Hawaii, week 2

We kicked off our second week on the big island of Hawaii with a trip to Waipi’o Valley on Tuesday. (This was the day I learned to recalibrate my perception of the weather. While it rains a lot here, we’ve not had any true “rainy days” — only rainy hours.)

I was initially disappointed with the cloud cover that completely obscured what was supposed to be a magnificent view:

…but once we descended below the clouds, the view improved:

Did you notice the “25% grade” road sign in the first photo? It was over a half mile of this to get down to the beach (and pure torture coming back up):

Along the way, the girls met a friendly wild colt (this was one of a few horses milling around in the middle of the road):

The road eventually turned into a trail that led to beachfront with lots of trees — providing a bit of a wind break for our lunch stop:

This was supposed to be a fairly substantial hike (~6.5 miles), but it was cut short by an impasse where the river let out into the ocean. The water turned out to be too deep and the current too strong. (Amy got knocked down by a wave!)

We didn’t give up easily — we spent about 15 minutes trying to find another way across, which was enough time for the clouds to disperse:

On the way back up the hill, we found a wrecked truck. Someone had a very bad day on a 25% grade road:

We see unique, handmade “drive slow” signs like this everywhere, which tells what the local Hawaiians think about typical tourist driving patterns. (Note the waterfall in the background.)

On Wednesday we went to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, a preserve illustrating Hawaiian traditions between 1550-1819. Pu’uhonua means “place of refuge” where native hooligans could go for asylum if they could outrun the vigilantes:

It seems like there are lava patches everywhere on this island, and it boggles my mind to stand on rock that was once oozing lava:

This doesn’t look like much, but it’s called Two Step (because it’s kinda like two big stair steps that lead into the water). This is where we snorkeled on Tuesday afternoon. It was awesome. Like, National-Geographic-exotic-fish-and-coral awesome. I have no other pictures because I was busy snorkeling.

Since Kona is on the West side of the Big Island, it was easy to take in the obligatory sunset:

As I mentioned above, the lava fields on this island are fascinating, especially seeing the different ages. There’s fresh-from-earth’s-bowels all the way to nearly-reclaimed-by-nature, and it makes it quite easy to imagine how this entire island came to be.

On Thursday, we wanted to do another beach day. But a beach that any sucker can simply drive to would not do, so we chose the Makalawena Beach at the end of a mile-long trek through a lava field wasteland:

This poor goat-shaped person should have opted for the closer beach:

It was blazing hot, but before long, appearing over the sandy hills at the end of the trail…

…was our big payoff. This was the idyllic, postcard Hawaii beach that I was hoping we’d see at some point:

Amy and the girls enjoyed relaxing on the sand. I took a nap under a tree.

On Friday, it was time to move on from the big island of Hawaii:

After a short layover in Maui, we landed on the island of Kauai:

This is our home for the week, another timeshare condo courtesy of my mother — who flew in from Indy to join us for our week in Kuaui!

Without thinking, I agreed to a “free” breakfast at the resort’s clubhouse on Saturday morning. But the “cost” was having to sit through an insufferable presentation on how to cram your week full of exhausting activities while bleeding money into the local economy. (They may have used different words.)

A nice view from a scenic overlook while driving around on Saturday morning:

You guessed it — farmer’s market:

Just like with farmer’s markets, Amy loves her fresh seafood. We picked up some ono, “sweet, very good to eat” fish for grilling later that evening:

We made a final stop for the day at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. It was a good spot to watch some of the local seabirds, as many different kinds call this site home:

It was a source of both lovely ocean scenery…

…and junior high caliber jokes:

The free Mai Tai’s (and to a lesser extent, the live music and hula dancer) at the resort that evening made up for the activities presentation earlier that morning. All was forgiven.

We originally planned to do an epic 8-mile hike on Sunday, but the morning got away from us. We moved on to plan B — SUP (Stand Up Paddle) boarding:

SUP boarding is just what it sounds like: you stand (or sit, or kneel) on a surfboard-ish thing and paddle through the water. Amy and I had done this before, but it was new for the girls. They took to it instantly, and we paddled nearly 4 miles over 2 hours. (Side note about the weather: it cycled through sunny, cloudy and rain about a half dozen times over those two hours. I guess this is just how the weather rolls ’round here.)

I’ve enjoyed seeing these red-crested Brazilian cardinals flying around (and this one enjoyed the bread crumbs from my lunch):

Tomorrow should be pretty fun: we’re starting the week with a morning helicopter ride over Kauai. I’m hoping it won’t be a rainy hour.

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Visit all 50 States? Check.

This week we reached a travel milestone for our family: Having visited the other 49 states in our motorhome, it was time to hop on a plane and see the final state of Hawaii.

We started the adventure in a BlueIndy (one of the electric rental cars that we use fairly regularly ’round town) for an easy one-way 4:30am drive to the airport:

I was pretty sure we could cram the five of us into one of these cars, but I forgot to factor in the impact of luggage. And the total weight. We made it work, however. Barely.

It was a full day of flying — Indy to LAX to Seattle to Kona — where we slept…

…watched movies, read books, and in every way “killed time”…

…until, 22 hours later, we arrived in Kona, Hawaii:

Air travel is amazing that way I suppose, but it’s very different from the RV experience where the journey is as meaningful as the destination.

The Kona airport was interesting; it’s essentially an outdoor airport, which I took as a sign that it must not rain here very often. (I was very wrong — it’s rained a little every day so far.)

It wasn’t until the next morning that we got our first actual view of Hawaii from our hotel balcony:

Toes were in the water shortly thereafter:

After a quick morning walk around Kona (and spending a small fortune on a simple breakfast), we went to a familiar place to load up on essential food and supplies:

After lunch, we made the 2-hour, cross-island drive from Kona to Hilo and got checked in to our Airbnb house. That afternoon, we took a drive into downtown Hilo to visit their tsunami museum. (The town of Hilo has been devastated by tsunami twice in recent history, once in 1946 and then again in 1960.)

We then stopped at a beautiful local park in Hilo to take in a fine collection of banyan trees. Below is one (yes, one) such tree:

These trees are pretty amazing. They start by sprouting up like regular trees, but then they drop roots back into the ground from above, ultimately creating a beautiful, tangled mess of skeletal root-branches:

This was our Airbnb home, located about 20 minutes inland from Hilo:

This house was located at a noticeably higher elevation compared to the coast — our ears would pop as we drove to and from downtown Hilo. It was also a very rural area, so the nighttime sounds of insects and frogs were some of the loudest I’ve heard.

Saturday was to be a very full day. We started in the morning with a visit to the nearby (and aptly-named) Rainbow Falls:

rainbow-falls

…and climbed some more banyan trees:

Amy is a sucker for farmers markets, so the one in Hilo later that morning (with fresh, locally-grown exotic fruits and vegetables) had her in a near trance:

We enjoyed several new food discoveries that day. These lychee tasted like (delicious) grapes:

…the apple bananas tasted like regular bananas, but with more tartness and cuteness:

…this mountain apple tasted like how fresh flowers smell (strangely good):

…and Natalie curiously described her  coconut water as tasting “a little like puke, but still good.” (I concurred with the first part.)

We then made our way to Hawai’i Volcanos National Park, starting with a visit to the Halemaumau Crater. This is an active lake of lava that spews out toxic sulfur dioxide gas, so they don’t let you get too close:

The main objective of the afternoon was to get in a good hike. The start of the trail was actually an old roadway that is apparently being allowed to return to nature. This, along with an occasional dilapidated road sign, gave it a fun post-apocalyptic, Walking Dead feel:

As we hiked, we could look down into a lava lake that has been inactive since 1959:

The trail also took us through a lava tube, which is basically a natural conduit left in the earth where molten lava once flowed:

These were just a couple signs along the trail that I found amusing:

The trail eventually took us down into the hardened lava lake that we saw from the overlook earlier:

This was my favorite experience so far. It felt so other-worldly, like being on another planet:

Lava rocks are surprisingly light, as demonstrated by Natalie:

They are also surprisingly sharp, as demonstrated by Natalie:

This is what “Internet Hour” looks like, an innovative new tactic in cruel parenting. For the duration of this trip, we are limiting the girls’ daily internet connectivity to one hour, which we hope will help them be fully present here the other 23. (You’re welcome, girls.)

Before calling it a night on Saturday, we drove back to the Halemaumau Crater to see the glow of the lava against the starry nighttime sky:

We drove to Lava Trees State Park on Sunday morning to see the “lava tree molds.” This phenomenon was created in the 1700’s when lava flowed through here, coating the trees and leaving the molds intact after the trees died and rotted away:

It really wasn’t that interesting, but it felt good to walk around and to see vegetation I don’t get to see every day in Indiana:

After the lava trees, we stopped at yet another farmers market. (It turned into a delicious lunch stop.)

After checking out of our Airbnb house, we hit the road and started making our way back toward Kona. We stopped at a local coffee farm along the way:

We love tours, so here we learned all about how coffee is grown, harvested and roasted. Did you know green coffee beans are the worlds #2 commodity? (Oil is #1.)

By the end of the afternoon, we were checked into our condo in Kona where we will spend the rest of the week:

Monday morning was bright and sunny, so we decided it would be a good day to spend at the beach:

After a few hours of swimming and snorkeling, we drove a bit down the road to walk a very different type of beach: (Note the overcast weather, a mere 15 minutes after leaving the previous sunny beach.)

This stretch of beach is known for its sea turtles, and we were lucky enough to see a few sleeping on the shore and still others swimming in the tide nearby:

Up this week: more hiking, more beaches and at least one more National Park. It’s going to be a good week!

 

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Goodbye, old friend.

goodbye-southy

We had to say goodbye to the ol’ Southy today. We sold it, and it has moved on to its next adventure, this time to some wonderful people out of sunny Arizona.

I try not to get attached to “things,” but this thing was different. As a colleague of mine phrased it, RVs are memory-making machines and, well, this RV made us a lot of memories.

Not a completely sad day, however: Hawaii 2016 is officially funded!

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RV for sale…*sniff*

The Arnold RV is officially for sale. Interested suitors can see this page for more details. Memories not included.

southwind-for-sale

 

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Summer 2015 RV trip: week 3

As planned, we spent last Saturday walking around Quebec City. To my delight, everyone was quite friendly and, if they could, readily switched to English when they detected our awful attempts at French.

The weather wasn’t fantastic for much of the day, but we could still enjoy walking around and experiencing what a cool town Quebec City is.

It’s pretty interesting how this large city has grown up around the stone walls built hundreds of years ago to keep out invaders.

We really want to go to Europe, and this entire Quebec trip was inspired by the recommendation from a friend (thanks Tawn!) as a more immediate, drive-able substitute. This city’s shops built on narrow, hilly downtown roads did indeed feel very European.

While much of the graffiti of Quebec City has undeniable artistic merit, I was sad to see so much history wantonly vandalized:

It rained Saturday night. Big deal, I know, but it rained really, really hard and I want to remember it:

I’m sure I’ve noted this elsewhere on our blog, but there’s an axiom of RVing that states “if it ain’t broke, it soon will be.” That refrigerator door broke right off its hinges, so it was MacGyver time on Sunday morning:

Sunday was our last day behind Canadian lines, so it was time to stock up on essential supplies like these:

…and several bottles of french wine:

…and lastly, thanks to a fortuitous wrong turn, a Quebec-y dish we’d been meaning to try:

It’s called poutine, and it’s just fries, cheese curds, brown gravy, and a whole lotta delicious:

I like Canada a lot, but after a week of faking French, I was glad to cross that black line back into ‘Merica:

The hills of the Gaspé Peninsula — and Quebec in general — really took a toll on our brakes. We had a leaky brake seal replaced in Burlington, Vermont on Monday, hoping that would solve our smoking brake problem. (It didn’t.)

Monday night was supposed to be a routine stop at the Walmart in Rutland, Vermont, but this place gave me the heebee jeebees. The parking lot was shared with an Amtrack station, and I wasn’t convinced we were on the right side of those tracks.

Reason #781 of why I love RVing: If you don’t like where you’re at, move. We found suitable refuge down the road at Hannaford’s:

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, we’re having some kitchen work done at home while we travel, and our route happened to take us by the Vermont Marble Company where our counter tops are coming from. Turns out they’ve supplied marble for other projects like the Supreme Court Building, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so their resumé seems pretty solid.

On Tuesday we enjoyed the hospitality of my cousin Joe and his wife Rose in Syracuse, NY. Joe is on staff at Syracuse University and gave us a tour of this lovely campus. Rose is a french-speaking native of Quebec, so it was fun talking with her and getting all of our French Canadian questions answered!

Amy is a grocery store connoisseur, so she was delighted to be in a state that has her favorite grocery store in the whole wide world:

The RV brakes overheated again the previous day, so I spent much of Wednesday calling around looking for some service. Butch at Butch’s Automotive in Liverpool, NY looked at our brakes and advised us to limp home where our normal repair shop could fix them right. (Butch could have done the work, but the RV would have been unusable for a couple days at least.)

Wednesday evening, Amy and I celebrated 20 years of marriage at the Ellicottville Brewing Company in the charming, podunk town of Fredonia, NY. That might not sound like anything fancy, but it was better than the parking lot at Butch’s Automotive.

Thursday morning, the girls and I hung out at a local library while Amy took a half-day field trip to the Chautauqua Institution — an arts and education-centric community she heard about on NPR. The bigwig speaker that day was Alberto Gonzolaz, former US Attorney General.

On Thursday evening we rolled into my hometown of Avon Lake, OH. Our friends Rock and Kym were kind enough to lend us their driveway for the evening on very short notice.

We were glad to have a real campsite on Friday night at East Harbor State Park in Lakeside-Marblehead, OH — it was very warm that evening, so having electrical hookups let us run the ACs without running the smelly generator. We did spend a little bit of time outside to roast (burn) some marshmallows, however:

Saturday was ridiculously fun. We met up with my dearest friend from high school, Jenny, and her husband Bob on Kelleys Island. We toured the island on golf carts:

…saw a so-lame-it-was-charming parade (free candy!):

…hung out on Bob’s and Jen’s swanky boat:

…and cooled off in Lake Erie:

We enjoyed a late dinner with evening fireworks before catching the ferry back to our campsite. It was a very full, very fun day. (Thank you, Bob and Jen, for such a wonderful time!)

We slept in on Sunday and took our time getting to Amy’s parents’ house in Delphos, OH. We’re decompressing here for a few days before driving the final stretch back to Indy.

A mostly-done new kitchen waiting for us at home gives us something to look forward to I suppose, but I’m always a little sad when an RV trip wraps up — especially this one, because this was likely this RV’s last adventure with us.

Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to the ol’ Southy in order to fund a trip to the only state we’ve not traveled to yet.

I’m talking to you, Hawaii.

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Summer 2015 RV trip: week 2

Bonjour! (More on that in a minute…)

Before leaving Ottawa last Thursday, we made another trip downtown since the weather was much nicer than the previous day. There was still more to see, like the Prime Minister’s office:

…and their impressive Parliament Hill:

The good spirits from Canada Day still lingered in the air, especially from this friendly police officer:

We thought we were seizing a rare opportunity to pick up some items at IKEA, but we ended up passing at least two others as we continued through Ontario and Québec.

That evening, we boondocked next to the barn of our host Jean-Pierre in (very) rural Glen Robertson, Ontario:

Traveling the next morning, we noticed the road signs were only in French. When I snapped these photos, I imagined telling a story of a freaky little Canadian town that was so backwoods only French was spoken there. But non! Turns out this was the start of a weeklong new reality of feeling like an illiterate foreigner:

We didn’t have any good boondocking options for Friday, so we ponied up for our first paid site with full hookups at an actual campground. (Full hookups = long showers.)

Friday was an easy travel day, so we had most of the day left to explore Montreal. We drove the Jeep a reasonable distance into downtown but then took the subway to our final destination: Old Montreal.

Public transportation isn’t anything I’d call fun, but it is a great way to dive into the local population and get a sense of what a city is like.

We walked the cobble stone streets of Old Montreal, perused the shops and watched some street performers. It was interesting, I suppose, but Amy had a more apt description: tourist trap:

After driving most of the day on Saturday, we stopped in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec for dinner and to enjoy some welcomed natural scenery. This is the kind of stuff we like:

We also tried to order ice cream using our limited French. It’s amazing how far one can get with simple words like please, thank you, and general pointing and grunting in a friendly manner.

We had no idea where we were going to camp Saturday night. There was a local Walmart, but we feared that it would be one of the many Canadian Walmarts where overnight parking is not allowed. Our fears were unfounded:

Reason #592 why I love RVing: With no internet and really nothing else to do most late evenings, sweet boredom sets in and drives us to desperate measures of socializing together in ways we just don’t seem to do at home.

Sunday was another long travel day with no definite end-goal in mind. We landed at a nice little city park in Carleton-sur-Mer, Quebec to eat dinner, take a walk and burn up some energy:

We drove a few miles to the next little town of Maria, Quebec and found a nice church parking lot complete with a creepy 19th century French graveyard. Good ’nuff.

I hardly ever get sick, so it’s perhaps fitting that I caught a terrible cold while on vacation. I stayed pretty well coked up on this stuff, however, which added a nice dream-like, ethereal dimension to our travels. Canada’s awesome! (Amy drove.)

On Monday we hustled to Percé, Quebec for a boat trip to Parc de l’Ile Bonaventure et du-Roche-Percé. This rock is the iconic image from the Gaspé Peninsula, our furthest-most destination for this trip:

Bonaventure Island provides a good habitat for grey seals:

The boat trip included a stop on Bonaventure Island where we did some hiking:

Our trail led to the largest, most accessible nesting ground for thousands of Northern gannets, all of whom sound highly annoyed with one another:

More hiking the next morning at Forillon National Park; our first sign of whales in the Chaleur Bay. We later learned that it could have been a humpback or fin whale:

The girls were too tired, but Amy and I took in one more hike Tuesday evening to a wonderful lookout over the mouth of the St. Lawrence River:

I’ll just say it: these hills suck. The past several days the RV has been grinding its way up steep roads at 25 mph and then careening down the other side at 70+ mph. It’s hard on the RV and mentally exhausting for us. I don’t recall roads like this since the Rocky Mountains.

Our brakes were smoking after a particularly grueling series of climbs and descents on Tuesday evening, so we stopped at a little pull-off to let them cool. We ended up just calling it a night and slept to the soothing sound of waves lapping the rocky shore. It was fantastic.

By Wednesday we had reached Trois-Pistoles, Quebec, completing our circle of the Gaspé Peninsula. We settled in for the night near the dock where our ferry would leave the next morning, taking us to the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River:

All of the towns we’ve been passing through have similar characteristics: quaint homes, cozy inns, maybe a market or two and a prominent church with a majestic steeple.

Thursday morning was our big ferry ride. They packed us in like sardines. The ride took an hour and a half to cross the St. Lawrence. It is a very wide river.

I have two things to say about this Canadian junk food discovery: 1) try these if you can find them, 2) you’re welcome:

Thursday night we splurged again on a local campground campsite in Tadoussac, Quebec. Given that we were low on water, needed to empty our waste tanks and were all a little desperate for WiFi, this was a great option.

Settling in at a camping spot early also gave us some time to take in a quick evening hike along the Saguenay Fjord:

Friday morning, we drove the Jeep to Cap-de-Bon-Désir, a popular spot for whale watching in the St. Lawrence River. We saw several white Beluga whales and a couple of these Minke whales:

People participated at different levels:

They don’t apparently believe in bridges around Tadoussac, so we took another ferry across the Saguenay River:

The first Walmart we landed at outside of Quebec City on Friday night didn’t allow overnight parking, but we found one not too far away that did.

Tomorrow we venture into Quebec City, which — we’ve been warned — could be the most challenging for us non-French speakers. The forecast calls for party haughty with a chance of snootiness.

Prove me wrong, Quebec City. Prove me wrong…

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Summer 2015 RV trip: week 1

Q: What should one do after gutting an 1880’s townhouse?
A: Get in an RV and drive to Canada.

That’s pretty much our summer plan. And with a little bit of luck, we’ll come back to a new wood floor and kitchen cabinets. (Fingers crossed.)

A couple weeks earlier, Amy had shrewdly negotiated a temporary RV storage spot only a couple blocks away from our house. It was the perfect staging area to get our rig ready for the road:

…which was no small feat: This year’s trip had the complexities of both leaving for vacation AND prepping our downstairs for construction while we’re away. We were three hours past our intended departure time, but wheels were finally rolling by early Saturday evening. I was reminded how, like a spaceship breaking free of Earth’s gravity, the first mile of any RV trip is always the hardest.

Amy took the first shift:

And now for a harrowing story about carelessness and waste tanks…

We stopped at a truck stop a mere 45 minutes into our travels to fill our fresh water tank. In a complete lapse of competence, I mistakenly hooked up the water supply to the waste tank and in doing so, unwittingly filled my waste tank with an untold amount of water and pressure.

Upon realizing my mistake, I attempted to release some of the pressure by opening the toilet flush valve in the bathroom. For this I was rewarded with a loud pop of air and a face full of brown water (yes, ew). With no other options, I raced outside, hooked up my sewer hose, and in the severest breach of RV etiquette (and surely local ordinances), I unleashed the contents of my waste tank into a nearby storm drain, a la “Cousin Eddie.”

I’m sure had the pressure built up enough to come up through the bathroom, it would have made for a great story one day, but I’m happy to settle for “catastrophe averted.”

With that li’l snafu out of the way, I see nothing but smooth sailing ahead for the duration of our trip. (Your move, Fate.)

Here we are settled down Saturday night at the Walmart in Defiance, OH:

Only our second day into the trip and already leaving the country. Exciting!

A glimpse of Detroit from the bridge to Canada. Not as bad as I expected:

Rather than using normal camping spots, we are trying something new this trip: boondocking in strangers’ driveways courtesy of boondockerswelcome.com. (Think Airbnb, but for RVs. And free.) Here we are camped at our first spot on our host’s farm in Oakville, Ontario:

We ventured out in the Jeep to stock up on groceries, a strangely exciting outing (foreign grocery stores are fun!):

The first of many hard rains so far:

It cleared up that evening, and we enjoyed some wine and conversation with our host, Ross:

The next morning, a gift of an apple and a carrot sealed Natalie’s and Emily’s friendship with the resident horse:

That afternoon, Carrie, Nat and I killed some time at a nearby library in Toronto:

Amy and Emily, however, took in some plane spotting at Toronto Pearson International Airport. They found a great spot: a parking lot right at the end of the runway.

Carrie, Nat and I joined them in time to catch an Airbus A380 fly right over us:

We were boondocking guests once again on Monday evening, this time in our host Linda’s yard in Kemptville, Ontario:

Our boondocking site was located next to a campground where a fellow RVing family was staying that we met last year. It was great catching up with them and eating their marshmallows:

The next morning, our host Linda gave us some excellent suggestions for getting around our next destination: downtown Ottawa.

Here we are camped in our third boondocking site, courtesy of Andrew and Lisa in Ottowa, Ontario:

Our hosts generously invited us to help ourselves to their vegetable garden, making Amy quite literally a happy camper:

Wednesday July 1 was Canada Day, and all museums and public transportation were free. We wanted to explore the festivities of downtown Ottawa but didn’t want to fight the traffic — not even in the Jeep. (Canada Day in the nation’s capital of Ottawa is much like Fourth of July in Washington DC.)

We started with the Canadian History Museum, which was a bit underwhelming due to the crowds and the amount of energy it took to get there:

Outside was more interesting, seeing the Canadian Parliament building across the river in Quebec:

We walked across the bridge to Quebec and stopped at the Royal Canadian Mint for a tour:

This was also a bit of a let-down. It rained on us hard while we waited in line (not fun), and it turns out the Canadians mint their coins darn near exactly how the US does (which we saw in Philly), so it was really nothing new. The one notable exception was getting to hold a solid 24k gold bar worth about $500,000. It was shockingly heavy:

After the mint, we strolled through the nearby ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest public markets.

The rain could not suppress the Canadian pride on display all around us. It was also fun to hear more French than English.

We were all very tired after a long day, but Emily really wanted to see some fireworks, it being Canada Day and all. So last minute, we hopped in the Jeep and found a tallish parking garage at a nearby college. From there, we watched the fireworks off in the distance near where we had been earlier in the day. The view wasn’t fantastic, but being far away from the crowds sure was:

Thursday was a beautiful day (finally!) so we ventured back into Ottawa for a couple hours. I’ll include those details in the next post, however. We need to hit the road (heading toward Montreal), and I want to get this posted since I’m not sure when we’ll have internet again.

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Summer RV trip: final week

We continued our push toward home on Monday, stopping along the way at the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan where Canada’s Mounted Police are trained (proudly called “Depot”). We were lucky enough to arrive in time to catch the Sargent Major’s Parade:

We strolled through the museum and learned about the history of the “Mounties”…

…and took a grounds tour to see what life is like for a new recruit. American media tends to unfairly lampoon the Canadian mounty, but we found these men and women to be hard core law enforcers.

Early Tuesday morning, we crossed back into the USA (North Dakota, specifically):

We camped Tuesday night at Pinehurst Campground, an unexpectedly lovely little place just outside of Jamestown, North Dakota:

I’ve learned to like the convenience and non-expense of Walmart parking lots, but this serene setting was a welcomed change of pace and still a great deal at $10/night:

There was a surprising lack of mosquitos, so we took the opportunity to burn up some firewood we had been hauling around. We hardly ever bother with campfires, but this was another nice change of pace:

I don’t know how we got started on this, but Em, Nat and I stayed up late Tuesday night experimenting with flashlights and long camera exposures:

On Wednesday, Emily got to meet up with an Instagram friend and fellow aviation aficionado at the Mall of America near Minneapolis, MN:

By Thursday we had reached our last stop: the EAA AirVenture event in Oshkosh, WI:

It rained like crazy as soon as we got there:

Friday was a mix of rain and sun, but by Saturday morning it was totally clear. This photo shows just a small, small section of the densely packed fields of RVs and tents that makeup the landscape of this event:

It was a perfect day for the AirVenture Runway 5k that Carrie, Em and I ran. (They did great; Amy trained them well!)

It was sort of the same content (not a bad thing) as when we were here two years ago. Lots of people and planes…

…Emily getting lots of encouragement:

…schmoozing with pilots (in this case, a Thunderbird):

…and overall getting a fresh dose of inspiration for one day taking to the skies herself:

Saturday afternoon was, as expected, a cool air show of historical and military aircraft:

…and that night was the best fireworks we had seen since the last time we were here; everyone’s favorite part of Oshkosh.  As usual, they ended the show by igniting gun powder and jet fuel on the runway to create the aptly-named “wall of fire.” This is, of course, awesome.

It’s always a mixed bag of emotions seeing this sign:

Great to see my mom again, though:

After a quick round of hellos and hugs, we got to work unpacking. Traveling in an RV is like nothing else, but unpacking after a trip is like moving out of any other home.

And now she sits in a downtown vacant lot that Amy found on Craig’s List. It’s sad the way one moment this thing is the center of our family life — the very vessel that holds us together — and a moment later is an empty shell, discarded and unused. I suppose I would do well to have a less anthropomorphic view of RVs, but still, it feels like we’re abandoning a member of the family:

Having safely returned, I feel an immense sense of satisfaction from traveling to beautiful Alaska and back in seven weeks, and with very little trouble. The girls are busy prepping for the first day of school. Emily and Natalie start tomorrow and Carrie starts high school (!) later this week, so there is also some satisfaction knowing that we maximized every last day of summer break. It was wonderful.

I’ll post a final blog later this week once we’ve tallied up total miles and costs.

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Summer RV trip: week 6

Before heading out of Tok on Monday, we stopped to catch up on some laundry. The great thing about an empty laundromats is that we can bang out a family of five’s laundry in about an hour.

After that, we left Alaska and headed back down the treacherous Alaska Highway:

We stopped along the road in Kluane National Park to do some off-roading with the Jeep. Nat and I had to inspect a couple stream-crossings along the way, as we’re still learning what this vehicle can take.

It turns out stuff like stream crossings and roads like this are not a problem at all:

Amy got us back to some wonderful scenery only accessible by 4-wheel-drive vehicles. It was so much fun, and so empowering.

By Monday evening, the beautiful mountains of Kluane were in our rear-view mirror instead of in front of us. So, a little sad. (With its Alaskan neighbor park Wrangall-St. Elias, this area holds several of North America’s tallest peaks.)

We’d gotten used to these views:

Back in Whitehorse on Tuesday, we were overdue for an oil change. Our RV was too big for this particular shop, but Amy sweet-talked them into changing the oil on the street.

We’ve had a bit of trouble with our rig lately. The RV twice now has not started — and then it mysteriously starts right up. And the Jeep’s supplemental break system, shown here, some days won’t work — and then it mysteriously works fine.

We’re up to five chips in the RV windshield:

..and two chips and several little pits in the Jeep windshield:

Jaywalker:

By Wednesday, and after two days of hard driving, we made it back to Churchill Copper Mine Road in the Northern Rocky Mountain Provincial Park. This was the place of our failed off-roading attempt a couple weeks earlier. It was time to try this again.

This river was as far as we got last time. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but that water is about two feet deep and moving quickly over a bed of large rocks, so it felt a little risky to drive across it:

It was worth it. Once we crossed the river, it was smooth dirt roads; easy Jeep driving:

We took the road about 10 miles back and stopped at this field. Not sure what these white plants/weeds are, but they looked pretty in the early evening sun:

More animated GIF fun:

We let Carrie and Emily get in some driving practice on the way back (Natalie can’t quite reach the pedals yet):

Thursday would be another long day of driving. One of the challenges of these Canadian roads is the dust — they seem dustier than any desert I’ve been in:

By Friday we had reached the end (or beginning, rather) of the Alaska Highway; a.k.a “mile 0” in Dawson Creek, British Columbia:

While there, we stopped at a little museum and saw a fascinating documentary on the making of the Alaska Highway. Having just driven it, I could appreciate the back-breaking labor that it took to forge 1500 miles of road through uncharted wilderness. It truly was an engineering feat on par with the Panama Canal.

Not a great photo, but I’m including it here to document two unique things: 1) we have darkness at night again, and 2) we are driving after dark, something we strive to avoid. I was so glad to stop at the Walmart in Edmonton, capitol of Alberta, on Friday night.

Amy scored big at the farmers’ market in Edmonton on Saturday morning:

Hey look what’s in Edmonton! We did some shopping and let our girls experience the glory that is IKEA:

We drove a short way on Saturday until we came upon a Walmart in Vegreville, Alberta. Also, that is the biggest trailer I’ve ever seen.

The mountains are behind us unfortunately, but we now see fields upon fields of these yellow flowers. Not sure what they are, but I will find out. UPDATE: It’s canola. (source: a kid in a Saskatchewan Walmart McDonalds where I’m enjoying free WiFi.)

We crossed into new territory today: Saskatchewan!

We ended the week stopped at a dumpy little campground in Kenaston, Saskatchewan. But there was a dump station and potable water, so for $10 it was good enough for us! This was only the second time we paid for camping this week.

With 2084 miles logged, this week was the hardest we’ve driven so far. We’re trying to keep up the pace so we get home in time for school, but we’re also trying to savor as much as we can before this trip is over.

 

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Summer RV trip: week 5

For this week’s blog, I — Emily — will be telling our story. On Tuesday, we drove to Homer. This is the view from an overlook on the way to Homer, AK. (That small strip of sand called the Homer Spit was where we camped that night).

Halibut is a really delicious fish. I look forward to when mom will make it. :)

This is our scenic campsite on the Homer Spit. The view reminded me of the Oregon coastlines with the rocks and cliffs, the mountain ranges of Colorado, and the ocean of New Jersey (except the Alaskan Gulf is much colder) all mashed together.

Natalie spent most of the 24 hours here playing by the water.

We decided to take a walk on the beach later that evening. This picture was taken at about 10:00 pm.

It was Mom and Dad’s 19th Anniversary on Tuesday. They went to a little restaurant and ditched Carrie, Natalie and me. Mom had fresh halibut.

While they were gone, we made a sign and cleaned the RV. They said it was a great gift! :)

Before we left Homer, Dad took this picture through the windshield of the RV. It makes me think of a scene someone would paint.

On Wednesday, we met Tracy, the woman who gifted me the flight lesson in Fairbanks. She was in Moose Pass, AK, getting her license to fly float planes. Here she is showing us around the docks. I wished I could try one out.

We ended up camping at another harbor town on Wednesday named Seward. Almost everything here has to do with fish.

There were boats of all kinds, from a single-person kayak to major cruise ships.

Here is the end of the Alaskan pipeline system. It stretches about 800 miles taking oil from its source to this port.

We noticed this special feature on many Alaskan cars. It warms the engine in the winter when it gets down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Thursday, Carrie, Natalie and Mom went horseback riding while dad taught me how to drive the Jeep. Here’s what Natalie had to say about their ride:

From Natalie: “I had been wanting to go on a horseback ride ever since we had left on the trip. Finally, my mom found a cool two hour ride that we could do. We got to see some bald eagles up-close and that a was pretty cool. I thought this was an awesome riding experience because the first thing our guide did was told us some safety tips (only put the balls of your feet in the stirrups, etc.) and then she asked us our riding experience, so she knew what horse to put you on. I got a really gentle horse named Frisco. I had a ton of fun, but oh man, I am so sore now.”

From Natalie: “This is me and Frisco, he was so sweet and gentle. I love horses.”

It started clearing up in Seward on Friday morning, enough to take a nice picture. :)

We took a hike up to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park on Friday. I think it’s amazing how glaciers are melting yet shaping the land at the same time.

These are scratch marks made from Exit Glacier when it was moving across the rocks.

I prefer these ranger-led hikes because we learn more than when we take hikes on our own.

It’s funny how we see beautiful scenery during the day and end up camping in a dull parking lot.

The next morning, we left dad to work at the RV and took off to go watch planes (at my request). There was a wide variety of airplanes, mostly cargo though.
One very special highlight-of-the-day was seeing this 747-8F (these are newest 747s that have serrated engine cowlings like the 787 Dreamliners.)

This old 737 was used as a prop in the movie Big Miracle and has been used for many other things such as transporting a herd of live caribou.

The fireweed plant is very common across Alaska, and some people here say the first snowfall will come when these are in full bloom. The park rangers say that should be in two to four weeks.

We are now heading out of Alaska and are gradually making our way to our final destination: Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for Airventure 2014! :)

 

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