the sites as far away from the tracks as possible, leaving the ones bordering on the tracks for the transient campers.

To be honest, we have sort of gotten used to the sound of trains rumbling by in the middle of the night, and although the last two nights we were not close to tracks, we listened and were pleased to hear trains in the distance.

Monday, August 8, 2011


The Comfort of "Camp"ing
While working in China, I shared an apartment with Gordon, another retired teacher from Alberta, and my Chinese adventure was made more enjoyable by the friendship we developed over the two months I was there. His experience in China made my adjustment easy, and my daily bike or foot explorations often discovered places or events that he then wanted to experience. He also was happy to discover that I was only too willing to experiment with cooking the interesting ingredients found in the markets, and volunteered to do all the cleanup.

Gordon married a Chinese girl he met during his time in the country, and since my return to Canada, brought her and her daughter back to a new life half way around the world. We had kept in regular contact through e-mail, but this trip provided an opportunity to see him again and meet his new family.

After e-mailing dates and times back and forth as our trip evolved, we discovered that it would probably work best if we visited him at his “camp” in BC rather than at home in Calgary, and he located a convenient campground close by, and sent me GPS coordinates for the “camp”.

My sister’s has a “chalet”, my family had a “cottage”, and in Cape Breton, our friends call their summer retreat a “bungalow”. Gordon made it very clear that his retreat in the BC mountains was a “camp”.

He and two friends have had this place for many years, and spend most of every summer there. It sits right on a large mountain lake, with a huge mountain across the lake and mountains receding into the distance. They lease the land from the municipality, and so none of the “camps” are really permanent, as they could be asked to leave at any time. Gordon’s “camp” started life as a construction trailer, and has evolved over the years with pieces being added as needed. It has a septic system, but water is pumped from the lake for washing so drinking water has to be carried in, and he was proud to explain that they have upgraded the solar powered black painted water tank on the roof to a second hand RV hot water heater.
Art, Regis, Gem & Gordon - "Camp"ing

The “camp” he explained was the last stop for things before they were declared completely worn out. All the furniture is cast-offs, and the kitchen cupboards came when a friend renovated their kitchen, fitting into the “camp” wherever they would fit, including one sideways over a Window. Above the deck an old awning from an old travel trailer provided shade, and pulled up onto the beach was a canoe that someone else no longer wanted.

When we arrived, we found everyone relaxing on the deck overlooking the lake in an eclectic mix of lawn chairs and old living room furniture. This really sums up the “camp”ing life. This is not a place to come and spend hours painting trim, cutting grass or tending gardens. It is a place to relax, drink a cold beer, and watch the sun go down behind the mountain, as the fire in the circle of rocks beside the lake sends smoke and the sweet smell of burning cedar into the darkening sky.

We only had an afternoon and evening at Gordon’s “camp”, but in that short time, I can see how he loves to spend his summers here.


Happy Hikers
My sister and her husband Pete share in an Alpine chalet in the Alpine Village on the top of Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. They rent it out to people from all over the world who come to BC for ski vacations, but it is rarely rented during the warmer months, so when we come to visit her in the summer it is usually available for our use. She has always told us about the amount of snow the village receives in the winter, but of course we only see it in the summer.

This year was an exceptional year for snow, we were told, and the chalet next door was heavily damaged by the weight of the snow, and there was even a patch of snow on the road leading into the chalet. I was not expecting the amount still in the woods however.

After the excitement of the wedding, and the cleanup afterwards, Linda had a nice hike planned the next day. There is a very nicely maintained provincial park just down the road from the village, and on another visit, we had explored some of the extensive trail system in the park, so we knew what to expect. . . . .

Not at all. . . We had no sooner gotten into the mountain forests, and we ran into snow - lots of snow. There were places where the trails were still under six to eight feet of snow, and some places there was so much snow that you had to be careful not to loose the trail completely. You had to look for ends of the boardwalks, or clear sections of the trails. Other hikers often had strayed off the established trails so you could not always depend on following the footprints.

The snow of course was old, often dirty, and rapidly melting in the lovely August summer heat; there was just so much deposited over the winter that it would be a while before all the ground was exposed.

The melting snow also made for a much more challenging hike. It was wet and slippery, and the run-off from the melting snow had often carved out large caves under the snow that threatened to collapse if walked over. You could see footprint shaped holes where other hikers had fallen through.
A Snow Cave

The unexpected snow made the hike more interesting and certainly more challenging. The nine km distance seemed longer with the care that had to be taken navigating over the snow. My hiking stick (a new piece of hickory picked up in Branson Missouri) proved to be an essential tool to keep from slipping and sliding off the deep piles of snow, and my knees were complaining by the end of the hike.

Six feet of snow still in August . . . One more interesting adventure on our trip.


STOP, I saw Kibble on sale back there . . .
We were looking forward to arriving in Vancouver, because it meant we could spend some time visiting our friends, and we were looking forward to a break from the RV, as we were invited to stay with them at their apartment, overlooking Vancouver Harbour. The  RV is a nice comfortable “home away from home”, but it is still small, so a chance for a real bed, a real bathroom, and a bit of extra room (their apartment is a “Vancouver” apartment), was a welcome treat.

We have visited Vancouver a number of times, and always enjoy this vibrant Canadian city, and always look forward to seeing what the city has to offer. One thing that Vancouver had lots of is some of the best “people watching” in the country. Spending time sitting in the many outdoor sidewalk cafes around Vancouver, and you definitely see evidence of Southern California’s eccentricity creeping north into BC.

The first night in Vancouver, we were walking back to the skytrain after a fabulous meal at the Alibi Room in Gastown, and in a group of people walking towards us was a young woman casually walking along completely topless. She was just walking down the street chatting with friends, but had decided not to wear any shirt. She wasn’t flaunting her toplessness, she was just out walking. I might have missed her except for my propensity for “people watching” - Regis completely missed her.

There are lots of homeless in Vancouver, as would be expected of a city with a warm relatively pleasant climate, but they certainly have adapted a different attitude towards the “homeless” here. A news story in the paper this morning tells of a fellow who has been banned from a local community. The people having “homes” there report that he doesn’t meet the minimum standards for “their ’homeless’”, who know how they are expected to act, and are therefor allowed to be “homeless” there. Huhhhhhhhhh????

There was the guy with the long white snake this morning, another guy all dressed on orange - shoes, socks, suit, everything. There was the woman completely covered with paint or tattoos, sitting in the coffee shop as if this was perfectly normal. There was always someone interesting to see whenever we went out to explore the city. Oh, and it wasn’t only the people - there were two dogs riding along with their owners on motorcycles.

We really enjoyed our time in Vancouver, and it’s interesting and eccentric people certainly adds to the city’s charm. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Half Way, But Almost Home

Our cross-country RV adventure is at the half way point. We have arrived on Vancouver Island in the city of Courtenay, BC. This is the place that my sister Linda has decided to call home. Although it is very inconsiderate of her to live in a place that is as far away as she can get while still living in Canada, it does give us “East Coasters” a reason to visit this beautiful part of our country.

Home Away From Home
When we originally informed Linda that we would be coming out with Dad and Sharon in the RV, she did some research and reported back with a number of local RV Parks we could use during our stay here. I informed her that this was not what I had in mind, and I would prefer if we could pull into her yard somehow. I have been out to see her before and as I remembered the house, there was an old driveway to one side beside the fence that I thought might be large enough for the trailer. I sent her rough dimensions and she assigned her husband Pete to work on the logistics of my request.

It would certainly have worked to park in an RV Park. There are a couple not too far away, and we could still spend lots of time with her, but there is just something nice about visiting family and staying close to them that made me want to park in her yard. You have to find a way to hook up water, household “outside plugs” are rarely 30 amp, so we would not have the use of the Air Conditioner if it got hot, and there is certainly no place to hook up the sewer, but, parking in the yard of family just somehow feels like “home” more than another in a long list of RV Parks.

Linda got back to me after a couple of days, and said that Pete was working on a solution. There wasn't room on the old driveway because there was a tree in the way – I don't recall a tree, but it has been five years since I was there. He was going to look at some other options. He had to measure the back lane and consult with some of his neighbours. This sounded positive, and a follow-up contact a couple of days later informed us that Pete had indeed figured it all out. He had removed the tree out beside the driveway – Linda said she didn't really like that tree anyway, and this was an excuse to get rid of it, and he thought that although we would have to park with the trailer door away from the house, we would fit there. He also had negotiated with a neighbour who would allow us to park in his lane-way at the back of the house which would also fit the trailer. He is a “Trailer Towing” RVer as well, so this kind offer is not unexpected – RVers are like that.

Linda & Pete's Garden
When we arrived I examined the options and elected to try to fit the trailer into the old driveway beside the house. There was a tall fence on one side and a large tree out by the road I would have to manoeuvre around to get it in, but Pete had done a great job of clearing a spot – there was even fresh grass growing where the offending tree had once stood. After looking everything over I decided to pull the trailer in so the door was on the house side and I thought I should be able to then back the truck out over the lawn. I asked permission to try this approach, because Linda and Pete are proud of their yard and have put a lot of effort into making it look its best. Deep holes cut by spinning tires would not have been appreciated. Pete said that he felt the lawn was hard enough, and besides, Linda was not home from the airport yet so could not object.

Everything worked perfectly. The trailer fit, and it is nice and level, the slideout didn't hit the fence, and using both water hoses I could get to the outside tap on the other side of the house. Pete had to do some more trimming of the trees around the trailer as he had underestimated the height of the trailer, but again assured us it was something that needed to be done anyway.

Dutch Style BBQ
And I was right, it does almost feel like home. Linda arrived with her oldest son Chris from Alberta, and our youngest sister Margaret and her daughter had arrived earlier. Linda's daughter Tracey was also here, and with boyfriends, partners and grandchildren, we had a large family barbecue in their back yard surrounded by Linda's twinkling dragon fly lights and beautiful gardens. There was a total of 14 people enjoying Pete's barbecue skills. As the rest of the family packed into cars to drive up the mountain to the chalet to go to bed, I was happy to allow Pete to pour me another glass of his delicious homemade red wine, and watch the sun set and the various garden lights come on, knowing that I was already “home”.

Friday, July 22, 2011


I have made it one of my “travel mandates”, to find and taste as many locally brewed beers as possible. This was especially fun while on the canal boat in England, and I found over 25 interesting local brews in our two weeks there. A positive side affect of sampling the local brews, is that when you ask for something “local”, you usually get a positive response from the servers, who seem to have a degree of pride in their local breweries, and are often very willing to give opinions on which local beers are best. One server in Bangor, Maine, was so interested in my opinion of the local ales, that after sampling one, he insisted on me trying the second at no charge.

The brews in America, do not have the variety or the flavor of the beers in England, but what can you expect from the land where “Bud Light” is usually the beer of choice. By ordering the local “craft” beers, you can get a brew with some taste and personality.

A partial list of the brews I have sampled on this trip so far follows. Most are from the later part of the trip, because I forgot to write the names down from the East Coast where I found some good ones, and had difficulty in the Central States finding “local” beer. A waitress in Ohio, had no idea what I meant when I asked for a “craft” beer.

Grand Canyon Amber Ale - Grand Canyon Brewing Co.

Ugly Pug Black Lagar - Rahr & Son’s Brewing, Fort Worth, Texas

Laguritas I P A - Laguritas Brewing Company, Petaluma, California

Moonlight ’Reality Czeck Pilsner’ - Santa Rosa, California

Downtown Brown - Lost Coast Brewery & Cafe, Eureka, California

I had a nice beer with my lunch during a stop in Death Valley, that the server said was “local”, but I’m not sure how they get enough water to make beer on the hottest driest spot in North America.

I see that I have an email from Alisha (daughter), asking when we will be arriving in Vancouver. She is visiting a friend there, who has worked in the brewing industry, and has a great local brew he wants me to try. That’s what happens when you develop a reputation for enjoying good local beer. I think I’ve said it before . . . . But. . . .life is tough!

Automobiles in America

Nice old Hudson
I like cars. In fact I like anything mechanical. I enjoy motorcycles, trains, trucks, airplanes, and even farm machinery. When I travel, I am constantly on the lookout for interesting cars sharing the road with me. For my car-nut friends, here are some of the vehicles I have encountered so far.

We saw a nice variety of porsches while driving across Texas. Everything from a nice 356 to new boxers and other new models to a very rusty 914, all heading in the opposite direction; I’m assuming to a local Porsche gathering.

We passed Denny Hamlin’s Sprint Cup car on the way to Kentucky Speedway, and one of his show cars parked next to us at a rest stop.

Through New Mexico I saw four nice professional off-road racing buggies on their way to an event, and there was an NHRA drag race the weekend after we left San Francisco, so I saw a lot of dragsters on their way to the event.

On the bus in Las Vegas, we followed a nice red ferrari down the “Strip”.

Did you know that BMW’s little convertible two seated sports car is exactly the same length as the width of an 18 wheeler? I know this from coming across an accident on a long bridge where a little white BMW was neatly stuck to the front bumper of a big truck. It had just happened, and the driver who didn’t look badly hurt was still in the car. Imagine getting into a situation where you are being pushed down the road sideways by an 18 wheeler on your drivers door. The car fit so nicely on the front of the semi, that I doubt that either driver could see the other - very scary for both drivers!

While Driving through Oakland, California, a member of the famous (or infamous) Oakland chapter of the Hells Angles passed us on his Harley.

Peugeot Pickup?
Outside the nice little lunch spot I blogged about previously, was parked a Peugeot pickup truck. It was probably from the early sixties, and I suspect a home-made pickup, since I was not aware Peugeot even made a pickup, especially for export to the states.

I have read articles stating that the days of finding classic American automobiles sitting beside the road, in old barns, or in wrecking yards was long over. I can report that this is definitely not so, especially through the South-West. I suspect you will not find many two door 1957 Chevys waiting for you to restore, but I saw lots of interesting vehicles from the 50s, 60s & 70s sitting wanting loving restoration.
Being Towed to a better life

We pulled into a rest stop in Arizona, and a road beside the access ramp were were six pickups from the  50 all parked in a row, quietly rusting away, but mostly intact, and still on inflated tires. In Nevada, I saw three old sedans from the 50s sitting abandoned beside the road, looking like they had failed on a trip out old route 66, and have remained there ever since. We passed a junk yard off to one side of the road where I saw about four Corvairs sitting in a row, all looking restorable.

I would have loved to stop and add some of these “Sleeping Beauties” to my collection of photographs of old abandoned vehicles, but this is difficult when pulling a trailer. I had a difficult time just finding a picture for the blog posting, and was lucky to get the one old car you see here. If I was driving a car I would have been able to stop and explore some of these old cars. I guess it’s just another excuse to come back another time.