Looking Back – Our first Cross-country trip to British Columbia, through the US


Because we’ve not been traveling since our return from Arizona more than a month ago, I thought it would be fun to revisit our very first cross country trip to British Columbia in 2006. I did do a little blogging about it at the time, on a site that no longer exists. The only purpose of my blogging then was to keep family and friends informed of our progress.

That trip was quite different from the ones we have taken since. Our first “motor home” was an old (1973 I think) high top Chevy camper van. It had a fold-down table with bench seats that could be converted, with great difficulty, into a narrow “double” bed at night, and a small kitchen with overhead cupboards that I hit my head on every time I prepared a meal. There was a two burner propane stove and a finicky mini-fridge. We removed the port-a-potty and used that room for clothing storage. There was no shower; no bathroom sink; no furnace. We had to depend upon public restrooms and campgrounds for personal care and laundry, but we ate many meals in that little camper.

How the Adventure Began

The purpose of our trip was to attend the graduation of my one daughter from the Kootenay School of Arts in Nelson, and the wedding of my second daughter, in Vancouver. We pulled a trailer containing our Yamaha Venture motorcycle to use for transportation once we reached British Columbia.

We left Peterborough at 8:15 in the morning on April 13th and headed west, then north towards Elliot Lake, where we would spend our first night with friends, in the comfort of their apartment. By 11:00 it was time for a pit stop. We saw a sign for gas off to our right.  Thinking we’d use the washroom there, we took the exit.  This is what we found!

It seemed the operating gas station was many kilometers further, so we decided to continue down the highway. A few kilometers outside Parry Sound, we found an information center with washrooms and picnic tables.  After a 45 min. break, we were on the road again.

In Espanola we filled up the gas tank at 106.9 per litre, for a grand total of $104.01 Yikes! That’s why the next day we would cross the border into the US.

By 4:00 we were in Elliot Lake.

The next morning we crossed into Michigan at Sault St. Marie and drove until 9:00 pm (Wisconsin time, 10:00 our time).  We had planned to stop earlier but were unable to find a campground that was open.  We thought we had it planned out with the KOA sites, but it turned out the ones they had listed were 30 or 40 miles away from the highway we’d chosen!  Private ones weren’t open yet.  There weren’t any convenience centres along the way either. When my bladder was about to burst, we finally found a motel and campground in Brule Wisconsin.  The campground wasn’t actually open yet, but they let us park and use the electricity for only $10.  The showers and washrooms were closed, so we had to make do with what we had in the camper.  I sure was wishing we’d kept that port-a-potty! The temperature plummeted during the night and I vowed to purchase an electric heater before the next night arrived.

Highlights of the Next Few Days

April 15 – Easter Sunday, we spent on the road. The weather warmed up, so we postponed getting a heater. We parked for the night at the KOA in Bismark, North Dakota, where we indulged in hot showers before leaving the next morning.

April 16 – We took some time to take pictures of these huge metal sculptures along the highway in North Dakota, and visited Painted Canyon and the Badlands.

We were at the KOA in Billings, Montana by night fall. Later in the evening a thunder and rain storm blew through. It rained all night; the temperature dropped 10 degrees and the Weatherman predicted up to 14 inches of snow the next day!

April 17 – We left camp at 9:00 am. By 10:00 we were driving up the mountains in a blizzard, with no snow tires!

Fortunately, it didn’t last too long, but changed to rain off and on most of the day.  The van really struggled going up the hills. By the final fill up for the day Jim realized that the gas octane he’d been buying was way lower than ours at home.  When he used a higher octane at that fill, it made a world of difference.

After spending a couple of hours in a Walmart debating with an employee about an exchange or refund for a defective camera that Jim had purchased a few months ago, and looking for a heater (they had none), we set out again. We’d thought we’d make it to Nelson that day, but it wasn’t looking good.

We weren’t back on the road long before Jim thought there was a problem with the transmission.  He stopped at a gas station to check it and put in some transmission fluid.  Then it wouldn’t even start!  He checked the batteries and didn’t think it was that.  He thought it was the starter. He spent a half hour taking things apart to get at it and still couldn’t get it fixed.  He finally decided he needed a new starter.  Luckily there was an RV repair center right across the road so he walked over.  The guy came over with his big service truck and boosted the battery.  It was dead, but they discovered that the alternator belt was loose as well, which caused the battery to not charge.  The cost was nominal. I breathed a sigh of relief. We finally got back on our way and stopped at 7:00 pm for the night at the KOA in Missoula, Montana.

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Apr 18 – At 4:00 pm our van was parked outside my daughter’s apartment in Nelson, BC where it would stay for the next thirteen days while we attended the family events and travelled around BC on the bike.

It would be May 11th before our 10,000 kilometer trip would end, upon our arrival home.

Looking back now, I wonder how we survived nearly a month in such tight quarters without any major conflicts! Of course a year later we did another month-long trip to Canada’s East Coast, that time on the motorcycle all the way and tenting most of the time.

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