25 August 2011

I think we're starting to believe in karma

Twelve months to travel America and Canada seems like all the time in the world, but here we are nearly four months in and it seems we are rapidly running out of time to do everything we want. Especially as there are so many places to visit where Gil will become unviable as an accommodation option once things turn cold. We also looked at a map of Canada and it's even wider than we realised.

We therefore concluded some serious cross country driving was required if we were to make it to Nova Scotia before flying home in October for a little trip intermission. Research on Saskatchewan showed there was little to see apart from wheat, so we left Edmonton, Alberta, and started our first full day driving in a while, with plans of getting to Regina more than 700kms away that day. Regina is pronounced exactly how you don't think it should be and when you are on a long car trip, immaturity may appear. Things were going well but I grew bored fairly quickly, and possibly started a spot of childish whining. Looking at flat wheat fields is only entertaining for the first three minutes and watching assorted insects end their life on our windshield is more gross than entertaining.
(Sorry for the picture, but it was SO huge we just had to share). Jokes about Regina get old pretty quickly, I had no words to play on Words with Friends (if you want to protect Brad's sanity on road trips, add me) and my current craft project is not passenger seat friendly (how did that happen?).

At about 6:30pm and approx. 150 kms from Regina, Saskatchewan decided to get us back for driving straight through and Gil blew a front tyre. At least this time we have a spare tyre to put on right?
Wrong, after a little inspection by Brad, it turns out the spare we carry, which didn't fit the rear wheels back in May, has no purpose in Gil's life other than appearance. Brilliant, can Gil be towed? Unlike last time, we had phone reception and called AAA. Not knowing when Gil's saviour would arrive, we had cold chicken sandwiches for dinner, opened the only two beers we had and settled in for a reading session. An hour later, CAA called back and advised a tow truck was coming from Regina to collect us and a further hour and a half later, it arrived. Apparently Gil can be towed in a conventional sense with his front wheels in the air … and his drive shaft disconnected. Our tow truck driver was a chatty ex-country boy, who despite spending 2.5 hours with him, we never exchanged names. We covered a vast range of topics, from wheat farming, skunks, MS (his father, aunt and grandmother all have it), the perils of being a tow truck driver (it's more dangerous than you'd think, especially in winter), moose hunting (a moose generally has to be chopped into pieces in order to carry it home and will fill a chest freezer) and everything in between. We eventually arrived in Regina about 12:30am and were deposited in a Canadian Tire car park for the night. Brad: 1, AAA: 1.

About 5am the following day, it came to Brad's attention that the fridge was not functioning as expected. We aren't sure what was wrong, but after an hour or so of repeatedly turning it off and on again (Brad's IT instinct kicked in) it got over itself and has worked fine ever since. Needless to say our day started early. As soon as Canadian Tire opened we went inside and were promptly told Gil was too big for them. We walked across the road to another tyre place – they couldn't help either, but another of their centres about 10km away could. This would be fine if we didn't have a blown tyre and disconnected drive shaft. Inconveniently, our phone no longer had reception forcing Brad to resort to using a pay phone (yes, they still exist), to call AAA again. Another tow truck was sent, from the same company, but sadly it wasn't our friendly friend from the night before, instead a bloke who'd clearly got out on the wrong side of the the bed, and Gil was towed for the second time in 24 hours. Brad: 1, AAA: 2. AAA membership is possibly the best $80 we've spent on this trip, we found out from our first tow driver the that tow alone would have cost us in excess of $400, but we haven't had to pay a cent.

What we don't understand is why it then took seven and a half hours to replace four tyres and complete a wheel alignment while we waiting in the tyre shop showroom – grabbing my Kindle was the best decision of the day, and I managed to get in quite a bit of reading for The Novel Challenge (http://register.thenovelchallenge.org.au/The-Novel-Challenge/SusannaCheck, one more week to go), a whole book in fact.

We were forced to drive on to Winnipeg the following day with out a usable spare wheel, as Regina couldn't help in that department and after spending time in parts of Winnipeg which were “no place for a lady” a new wheel was eventually purchased. Apparently Gil was carrying a spare for a GM, although he's a Ford with a penchant for the same wheels as ambulances.

22 August 2011

O Canada how we love you

It's taken a lot longer to write this post than I had planned, despite always having the best of intentions to keep this thing as up to date as possible, somehow it never seems to happen. The time between being back in internet coverage and now has been eventful, lacking in time with a laptop, (not necessarily a bad thing mind you) and when such time has presented itself, not having a decent enough internet connection to upload photos too, but tonight is the night.

Banff and Jasper National Parks were exactly as we hoped. Driving the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper will definitely go down as one of the highlights of our adventure. If you only ever make one road trip, take the drive from Banff to Jasper, you won't be disappointed. In no particular order, the points we'd like to mention:
  • Hiking, hiking and more hiking (12km, 17km, 22km, 21km, 15km and those are just the walks we recorded on Brad's phone)
  • A mid-walk post-lunch nap on sun warmed river stones (marred only be Brad's inability to nap, and so pestering me at regular intervals whether it was time to go yet)
  • Eating lunch whilst watching avalanches on Victoria Glacier
  • The views, everywhere
  • A full day spent hiking on Athabasca Glacier (definitely worth the extra $10 and waiting four days to go).
But of course, our time in this beautiful part of the world would not be complete without a few unexpected incidents.

Incident One:
After our second 20km plus hike in as many days, we arrived back at Gil, ready for showers and
dinner, but not so ready for a flat battery. We thought we'd do the right thing and turn on our headlights (all Canadian cars have day running lights, Gil be an American, doesn't), and piled out of Gil in the morning without turning them off. What kind of vehicle doesn't have a warning to remind you you've left the headlights on? Oh that's right, one built in 1998! I was all for calling AAA, that's what we got the membership for right? Brad refused, stating it would take longer for them to come out, than for him to come up with an alternative solution. I was then very impressed, and forced to eat my suggestion when Brad successfully jump started Gil all by himself using some electrical wires (and I questioned why when bought them) and the house battery which he had disconnected from its mounting and carried around to the front... in about 15 minutes. Brad: 1, AAA: 0.

Incident Two:
Two days later, it came to our attention the bathroom door handle would not turn and access could no longer be gained, fortunately there were no occupants and no urgent need to become one. Brad then impressed me again, by removing the handle and rectifying the situation, with a little assistance from me and a pair of pliers. I then wondered why the door knob even had a snibby thing, until we drove off and the door flew open.
At this point you may be thinking I'm easily impressed and I feel it necessary to point out Brad has shown little to no ability to be handy around the home before.

Incident Three:
Several days passed without incident, we then had a day off from hiking and were quite late in drifting off to sleep when a scurrying noise was heard. Shortly after it came to our attention we had a little not so welcome visitor(s), and on turning on the light, Brad saw a mouse scurry into the stove. After a thorough investigation and concluding there was little to be done, Brad bravely offered to swap sides of the bed, in case mid-night action needed to be taken and slept with a head lamp on, for ease of spotting. To our relief, no superfluous holes appeared in food containers or Gil the following morning. It appears our visitor just popped by for a poop party as we haven't heard from him since. Considerable time was spent with the dust buster and industrial strength disinfectant wipes to return things to a state where we no longer felt violated.

10 August 2011

Why Gil just isn't big enough

When we arrived at the Canadian border, no one there was able to process our work permits (once upon a time we planned to do work during our year of retirement), and we were informed we would have an hour or so wait. Fortunately, driving around in your house leaves plenty to do, so we passed the time with lunch, reading and playing cards. We did contemplate having a beer, but thought the timing may be a little inappropriate. A while later one of the border guys came and knocked on our door (service!) to let us know the right person had arrived and was ready for us. We had seen this person drive up and park their car next to Gil, so we think he may have come over from another border crossing point just for us. With a stamp of our passports and the stapling in of a somewhat ungainly piece of paper, I was an Australian again, and now authorised to work in three different countries. Brad continued being an Australian, but is now able to work in two countries.

Whilst waiting to get our papers processed, we observed something else interesting, an impressive number of people having to surrender their firearms before crossing into Canada. This shouldn't have surprised us, we were leaving the United States, but who brings their gun on holidays to Canada, knowing they are going to have to surrender it at the border anyway? Is it just in case they spot a deer on the way? The closest thing we have to personal defence, is a can of bear spray and Brad's buck knife... but don't tell any would be assailants that. This has led us to compile a list.

Popular Things People Take RVing:

  1. A car, any car, towed behind your RV.

  2. A boat.

  3. A motorbike.

  4. A closed in trailer which appears large enough for a car. They may contain cars, but I like to think there are things like lawnmowers and outdoor settings in there.

  5. Other assorted outdoor toys (canoe, kayak, dune buggy, etc).

  6. A plaque, preferably wooden, in the dash with the names of the people on board and the town and state they are from. The closest thing we've got is a green kangaroo sticker on Gil's rear which may well not come off. Our dashboard has a pink post-it with Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions, National Parks annual passes, “The Official Seal of Awesomeness” and bits of paper I've been too lazy to put away.

  7. A BBQ. Not just your small table top grill (these make sense given what happens when you cook anything with an odour), no I mean your full, having the extended family over for a Saturday afternoon celebration size BBQ.

  8. A dog or several, and not just lap to medium size dogs. I met a couple with three chocolate labs several weeks back, and a few days ago a Doberman and something else lab-ish got out of the RV next to us.

  9. Bikes (we'll admit we envy these).

  10. Potted plants. Okay we've only seen this once, but the bloke got out a patio's worth of flowers.

When Brad was researching what size of vehicle to get for this trip, people told him we were crazy to think of spending a year in a 21 foot RV, now it's making sense why! Ooops I mean 22 foot RV, Gil has taking to occasionally lying about his length in order to secure camp sites in National Parks. For the record, he's comfortably fitted each time!

Before I go, somehow we think this takes the fun out of motorcycling:

03 August 2011

Bears, bears, bears

Day One:

With the “hiking with bears hesitation” we suffered from in Yellowstone suddenly gone we set off, it seems with half the other visitors to the park, on a walk to Avalanche Lake.

Over lunch we watched a fly fisherman at the mouth of a stream catching fish almost as soon as his line hit the water, but none big enough to keep, and checked out the waterfalls high in the peaks with Brad's binoculars (the Christmas present is getting a workout Kaye). We also received a little reminder of Melbourne's last summer and after spending the first half of the hike wondering why we were so clammy, said “hello humidity” for the first time since being in the US. Reading the weather forecast the following day we found out that record high temperatures had been expected, yet snow was forecast for several days time.

Day Two:

Bad decision of the day: walking down Going-to-the-sun Road

Good decision of the day: taking our rain coats

In the morning we caught a shuttle bus up Going-to-the-sun Road with the intention of walking back down along the Highline trail and through to Granite Park Chalet, this part of the park's highlight walk.

On the way up, we saw a surprising amount of snow, and learned from our driver that the road had only just been fully cleared of snow and opened to traffic the prior week despite being the the middle of July! When we got to the top we further learned the trail we had intended to take was closed as large sections were still under snow. Not wanting to miss out on the promised spectacular views, we decided walking down the road itself was a good idea, as it followed the roughly the same route as the trail anyway. The first kilometre or two were fine, the next six or so less so as we trekked through road work (think combination of dust and mud and the smell of tar) and the last two or three bad as we walked along the non-existent edge of a road barely wide enough for two cars to pass. When the ranger we checked with at the top said we'd probably need to do a spot of “wall hopping” we thought he was being funny. And here we were wondering why we were the only ones walking. Arriving at our destination we took another shuttle (free shuttle buses are a great feature of many of the national parks here and especially good when you're driving around in your house) into Agpar Village, where Brad arranged to receive our mail while I chatted to some strangers and got mauled by mosquitoes (again!). While we were waiting for a shuttle back to Gil, it started to rain and shortly after getting on our bus, it turned into one of the heaviest storms we've encountered, complete with hail which had us entertaining thoughts of smashed Gil vent covers as well as a puddle where we'd left the bedroom vent open. Our driver and his radio then informed us our camp ground was now on flash flood watch. Brilliant! We were happy to see that Gil had not washed away (this should not have been surprising) and no vents were smashed. I felt a little high maintenance and sorry for campers in tents as I dried our doona with the hair dryer.

Day Three:

Reading and napping and waiting to see if the rain would pass. And for the record Gil has ZERO leaks currently.

Day Four:

We decided to do our first real “bear country” along the Granite Park Chalet section of the trail which was open. Apparently the worst kind of bear is a surprise bear, in other words encountering a bear when neither your nor it are expecting each other. To avoid this, noisy hiking is recommended, some parts of noisy hiking I'm good at, others not so much. For some reason we were unable to come up with any songs we knew the words too, apart from children's songs (thanks to our niece, Matilda, miss you little lady), and, Felicity and Kaye you'll find this entertaining, the Geelong theme song. Brad could not however, remember one word of the theme song for his aledged club, Melbourne, I've never heard it played. “The bears Bears on Susanna go scratch, scratch, scratch”, “the bears go marching two by two hurrah” and the Indiana Jones theme song sung only using the word bear, were popular choices. We later realised the word 'bear' should not be over used, as if one of us had spotted a bear, the other probably would not react appropriately.

Between the altered words and mindless drivel conversation when we could think of something mindless to drivel about, anyone walking in ear shot probably got a laugh (or their ears bled). For the record, we saw Grizzly Bear #2 (Overall Bear #4) while having lunch at the chalet, fortunately he was several peaks away.

Father of the Day award goes to the guy hiking with his two sons who we estimated to be about six. The boys were decked out in proper hiking boots, with a pair of bear bells (think giant cat collar bells, which apparently don't really work) on top of each hiking pole. Dad had a knife that would impress Mick Dundee and a GIANT can of bear spray attached to his belt. Don't get me wrong, we thought he was doing the right thing, you want to cover all bases and not take any chances when taking bear bait for a hike. Hiking poles when they aren't needed, along with an SLR camera you don't know how to use and a superfluous tripod seem to be the must have walking accessories to look “pro” here. We've lost count of the number of times we've seen a flash going off for a scenery shot in bright daylight whilst using a Nikon or Canon DSLR.

Day Several later (after relocating to the Northern Section of the park):

Of course, the highlight hike of this part of the park was also still closed due to snow, however this resulted in us discovering the beautiful Iceberg Lake which is surrounded by mountain peaks on three sides, and filled with miniature icebergs, from the snow coming off the peaks. We got to a junction several hundred meters into the walk are were greeted by a “CAUTION: Active bear in area” sign providing information on what to do in the event of a bear encounter. These signs are not new to us, but for some reason we hesitated, perhaps because it seemed that every other person we had seen had a trusty can of bear spray at their hip. Up until this point, bear spray had seemed to be a capitalisation on fear, and was generally only carried by people who looked likely to break a hip and Father of the Day, but today, even the spritely young chaps had it too. We then back tracked to a conveniently located convenience score, and acquired Brad's newest hiking accessory: a small red cannister with glow in the dark top. On the return hike from Iceberg Lake we had come through a dense patch of shrubbery when another hiker asked if the bears were on the trail when we came through. Erm, no, but I had heard a small growl and not thought much of it. Standing on tippy toes on rocks we spotted a mummy grizzly with two bubbies about 20 metres off the trail we'd just come along. Shortly after a park ranger came along and temporarily closed the trail. I guess the bear spray was a good comfort after all.

That evening we were enjoying an after dinner game of cards in Gil, when we heard someone shout “Bear!” We ran outside with cameras in hand in time to see another mother bear this time with three cubs in tow, wander through our camp ground. I then acquired 35 (I know this because I counted them whilst moisturising with cortisone cream) new mosquito bites whilst chatting to an environmental compliance guy from Connecticut at the next camp site. Whilst discussing our jobs, I learnt from past experience and avoided an awkward silence by not mentioning the name of the company I worked for in home. Apparently saying you worked for GS in this country can be a bit of a conversation killer.