Saturday, September 22, 2018

Taking a Break From the Road

After 126 days (18 weeks), it is fair to say Mike has embraced van life (although I think he embraced it from day 1). He loves it. He loves the driving, he loves talking to strangers (especially people in nice vans), he loves finding beautiful free camping areas (even if it means travelling to 2 or 3 not so nice camping areas first), he loves creating amazing dinners on a camp stove, he loves mountain biking and hiking and spending hours watching whales and bears.

I had a harder time with the transition. I left a city I loved, a job I was good at, a routine of activities that kept my calendar full, close friends who I saw regularly and a home that didn’t move around every day. I think those first few weeks on the road, I had to grieve all those things that I missed. I also struggled with the lack of purpose – what was I going to do today if I didn’t have work to go to, a house to clean, a garden to weed, a hockey game to play, books to pick up at the library and meeting up with friends.

I eventually found my rhythm. I learned to embrace quiet mornings when I got up early and Mike slept in. I appreciated warm (not hot) sunny days and hot (not warm) showers more than I ever had before. Little things made me happy – cooking bannock on the fire, my dogs running off leash on a beach, finally getting to the top of a long climb on my bike (often hiking said bike – and then writing a blog post about it).

But it certainly was challenging. There was that heat wave in Smithers and the rain in Alaska (and now in BC). There were long waits in ferry lines only to not be able to get on and there were the times we drove a long way down a road to check someplace out and kind of regretted it afterward. And there were the meltdowns (mine) that happened around 7:00 pm when I was hungry and tired but we were still driving around looking for a campsite that 1) was within our price range and 2) felt okay for us to stay in.

So after 126 days, I am ready for a break. It came to me when we got to Vancouver Island and I was no longer excited by cute coastal towns or another rain forest hike to a waterfall. I feel like you do when you’ve walked around a really big amazing museum and there is so much information but you just can’t take it all in and after 3 hours, you leave because your brain is full. Canada is like that really big museum and although Vancouver Island is full of places to explore, the fact that I can’t appreciate it tells me it is time to go home for a rest.  And yes, you don’t need to remind me that I don’t actually own a house anymore (or furniture for that matter). But my amazing parents are going to pick me up at the airport in Winnipeg and take me to their house (which when you are with your family, is always home). I will have some time out of the van and Mike and the dogs will explore Vancouver Island a little more and eventually make their way to Kenora to meet back up with me (the plan was always to come back to Kenora in mid-October so the van could fulfill its insurance obligations of being in Ontario every 6 months).

So...what this means is the blog may not have any posts for a few weeks. But I have hope that Mike’s new experience – semi solo van life (him and the dogs) - may re-inspire him to write a post or two.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Rainy Days on the Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast had actually been quite dry all summer. In fact they were on pretty serious water usage restrictions because of it. But that was not the case when we got there. It rained almost daily for the entire week.

Gibsons – We arrived at this pretty (and busy) seaside town after taking the afternoon ferry from Horseshoe Bay/West Vancouver. At this point, it had been a week since we had showered so Mike and I beelined to their aquatic centre for a swim (with our new $1 thrift store goggles), a hot tub and a shower. We then made our way to a provincial park a bit further up the road which unfortunately meant that we didn’t back track back to Gibsons to actually spend any time there.

Sechelt – This was our central point for exploring the south Sunshine Coast. We also happened across their farmer’s market and an electric car event on the same day. We spent way too much money at the farmer’s market buying things like rose hip jelly and blackberry honey but also got some delicious apples, tomatoes and bread.

We hiked a really beautiful and really well marked trail just north of the Sechelt called Hidden Grove. We are talking maps at every intersection and coloured poles so you knew you were on the trail you wanted to be on. There were also some really unique trees and plaques explaining some of the crazy things that happen in a rain forest. 

Powell River – We stayed 3 nights in this really lovely community. The last night we splurged and got an actual beach sight at the campground and watched whales doing their thing in the ocean (which was super exciting for the locals who said the whales hadn't been around much in the last 5 years). On this north part of the Sunshine Coast, there exists another well marked trail but this one is a 180 km backcountry trail with 13 back country huts that you can sleep in. This means not having to carry a tent in your backpack whichs cuts down on a lot of weight (although if you are going to do 180 km, you are going to need a lot more food). Some of the huts are even winterized. We did a 12 km portion out to one of the huts and it was great – clean, simple and out of the elements. The work that likely went into building and maintaining the trails and the huts really speaks to how much this area of Canada loves hiking.

View from the one of the huts on the Sun Coast Trail near Powell River, BC

Oh and if you are still wondering how things are going composting on the road, we have only had to dump our veggie scraps once this whole trip. It has mostly been community gardents (see composting on the road post from June) but since arriving in this southwest area of BC, we have found recycling centres that take our compost/organic waste. This includes Whistler, Sechelt and Powell River. So as much as we came across some really nice community gardens on our travels (and even met some really lovely people who gave us free vegetables), it is great to be able to drop off our vegetable scraps (and our recycling) at these centres. Why other communities in Canada are not doing this is still a mystery to me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What We Listen to on the Road

We recently just hit 20 000 km of travel on the trip odometre. As expected this is our longest road trip ever so this blog post is about what we listen to on those long stretches of highways?

1. Sirius Satellite Radio
Unfortunately whenever we were driving north (or were in the Yukon or Alaska), it really didn’t work all that well. When it does work, we listen to CBC Radio 1, The Verge. CBC Radio 3, Lithium, The Spectrum and The Coffeehouse. Funny how there are hundreds of channels on Sirius and yet we only scroll through six. 

2. FM Radio (Mainly CBC)
If we are near a town, we try and tune into the local CBC Radio station. This comes in handy for local weather because neither of us have a cell phone so the radio is one of our main sources for a weather forecast.

3. iPOD classic (seriously it is from 2005)
Prior to the trip we updated it with all the music we owned from CDs and iTunes. However, we actually haven’t listened to it all that often this trip. I think this is mainly because Mike does most of the driving and can drive listening to whatever is playing. When I am driving, I need something to sing to to keep me from getting tired and asking Mike if he could drive again.

4. Podcasts
Mike and I have sort of different tastes when it come to podcasts. For some reason, I like the true crime ones (even though I rarely read true crime novels) whereas Mike likes the adventure ones (which sometimes drive me crazy if there are questions like “If you were having a party, who would you invite, what would you serve and where would you be?”). Here are a list of some of the podcasts we have listened to in case you are planning a long road trip:

a) True Crime

Someone Knows Something (SKS)
A CBC podcast where the journalist looks into unsolved disappearances and murders. I liked Seasons 1 and 2 the best. I think they are currently working on season 5.

Missing and Murdered
Another CBC podcast which again looked into an unsolved murder (season 1) and a missing young girl (season 2). They do a really good job of not only telling the story of the person the podcast is about but also all the history that goes with it. Both seasons had really heartwrenching stories.

I think this one kind of kick started the whole true crime podcast genre. It was pretty popular both in US and Canada and there may even be some books about the case now as well. The case being a young woman who was murdered and the host looks back on the case and spends a lot of time interviewing the person who was convicted for the murder but continues to claim he didn’t do it.

b) podcasts for entertainment

My dad wrote a porno
We actually listened to this one before we left on this trip when we were back and forth between Kenora and Thunder Bay. The first couple of episodes are really funny but it starts to get a little old towards the end.

Because News
This CBC radio program is broadcast on Mondays at 11:30 am (I think) on local CBC stations but is also available as a podcast. It is a quiz show with comedians talking about the news. I used to watch This Hour has 22 Minutes all the time so I think this is now my 22 Minutes fix.

c) Adventure Podcasts

Wild Ideas Worth Living
This is the interviewer who asks questions about what kind of party would you have and what banner would you fly at the end of her interviews which are not my favourite quesitons but she has interviewed some intereresting people so I have been okay with Mike queuing her up.

Women on the Road
I think Mike subscribed to this one for me to be inspired about women travelling. We have only listed to a few episodes and they have been decent so far. 

The Rich Roll Podcast
We just started to listen to this guy and it is pretty good. Rich Roll is a decent interviewer and there are some interesting people he interviews.

d) Miscellaneous podcasts

Alone: A Love Story
Yes, I am a CBC nerd. This is another CBC podcast about a woman’s journey of falling in love, getting your heart broken and being alone. I binged listened to both seasons. I just find her storytelling really captivating and I love the music.

10% Happier with Dan Harris
I finished Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier book as well as his How to Meditate (for fidgety skeptics) book. This podcast is mainly Dan interviewing people about their experiences with meditation. There are also some guided meditations as well.

Financial Independence (FI)
We listened to a few of these until they made me a crazy person about our trip budget. They are basically about saving money now so you can become financially independent earlier in life (like not waiting till the normal retirement age).

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Down the Sea to Sky Highway

Williams Lake to Horseshoe Bay

After some restocking of supplies in Williams Lake, we started heading south. Highway 99 is a really pretty drive though canyons and cliffs. Unfortunately the rain caught up with us in Pemberton. I actually think it rains fairly frequently here and people just get out and enjoy the outdoors regardless. So we tried to follow suit – gearing up in our rain gear but then taking it off once the rain let up or just being patient for a break in the clouds to go biking knowing the rain could start again at anytime. We stayed at Nairn Provincial Park just south of Pemberton which had great access to both hiking and biking trails. We also had another random encounter with a former Kenora resident on a popular walking trail near town.

After Pemberton, we headed south to Whistler. Mike was drooling watching the mountain bikers on their souped up down-hill bikes but if it was raining in Pemberton, it was pouring in Whistler and those bikers looked pretty dirty. Being wet and dirty is fine if there is a warm shower and dry clothes back at home or in a hotel but wet and dirty in a van isn’t very much fun) so he didn’t go but I have a feeling he may be back in this area again. Instead, we walked around the very walkable touristy area, found the recycling centre (that took our compost too!) and then headed to a BC Rec Site just south of the town (so we could pay $14 to camp rather than $50 – welcome to Whistler).

At the Rec Site, a very nice German couple knocked on our van door and asked if we could give them a ride to either Whistler or Squamish (whichever way we were going) the next morning so they could have access to a bus that would eventually take them to Vancouver. They were backpacking around the area but didn’t yet have back pack covers or an umbrella and so they didn’t want to chance walking and hitchhiking and having all their stuff get wet (again it was pouring in Whistler). We invited them into our van that night for hot chocolate and they taught us Tutto (a German dice game very similar to Farkle). The dogs were thrilled to cuddle with new dog loving friends who didn’t mind a wet dog sitting in their lap. We gave them a ride to Squamish the next morning and ended up spending 2 more nights in the same campground as them so there was more dog cuddling and sharing of information of where they might consider going for the rest of their time in Canada.

In Squamish we did a pretty rainforest hike at Alice Lake Provincial Park. We also drove back towards Whistler to check out Brandy Wine Falls which was a neat area not only for the falls but for the lava rocks (although not as prominent as in Nisga’a). After 2 nights in Squamish, we drove the rest of the sea to sky highway to Horseshoe Bay. You could definitely feel that we were no longer in northern BC anymore. Fast highways and even faster cars that come zooming up behind you out of nowhere. Initially, we were going to head from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo but the Sunshine Coast was also an option. It is “mainland” per se but only accessible by ferry. In discussion with friends doing a Vancouver Island trip themselves (and who we met up with in Squamish), we decided to give the Sunshine Coast a try and hope that it was true to its name as we were continuing to get rained on every day. Doing the Sunshine Coast would still allow us to head to VAncouver island but this time we would cross in Powell River (over to Comox) rather than at Horseshoe Bay (to Nanaimo).

**No pictures here – Mike’s camera broke back in the Yukon and during this stretch of the journey, he was having issues with his phone not taking pictures. So where is my camera? Where it always is, in the van. I have just never been much of a picture taker. So even when I do remember to take it, I never use it. Mike thinks he has his phone fixed so stay tuned and hopefully we will have pictures on the next stretch.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sleeping on the Road

After 16 weeks in a van, I think our sleeping situation has been pretty good. Sure, there are the nights where you toss and turn but you have these at home too. And yes staying in campgrounds can sometimes get a bit loud. 2 examples come to mind – one was a night at a Territorial campground in the Yukon when a guitar jam session that was easy to tune out with ear plugs got quite a bit louder when they decided to add a saxophone to the mix. The other example was a small private campground in Prince Rupert where someone arrived late (around 1:00 am) and was backing up his trailer in a tight spot with his diesel truck in the pitch dark for what felt like 45 minutes. But for the most part we have had relatively quiet nights where even traffic or rain is just white background noise that is sometimes even nice to fall asleep to.

So we sleep in the top part/tent area of the van (after the roof is raised up). There are 2 foam mattresses on plywood that stack on top of each other when the top is down and that we pull/slide out when the top is up to make the bed. This means that every night we are putting our bed together basically from scratch (the only thing that stays on the foam mattresses is the fitted sheet) and every morning, we take it apart again (unless we are not moving the van anywhere during the day - which is rare). One of the main things we consider each night as we are getting the bed ready is what the system of blankets are going to be. This is dependent on how cold it is outside that night as well as how cold it was the night before. We have got caught a few times when we think it feels fairly warm at 9:00 pm when we are getting ready for bed only to wake up at 4:00 am freezing.

So for our blanket system, we have been using some combination of the following:
fitted cotton sheet (always on the bed)
top cotton sheet
top fleece sheet
2 quilts (which are really nice for afternoon naps when you don’t want to make the bed with the top sheets)
2 sleeping bags (+3 degrees Celsius and -3 degrees Celsius) which zip together to make a comforter (and also came with us on the Chilkoot trail)

When we were travelling through BC in June, it was fairly warm at night so we would just use the cotton sheets and the quilts. As we got further north towards the Yukon, it was a bit cooler at night (or at least when the sun finally set) so we would either add the fleece sheet or use the sleeping bags instead of the quilts. And then when it got colder still (ie up in Dawson City in August or right now), we started sleeping with the fleece sheet and the sleeping bags and also kept our toques on.

Our last night in the Yukon, it was really cold. I was in fleece pants and my down jacket just hanging out in the van so I was dreading getting into pajamas and climbing up into that cold bed. But Mike (also known as Mike-Guyver) already had the solution to a cold bed – a heated blanket that plugs into a cigarette lighter (which can charge from our “house batteries) that has a timer! Brilliant. Not only can we pre-warm the bed before climbing in but we can also press the button if we wake up at 4:00 am freezing (and then it will just shut itself off after ½ hour). And although I think Mike did this so he doesn’t have to deal with “Mi-ike, I’m cold” at 4:00 am, I think he secretly turns it on at 7:00 am after I get up in the morning so he can sleep a bit longer with the warmth.

And where do the dogs sleep? They would love to climb up to the top bed with us but luckily haven’t figured out how to do that. One is on one bench and one is on the other bench (their own beds – lucky dogs!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

There's Bears in Bella Coola

Williams Lake to Bella Coola

When I was in high school, English was not my strong subject. Reading Thomas Hardy novels, trying to understand Shakespeare and writing essays about it all was not my thing. But I did like grammar. It had rules that could be memorized and applied. So I do find it funny that to this day, I still say “There’s bears in Bella Coola”. And I don’t think I am the only one. I remember in grade 7 or 8 English class having a discussion with the teacher about “There’s bears in the woods” being grammatically incorrect and having a classmate getting worked up about the whole topic and exclaiming “But there IS bears in the woods!”

Anyway there ARE bears in Bella Coola all of the time, but right now the salmon are running and so the grizzly bears have made their way down from the alpine areas to feed on the salmon.  So why did we hesitate in going? It is a 450 km side trip to Bella Coola and the ferries were all booked to go from Bella Coola to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island so we would have to turn around and drive 450 km back the way we came. We stopped at the Williams Lake Visitors Centre to get more information and were told the wildlife viewing platform (that is there to safely view Grizzly Bears) would be open starting September 1. Given that it was August 31, I think that was the clincher for us to make the trip.

The drive out to Bella Coola is quite pretty – you drive through the prairie like valleys (the Chilcoutin Plateau) which is surrounded by boreal forest but with those tall jagged mountains in the background. There is also evidence of the 2017 Williams Lake area forest fire where many people lost their homes. There also seems to be lots of ranches in both the plateau as well as down in the valley. I am not sure the deal with the fencing in this area because we saw cows on the side of the road many times.  Once you get to the Bella Coola valley, you are in the coastal rainforest, with the lush green vegetation and those beautiful spruce trees and giant ceder trees. And although you think your adventure will be the bear viewing it actually starts at “The Hill” to get over Heckman pass and down to the Bella Coola valley. I looked up the info in the visitors guide to write this (as I was not counting on the way down or up) and there are 11 switchbacks with short grades up to 18% and no guard rails. I wasn’t driving but my palms were sweating. What’s even more crazy about “the Hill” was it was the will of the townspeople of Bella Coola to build it. Back in 1952, the town hired a bulldozer that started working its way east carving a road in the side of the mountain. The province eventually gave them some money but it still sounds like it was mostly funded by the town and volunteers provided the labour. They hired another bulldozer to come from the other side and in September 1953, the 2 bulldozers met. Even now, I think it is actually the townspeople (not the province) who maintain the road.

We spent a total of 3 nights in the area. Most of our time was at Tweedsmuir Provincial Park alternating between the wildlife viewing platform and the Fisheries Pool campground. The viewing platform is an area by the river that is surrounded by electric fence where 2 park staff are present from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm and then it is closed at night. There are a few picnic tables so the 2nd time we went, we were better prepared and brought a book as you sort of need to hang around and wait for the bears to show up. The Fisheries Pool was previously the site of a salmon hatchery but is now a park campground and day use area. It is also beside the river. There is no electric fence and although the park staff come by fairly often, they are not there all of the time. There is an “area” that park staff tell people to congregate in if the bears are close so that you are a group of people rather than one person (which is more intimidating to the bear who can't see all that well). We saw a total of 6 different grizzly bears at both the viewing area and the campground as well as one bear that was walking along the highway. In the morning at the Fisheries Pool the bear was literally 20 m from us (so we were definitely in that “group area”). Now as many people know, I have always had a fear of bears. When Mike and I backcountry camp, as soon as the sun goes down, I start thinking the bears are hiding behind trees waiting for me to get out of my tent. So here it was interesting to see them up close doing their thing which was to catch and eat salmon. And yes they knew we were there but they weren’t hiding behind trees waiting for me to get out of the van.  Is my fear gone? Probably not but it was good exposure therapy for me!

Eventually we started making the long drive back to Williams Lake and stopped at a really pretty rec site on Tatla Lake for the night. We were the only ones there so we hadn’t closed the curtains in the van and our lights were on (as it now gets dark around 8:30 pm). Mike saw movement outside the van and for a moment he thought it was a bear...but nope – it was a cow with another following behind. They were just standing there and staring at us through the window. The dogs eventually caught on that we were interested in something outside the van and started barking.  The cows promptly took off from wherever they came (probably to go hang out at the side of the road again).

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Pools (and Bakeries) of Northern BC

Watson Lake to Williams Lake (via Alaska highway)

Making our way down from the Yukon towards Williams Lake/central BC, we got rained on pretty much every day. And not that we are complaining, BC needed and needs rain with the worst forest fire year in history. So with the rain, we toured some community swimming pools (which were actually quite nice!)

Our first “pool” was Liard Hot Springs which is probably the most popular stop for anyone traveling the Alaska highway in BC. And it is so worth the stop. It is a really beautiful natural hot spring area managed by BC parks (so it is reasonably priced). And those pools are HOT. I definitely did not make it to the warmest part of the pool but did have a lovely soak in the cooler side of the hot pool.  Unfortunately the 2nd pool area (and unique garden area) continues to be closed due to an “aggressive bear in the area”. Mike read it has been closed since 2013 so I am thinking the bear soaks in this pool daily.

From Liard we admired the views of Muncho Provincial Park and Stone Mountain Provincial Park but rain kept us driving with stops only for fresh bread and cinnamon buns in those “towns” that seem to be made up of only one little lodge/campground/gas station. These little places do often have great baked goods.

Our second night we stayed in Fort Nelson, BC which is home to is a really amazing and HUGE indoor swimming pool (especially considering the population is only 2000 people). There was a big pool for lane swimming, an accessible walk in “learn to swim” pool as well as a ramped hot tub. Not to mention a water slide and sauna as well. And the lane swimming pool was warm! Mike tells me that a warm pool is not good for competitive swimming but it is definitely good for me who just wants to kick with my flutter board for a few laps and then go sit in the hot tub.

Our 3rd and 4th nights we stayed at provincial parks (first near Fort St. John and then just north of Chetwynd) and although we did not swim in the city pools, we were set up right next to some very pretty lakes where we got to enjoy lovely sunsets after it stopped raining. We did not make it to mile 0 of the Alaska highway in Dawson Creek as we took Highway 29 from Fort St. John through Hudson’s Hope to Chetwynd. This Peace River area will look different for anyone who drives it 5 years from now as the “Site C” dam is being planned that will flood many of the farmlands and roads that we drove on.

Oh and Mike has just reminded me to talk about the chainsaw carvings in Chetwynd. I think they have over 150 carvings in their town and every June there is a competition. The carvings are quite something. We mostly just walked along Carver’s Alley to see the 2018 submissions but you could probably spend a day finding all of the carvings.

As we continued south along highway 97 towards Prince George, we took a side road to MacKenzie, BC as we heard there were some nice hiking and mountain biking trails there. However, literally as soon as we arrived, it started raining again and didn’t stop until later that evening (only to start again the next morning). So we ended up at their swimming pool too (which was smaller than Fort Nelson's but still quite nice). MacKenzie is a friendly little town situated on a pretty lake with a municipal campground that is free to tourists for 2 nights. Due to the rain though, we left in the morning after a stop at….yep, the local bakery for some fresh bread.

After a drive through the still somewhat smokey Prince George and south, we found ourselves back in Williams Lake trying to decide our next route – south to Vancouver Island or a side trip to Bella Coola…(for those of you who follow Mike on Facebook, you will already know where we ended up).