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 (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:


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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Summer RV trip: week 4

We continued our push through the Yukon on Monday and, that evening, camped in a Walmart parking lot in Whitehorse, YT. (It was actually a dirt side-lot of some sort, as the main parking lot was stuffed full of other RVs. I’ve never seen so many people camping at a Walmart at once.)

The scenery was beginning to change again as we moved farther north on Tuesday:

The Alaska Highway is like any other road in some parts. But in many parts, it’s just a dirty, bumpy, gravel road. Amy steered us through the worst of it on Tuesday, a minefield of potholes stretching over 115 kilometers. Masterful job, Amy!

I gotta hand it to the Canadian road crews. They seem to be out in regular doses doing what they can to keep this lonely road usable:

When we made a short stop in Beaver Creek — the last little town in the Yukon — we saw just how dirty that last stretch of the Alaska Highway had been:

Early Tuesday evening, we had finally reached Alaska! It felt great to be back in the U-S-of-A and speaking in gallons and miles again (and with hope of good internet).

Our first Alaskan camping stop was in the town of Tok (rhymes with “joke”, appropriately). The towns around here are…different. Things have a noticeably raw, undeveloped feel to them.

On Wednesday, I did a little work in the RV while the girls visited a nearby shop that featured sled dog puppies. Apparently, traveling in extreme winter weather requires extreme cuteness. (More on sled dogs in a minute.)

By Wednesday evening we had reached the end of the Alaska Highway:

We continue to enjoy all of the wildlife that we see as we drive, like this moose feeding near the side of the road on our way to Fairbanks, AK, Wednesday evening:

Like many previous places on this trip, the mosquitos were pretty bad in Fairbanks:

We stayed in Fairbanks for two full days, allowing me to suckle the sweet nectar of Verizon 4G internet and catch up on some work. The girls took a side trip to the Large Animal Research Facility at the University of Alaska. These are muskox, an arctic bovine with a fine undercoat that is warmer and softer than wool. It’s known colloquially as “Alaskan cashmere.”

Friday was a big day for Emily. Some very kind pilots from Fairbanks that Amy recently met via Facebook had gifted a flight lesson to Emily at the nearby airport. Here she is getting some gear:

…taking part in the pre-flight inspection:

..readying for take-off:

..and then up and away:

She had a great time and learned a lot from her instructor. In fact, this was the first time she was able to taxi on her own. We celebrated with ice-cream:

We made it to Denali National Park on Saturday evening, early enough to take in a short hike:

We could only see the peak of Denali (known by some as Mt. McKinley) from afar that evening, so we were quite eager to see her full glory on our bus tour the next day.

We camped for free at an airstrip a few miles from Denali National Park. It was fun to see the little planes come and go all night, but here’s what’s notable about this photo: it’s after midnight. (It doesn’t get any darker than dusk this time of year; my internal sleep-clock is so messed up!)

Denali National Park is 6 million acres of raw wilderness and one unpaved road. As such, the only motorized way of seeing the park is by a bus system operated by the park. Here we are about to board:

As expected, we saw lots of wildlife. Plenty of caribou:

A few Dall sheep sightings from afar:

Many moose:

…and several Grizzlies:

..and out there, behind those low clouds stands Denali, the tallest point on the North American continent. We hear it’s beautiful.

It was hard not to be disappointed. The clouds parted a few times to reveal some great vistas later in the day, but Denali remained completely shrouded in cloud cover.

It was long day of bus traveling; most of us dozed off during the return trip:

Covering so much area via the convenience of a bus was great, but it also felt good to use our legs for a short hike at the end of the day.

We stopped at a local brewery on our way back to the RV. They had the bus used in the movie Into The Wild, the story of Chris McCandless. (If you’ve not heard of him, he basically tried to live alone, inexperienced and unprepared in the Alaskan wilderness. SPOILER: It ends badly.)

Double rainbow back at the air strip!

Before leaving Denali on Monday morning, Amy, Natalie, and I attended a sled dog demonstration (Carrie and Em opted to sleep in).

Sled dogs are used by the Denali park rangers in the winter months to patrol this huge park. This isn’t just to be kitschy; sled dogs are simply a better alternative to snowmobiles (think noise, pollution, companionship, protection, lack of mechanical difficulties, etc.)

These aren’t froo-froo purebred huskies, either; these are mutts bred to work. I’ve never seen anything like it — these dogs wanted to GO!

As is the case with every National Park ranger presentation, it was excellent.

I found this thing parked next to us in the Denali parking lot. Big family? No problemo; this sleeps 26!

We’re stopped in Wasilla for the night in what might be the best view I’ve had from a Walmart parking lot:

Tomorrow morning, it’s on to Anchorage…

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Summer break RV trip: week 3

On Monday we stopped in the town of Canmore, Alberta, looking for a library so I could get a few hours of internet-dependent work done. This is their library, and THAT is their view!

We saw several of these along the road in Banff National Park: wildlife bridges over the freeway so animals can cross the road unscathed. Well done, Canada.

Here are Natalie and Emily all decked out for Canada Day on Tuesday:

I’m not going to lie: the idea of a bear encounter while hiking terrifies me. While I’d prefer bear grenades, this spray stuff looks promising (it even came with a holster.) I am now actively looking for a bear to spray.

We unfortunately weren’t the only ones who showed up in Banff to do a hike:

There were just too many people on this particular trail. We aborted our “hike” after about five minutes of fighting the crowds.

We found an alternate, far-less-traveled path that lead to these so-called “ink pots” — springs of cold water that form blue and green pools in the mud:

It was a beautiful view, and it felt great to soak our tired feet in the ice-cold water flowing down from the mountains (it was a long hike).

We camped that night at a nice wooded campground in Banff National Park:

On Wednesday we stopped at Lake Louise, which is very beautiful, but also has a Disneyland feel with all of the crowds and parking congestion. We did a short walk and then we were ready to leave.

We continued traveling on Wednesday from Banff toward Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, stopping at a couple scenic lookouts along the way. The money shot that day was Amy’s iPhone panorama taken of Peyto Lake (click the photo for a larger view):

Here is another stop, this one at Mistaya Canyon. (I’m trying my hand here at an animated GIF.)

Another quiet, wooded campground on Wednesday night along the Icefields Parkway.

We are regularly seeing wildlife from the road as we drive. On Thursday, this elk was practically posing for us:

Hot springs are the reason this area is now a national park. There are numerous hot springs in the Canadian Rockies and our Jasper National Park campground was just down the road from Miette Hot Springs. Amy and Natalie couldn’t resist trying it out:

These typical-looking pools are filled with the water from the hot springs, the hottest in the area. In fact, it leaves the mountain at 129 degrees and cools to 104 degrees by the time it gets to the pool. It felt great on tired, hiking muscles! Note: this sunset view was after 10 pm. We have very long days.

On Friday we stopped at a truck wash to give the RV and Jeep a desperately needed wash. (In hindsight, this was a complete waste of time because it was filthy again within 24 hours.)

By Friday afternoon we had reached the start — “Mile 0” — of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia:

We almost camped that night at a Walmart in Fort St. Johns, BC, but the Safeway across the street provided a luxurious amenity: free Wifi usable from our RV in the parking lot!

We saw lot of wildlife as we traveled on Saturday. The most exciting one was this black bear strolling down the road (viewed from the safety of the RV, of course).

Saturday night we got to experience what the Canadian parks system calls “informal camping.” They’re just clearings in the woods a kilometer or so off the main road. It was charming, in a Deliverance sort of way.

We had big plans for some off-roading in the Jeep on Sunday morning. But our woeful inexperience with driving through rivers and such — and the pleading from our daughters — made us reconsider and turn back. We vowed to get educated on what the Jeep (and we) can handle and try it again when we pass through here on the way home. We’ll be back, Churchill Mine Road. We’ll be back…

Even our Sunday morning hike was a bust. We tried to take a short hike, but the mosquitos were unbearable. We turned back and decided to just get on the road.

We traveled some serious distance through a mostly uninhabited stretch of British Columbia. This required careful planning of fuel stops, so this threw a bit of a wrench in that plan:

We fortunately came upon another hole-in-the-wall gas station later that morning, but at $1.97/liter, it hurt. (That’s about $7.46/gallon!!)

We saw lots more wildlife as we drove all day Sunday. Here, a group of mountain goats:

…and later a herd of bison:

…and lots more bears. This will probably be the last bear photo, as they’re a dime a dozen out here. (Unless it’s one I get to spray.)

By Sunday afternoon, we had reached the Yukon Territory:

We stopped at Watson Lake, YT, to fill the tanks at a slightly better price and found a very curious attraction at the visitors’ center: The Sign Post Forrest, a collection of an estimated 80,000+ road signs and license plates that years of travelers have nailed to the trees and posts:

We retrieved our old California license plate from the RV and left our mark:

I had to pull over Sunday evening and take another representative shot of what driving through British Columbia and Yukon is like. It’s this, mile after mile, day after day:

We stopped for the night on Sunday at a Yukon “government campground” having traveled 1391 miles this week. (Note the daylight; this is 10:30 pm!)

First order of business in the morning: wash that windshield!

Then, it’s on to Whitehorse, Yukon’s only city and the last real town before we reach Alaska.

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Summer break RV trip: week 2

On Monday we made it to an old favorite from our previous travels: the Sunrise Campground in Bozeman Montana.

As luck would have it, our friends Herb and Jeanie — whom we met here three years ago — happened to arrive that same day. It was great to catch up with them and made our visit to this campground even better.

On Tuesday, we made use of a free RV site at the city park in Cascade, MT. It rained like crazy shortly after we got there.

…but within a couple hours, it cleared completely.

…and we enjoyed a lovely sunset. (This is a weather pattern we’ve experience for several days now.)

We made it to Glacier National Park on Wednesday and immediately took to the roof to take in the view:

While driving around in the Jeep that afternoon, we saw our first bear (didn’t get to pet him though).

That evening we enjoyed a wonderful hike, serenaded by some Swainson’s Thrushes happily singing away:

Thursday was pretty rainy, so I decided to stay in and make a work day out of it.

The girls took a side trip to the Canadian counterpart to Glacier: Waterton Lakes National Park.

The Prince of Wales Historic Lodge sits majestically on a hilltop in this park. The views from here were reportedly stunning, but this day’s low, rainy clouds impeded their view.

Despite the weather, they enjoyed their stop at the quaint town of Waterton. A highlight of the day occurred as they were leaving the park and spotted more bears:

Friday was beautiful:

We did a morning hike to St Mary and Virginia Falls:

Virginia Falls was in a full roar with the spring melt:

The spray overpowered all who tried to stand in the fall’s presence.

On the way back to the RV, a break in the trees and a break in the clouds revealed some pretty cool scenery (click the photo for a larger view):

By Friday afternoon, we had left the country:

We camped that night is a provincial park outside of Fort Macleod where the camping was super cheap:

This is just a catch-all photo to represent all of the wide open spaces we’ve enjoyed over the last week. The sun shines brighter, the sky seems taller and the grassy hills just seem to roll on forever. It temporarily assuages my anxiety about global overpopulation:

Sometimes the name of a place is all one needs to want to stop (I’m sure the original Blackfoot term had a more poetic ring to it):

This was a very well-done museum at a “buffalo jump” site used by the native peoples for some 6,000 years. I had heard of the hunting technique of chasing a buffalo heard over a cliff, but I was unaware of the intense strategy and teamwork needed to pull it off successfully, and how that determined whether there would be enough food to last the winter.

This is one of two cliffs in the area that were used for the buffalo jumps. (It was a much higher drop-off thousands of years ago.)

I don’t know what this “litres” nonsense is, but they are noticeably more expensive than gallons.

On Saturday night we camped in a casino parking lot in Calgary, Alberta. It was nice leaching off of their wifi, since good internet has been darn near impossible to find in Canada so far.

On Sunday morning we visited Calgary’s Winsport Olympic Park, which was the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics:

There were a handful of activities to do there, but we opted for the “luge” ride:

It started with a ski lift to the top of the hill, followed by us riding our little plastic luges down a 1.8 kilometer winding track.

Here are Nat and Amy doing a final brake check at the top of the hill. It was a lot of fun. We did it twice.

We stopped Sunday night at a provincial park near Canmore, Alberta. Like many of our other campsites, this one has no plugin for power — and we don’t need it. With traveling nearly every day, our batteries get fully recharged and we therefore have all the electricity we need.

We will head west toward Banff in the morning, then the big push north to Alaska!

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Summer Break RV trip: Back on the road

After THAT winter, we decided we don’t like being in cold places. So, we’re heading to Alaska. (While we are making deeper roots in Indianapolis, we will continue traveling every summer break.)

The RV rode out the vicious winter in a nice barn in Northwest Ohio and suffered only a dead battery and a bad case of dry-rotted tires. The exciting upgrade to our rig is a Jeep Wrangler. After our Jeep experience out west in 2012, we vowed to never return without one.

We jumped right back with one of our old favorites: the National Park sites. Our first stop was at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, IL on Sunday afternoon. This was Abraham Lincoln’s house prior to becoming president, and even contained some furniture that the Lincoln family used.

Our first camping spot was at a lovely Walmart in Hannibal, Missouri:

The next day we made a visit to the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. The museum itself was fine, and the history of the Pony Express is pretty interesting: it was a start-up — the brainchild of three private entrepreneurs — that ran for only a year and half before being rendered obsolete by the telegraph.

On Tuesday we visited the Brown v. Board of Education National History Site, located in one of the formerly-segregated schools in Topeka, Kansas. It was a well-restored school but lacked specific information about the pivotal case.

Later that afternoon, we did some off-roading in the Jeep:

…and the Jeep was duly christened. It was a lot of fun.

Our campsite on Tuesday night was at a local park in St. Marys, Kansas. Here we took in a big ol’ slice of Americana: watching the St. Marys 10-12 year old girls softball team defeat their dastardly archrivals from Silver Lake.

That park was a pretty cheap stay ($10/night), and I needed to catch up on some work, so we ended up camping there until Thursday morning.

Thursday night was another camping community in a Walmart parking lot (Colby, KS.)

On Friday, through bug-coated windshield, we saw the Rockies off in the distance and finally felt far away from Indiana:

We made it to Boulder on Friday. I stayed home and worked that afternoon, but the girls took a tour of the nearby Celestial Seasonings Tea factory.

While traveling through Wyoming on Saturday, we made a quick stop in the town of Guernsey to see the wagon ruts of the Oregon trail still visible in the sandstone:

Some Wyoming towns offer their parks as free RV campsites, one of which we made use of Saturday night in Douglas, Wyoming. They don’t provide hookups, but there is a dump station. And free is hard to beat.

We intended to do another free Wyoming camping park Sunday night in Sheridan, WY. But I got a little creeped out by the random idling cars that would come and go for no discernible purpose.

We relocated to the local Walmart and settled in among another comfortable compound of campers (how’s that for alliteration?).

We got back on the road bright and early Monday morning and headed to Montana…

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