A few weeks ago we went backcountry canoe camping at Killarney Provincial Park with Sue's brother and his two kids. We rented a canoe from Killarney Outfitters just outside the park entrance. The canoe we rented was a 16 foot Souris River kevlar canoe that weighed in at 42 lb. It was a dream to portage compared to the 70 lb fibreglass canoe we used last time. When we got to the park office to check in they informed us that there was a fire ban in effect due to the dry weather conditions and they wanted to see our stoves to prove we had other means of cooking. We were bit bummed to say the least. After all, sitting around a camp fire is one of the highlights of any camping trip. We put in at George Lake and paddled east to Freeland Lake and then over to Killarney Lake where we camped for the night at a site on the North shore. Since we were only there for three nights we decided to stay in one campsite for the entire time and do day hikes and canoe trips from there. The site we stayed at had great swimming area complete with our own 15 foot high jumping rocks.
We decided to take our dog Luna with us on this trip. It would be the first time she would be in a canoe for any length of time. We practiced with her in our pond at home to see how she would react and she did great. During our weekend trip she behaved very well in the canoe. We only had a few tippy moments while she tried to grab a drink of water from the lake.
On Saturday we hiked up one of the higher peaks in the park just north of our campsite.
Then on Sunday we canoed over to Norway Lake where we found some other great jumping rocks one of which was over 25 feet high. Saturday was Sue's brother's birthday and we celebrated with a candle stuck in a two-bit brownie. Overall the weather was great. It was sunny and close to 30C every day except for Sunday afternoon when we had a five minute shower before the sun came out again.
On our way home we hit the fish and chip place in the town of Killarney. A definite to-do after any backcountry trip into Killarney.
We weren't going to do any camping this fall on account of the bus being out of commission and waiting for me to get off my butt and finish installing the new motor (yeah, we're getting soft and tenting it didn't seem like much fun in the cold fall weather). That is until Sue's brother Rog and his wife Jen invited us up to Killarney to join them and the kids for the Thanksgiving long weekend. We had a blast! We hiked "The Crack", went into the town of Killarney for the mandatory fish n' chips, and did some cliff jumping into what seemed like liquid ice. All in all a great weekend.
The engine in Buster (our 88' VW Westfalia) was on its last legs and we needed to find a replacement. After lots of research we decided to go with a Subaru motor instead of a rebuild Vanagon engine. They are a much newer design and parts are much easier to come by. We found our donor, a 2003 Subaru Outback, at a towing company in Midland, Ontario. It had been in an accident but only the rear end was smashed in. the engine bay and passenger compartments were fine and we were able to start and test the engine before buying the car. As part of the deal we had the towing company deliver the car to Sue's brother Roger and his wife Jen's farm where we had plenty of room to work on it.
A few days after the donor car arrived we started to strip it down, getting anything we didn't need out of the way and disconnecting everything from the motor to get ready to hoist it out. It was important to find an entire working car rather then just buying a motor from a wreckers because we needed so many other components from the car. The parts we needed from the donor were the engine, ECU (computer), engine wiring harness, starter, flywheel, and a few relays.
Several days later we had the engine ready to be lifted from the car. Our plan was to use the front end loader on Roger's tractor to lift the engine from the car. We rigged up a chain to the engine and after three or four attempts and a lot of prying the engine finally came loose and was lifted from the car. We set the motor into the back of Rog's truck and the next day he delivered it to our place.
With the engine out of the way we then turned out attention to the wiring harness which proved to be more difficult then removing the engine. Who knew. My dad offered to come help for this part of the job and by the end of the day I think he was wishing he hadn't. It turned out that the entire (and I mean ENTIRE) dashboard had to be removed form the car in order to get the harness out in one peice. This being my first Vanagon-Subaru conversion I wasn't sure what parts of the wiring were needed and what parts could be scrapped so I wanted to take it all. I was going to have Tom Shiels (the guru of Vanagon-Subaru wiring harness conversions) build my harness for me so I decided to bring everything to him to have the job done and let him throw away the parts that weren't needed. Tom just happens to live in Burlington, Ontario which was super convenient for me. I visited him before starting this project to get his perspective and to see his Vanagon-Subaru conversions first hand. After driving his 2.2 litre Subaru-powered Westy I was sold on the conversion. That's when I started my search for a donor for Buster. Anyway, after several hours of head scratching we finally managed to get the wiring harness out in one piece, all 30 lbs of wires, relays and connectors. We threw the whole conglomeration into a box for Tom to sort through.
When we finished removing all the parts that we needed for the conversion we turned our attention to the other working parts of the car that we could sell. We pulled the transmission and the two good wheels from the driver side and the roof rack. I was planning on taking the rest of the drivetrain but getting under the back of the car proved harder difficult because the back end was so smashed in and we were working outdoors on a gravel driveway. In the end we decided to only take the tranny and leave the rest. A few days later a local wrecking yard picked up the remains of the car.
After we returned from our big North American road trip Buster, our 1988 VW Westfalia, was cleaned up and tucked away in the garage for the rest of the salt (winter) season. This spring I started to prep the bus for the summer camping season ahead when I noticed some coolant leaking from the engine. The coolant turned out to be coming from one of the head gaskets – a typical but not good place for these engines to leak. On top of that the engine started knocking really loud. That really bummed us out because we were looking forward to another great summer of camping. At the same time we were thankful this didn't happen to us on our big trip last year. It looked like the time had come for Buster to get a new motor.
For the next few weeks Sue and I researched different engine options. We looked at rebuilt Vanagon motors, VW diesel engines, Ford Focus conversions and a slew of others including the Subaru H4 engine conversion. All of the different options we looked at had their benefits bit in the end we decided to go with the Subaru conversion for various reasons:
After deciding to go with a Subaru engine the next step was to find a donor car. It was important to find a complete running car because we needed the engine, wiring harness, ECU (engine brain) and a bunch of other parts to make it all work. Having them all come from the same car would save a lot of hassles in the long run. There are companies out there who supply complete turn-key Subaru conversion solutions that include everything you need but they are pricey and I wanted to do the conversion myself to learn more about it.
Now came the not-so-fun part, locating a donor car. After several months of searching online ads, calling wreckers and checking out car auctions we were becoming discouraged and didn't think we would ever find our donor. Then I came across an ad for a 2003 Subaru Outback that was wrecked in an accident up near Midland Ontario. The rear end of the car was crushed in when the driver spun off the highway and slid backwards into a rock wall. Fortunately no one was hurt in the crash and also, fortunately for me, the engine was okay. The next day I drove up to Midland to check out the car and do an oil pressure and compression test on it. Both tests came back with great numbers. I also called up the dealer where the car was serviced and found out that the pistons were replaced under warranty which meant the head gasket, which are also a problem is these motors, were also replaced. This was great news because this meant less work for me. We decided to buy the car and we gave the guy a small deposit to hang on to it for us. As part of the deal the seller, who owned a towing company, agreed to transport the car my brother-in-law's farm where we were going to remove the engine.
While we were touring around Los Cabos at the south end of the Baja Peninsula we stayed in an RV park near downtown Cabo San Lucas. On our first evening there we decided to stay home (the bus) have a low key evening. Over dinner the conversation turned to us getting a dog when we got home from our trip. We've always wanted a dog and we decided that when we settled down (if that ever happened) we'd get one. We also talked about how many stray dogs there are in Mexico. Apparently there are over 10000 in southern Baja alone. Our curiosity got the better of us and soon we were online looking for local shelters. We found the website for the Los Cabos Humane Society and decided that tomorrow we would pay them a visit.
The following morning we headed over to the Humane Society which is just north of downtown Cabo San Lucas. When we got there we were overwhelmed by all the sad puppy faces starring back at us through the bars of their kennels. There were dozens of dogs, most of them mid-size dogs known as Cabo dogs - a term used to describe the general mutt breed of dogs in this area. When they saw us coming they all started barking like crazy as if to say, "Pick me, pick me!" It was heartbreaking.
The head vet gave us a couple leashes and let us walk some of the dogs in the field behind the shelter. We took out a few dogs that we thought would suit us. While we were at the shelter we met Maggie McLean, a Canadian from Calgary who is living in Cabo with her husband. She volunteers at the humane society to help care for the animals. Maggie told us that she was currently fostering a female black lab that she thought would be perfect for us. She asked us if we would be interested in going to her house to meet the dog and see what we thought. We agreed and after walking a few more dogs we left the shelter and followed Maggie back to her house on the other side of town.
When we pulled up to Maggie's home we saw a scraggly black lab run down the driveway to greet us. Her name was Luna and she must have weighed no more than 30 lbs. Her ribcage and spine stuck out through her thin coat of fur and her stretched belly hung low from having a litter of pups in her just days ago. She was in pretty rough shape but was super happy to see us and seemed full of energy. We fell in love almost immediately.
After spending an hour or so with Luna we left Maggie's place and headed back to the RV park where we were staying. We told Maggie that we would have to think things over and that we would call with her later that day to let her know our decision.
Back at the RV park we discussed the pros and cons of adopting a dog while we were on our trip. What it would be like to train her and how she would react going from a cage in a shelter to the back of our bus. We still had over 6000 miles to go before we would be home and we'd be spending many more days in the bus that was already feeling way too small and now we would have a big dog and all her stuff to deal with. Not to mention the cold weather that this poor skinny dog would have to endure once we got back into Canadian winter weather.
After spending the afternoon discussing our options we decided to go for. We had endured living five months in the bus so far, adding a dog to the mix couldn't be that bad. Could it? We called Maggie and told her the good news. She told us she would take Luna back to the shelter in the morning to get her final shots and one last check up before she could be released to us. We were stoked and very nervous. Did we make the right choice?
That evening we went to the Costco and Walmart in Cabo to shop for doggie supplies. We picked up a comforter we could use as a dog bed, food bowls and, of course, dog food. We also had to visit the bank to get out a 1000 pesos (about $77 US) which the humane society asks for as a donation for all the shots and to keep the shelter going. Pretty reasonable if you ask me.
The next morning we drove over to the humane society to pick up Luna. When we got there she was back in the cage she was sharing with another black lab before going to Maggie's place. As soon as she saw us she recognized us and stood on her hind legs with her nose poking through the chain link fencing. One of the employees at the shelter took Luna out of her cage and brought her up to the office area where we had to sort out the paperwork for her adoption. Along with the adoption papers and shot records they gave us a new collar and leash. They also gave us a used dog coat knowing that she was going from sunny Mexico to the cold Canadian winter.
After getting the adoption sorted out and paying the fees we were on our way. At first Luna was quite apprehensive about getting into the bus. I don't blame her though, she had been moved around a lot in the past few days and she was probably fairly scared and confused at this point. Eventually we managed to coax her in to the bus and we said our goodbyes to the humane society staff and off we went. After a few minutes on the road Luna settled down on the blanket we bought for her and fell asleep.
We left Cabo San Lucas and headed northeast through the city of San Jose up the East Cape on our way to our next destination Cabo Pulmo. Luna was settling in nicely in her new pseudo-home for the next month until eventually she would have a real home.
I realize its taken us more than a month to get this blog up but good things are worth waiting for right? Enjoy.
We spent three weeks in and around Palm Springs in southern California while we were waiting for my cousin Jim to arrive from BC and it was finally time to head to the Baja. We left Palm Springs on December 8, the same day the part arrived for the bus and we finished fixing the coolant leak. We had to make a quick stop in San Diego at the BMW dealership to get Jim’s motorcycle repaired. On our way there the front suspension in the bus developed a knocking noise. Luckily it was only a loose shock mounting bolt and we were able to fix it quickly in the BMW dealership parking lot. That night we stayed in the Costco parking lot in Chula Vista, just south of San Diego and only 5 miles from the Mexican border. We planned to cross the border as early as possible the next morning.
Bright and early the next morning we headed south on I-5 towards Tijuana, making a quick stop so Jim could get Mexican car insurance (which is mandatory in Mexico). The Mexican border stations use a red light, green light system when you enter the country. If you get a green light you keep on driving no questions asked, but if you get a red light you stop for a routine inspection. We’re not sure whether we got a red light or a green light in all the chaos but we ended up in the inspection line anyway because we were following my cousin in his truck. After a very casual search by the Mexican border patrol, including an impromptu air guitar performance, we were officially in Mexico. We had to make one quick stop at the border office to buy our tourist cards and have our passports stamped (you need a tourist card if you’re staying in Mexico more than 72 hours).
Our plan for Mexico was to drive to Cabo San Lucas at the end of the Baja Peninsula and back again. My cousin goes to the Baja every winter and stays in Juncalito, a small village about two thirds of the way down the Baja on the Sea of Cortez side. We were planning on spending most of our time in Juncalito as well.
From the border we followed Jim along Mexico Highway 1 through Tijuana and along the wall that separates Mexico from the US. You don’t see much of Tijuana if you stay on the highway. It circles around the northwest corner of the city and out to the Pacific coast where it becomes 1D, a divided highway that heads south to the coastal city of Ensenada. By lunchtime we made it to Ensenada about 100 km south of Tijuana. We stopped near the waterfront and Jim whipped up some lunch for us in his camper while Sue and I took a walk down by the harbour to check out the cruise ships and the giant Mexican flag in the center of the square. After lunch we hit the Walmart at the south end of the city for some groceries and jumped back on the highway.
Our original plan was to stop for the night in the town of Santo Tomas about 100 km south of Ensenada but we got there earlier then expected and decided to continue on. For the next couple of hours we drove through a lot of small Mexican towns where the only paved road was the highway through the center of town. Mexico has an interesting way of controlling the speed of traffic on their roads. Instead of traffic lights and stop signs in many places they have topes, massive speed bumps so large you would leave half your car behind in the street if you hit them at full speed. Luckily most of them were well marked, but there was the odd one that snuck up on us. You have to keep a sharp eye on the road when you’re driving in Mexico.
It got dark before we had a chance to pull over for the evening and we were told by a few folks not to drive in Mexico at night. Luckily we had my cousin Jim to follow who is a six year veteran of the Baja. That night we camped in the parking lot of the La Pinta hotel near the town of San Quintin. Jim had stayed there on a few previous trips and knew it was a safe place to stay for the night. We asked the hotel security guard if it was okay and he said si. Later on that evening there was a knock at the camper door. It was the security guard. He asked us if we were planning on sleeping in our vehicles (apparently this wasn’t clear when we first spoke to him). We told him we were and a few minutes later he came back and told us we had to pay him $3 to camp for the night. Where the money was going was unclear but in any case 3 bucks was a steal for a safe place to camp. We paid him and all was good.
The next morning we got up early and took a walk down to the beach. After breakfast we drove back to Mexico Highway 1 passing some large greenhouse growing operations along the way. The area around San Quintin is an important agricultural area, especially for growing strawberries and tomatoes. After a couple hours of driving we stopped to get gas in El Rosario. The only gas stations you’ll find in Mexico are Pemex stations. Fuel in Mexico is government controlled and is the same price no matter where you go, and at roughly 0.60 cents per liter it’s a great price. While we were filling up a cute little stray dog wandered up to us. She had two puppies following her that she hid in the bushes near by. We didn’t have any meat to offer her so we gave her a few slices of bread instead. She disappeared with the first slice to give to her puppies, quickly wolfed down the next two and took off again with the fourth one. We never saw her after that but we named her Rosario after the name of the town.
From El Rosario the highway heads inland through the desert for several hundred kilometers with very few towns along the way and no gas. The vegetation changes quite drastically from here on in as well. There are cardon cacti which are the tallest cactus species in the world, fuzzy old man cactus and a plant called the boojum tree that we nick named the Mexican Christmas tree. The boojum looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. About an hour or so from El Rosario we pulled over for some lunch in a forest of cactus and giant sandstone boulders. Jim cooked us up some lunch in his camper while Sue and I explored the surrounding area.
The roads in Mexico weren’t as bad as we read. In fact they were quite good. The only scary part is that there is absolutely no shoulder and usually a six to twelve inch drop at the edge of the asphalt before you hit gravel. In some cases the drop can be much larger. Another thing that makes driving in Mexico interesting is the speed limit which seems to be more of a suggestion then anything else.
After lunch we drove for another hour or so until we reached the town of Guerrero Negro. Guerrero Negro is the last town on the Pacific side of the Baja before the highway heads east across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez. It is also at the border between the state of Baja California and Baja California Sur. Just before town you go through an agricultural inspection station where you have to pay $10 pesos to have your vehicle sprayed with pesticide. Fun stuff. In Guerrero Negro we stopped for gas and groceries and ran into Jim’s friends from Holland who also spend their winters in the Baja. We were going to stay in town for the night but the camping was too expensive so we decided to continue on to San Ignacio where Jim knew there was free camping. As we headed out of town the sun was setting behind us. For the next two hours we followed Jim down Mexico 1 in the pitch black. There are no lights out in the desert to cause light pollution and it gets dark! Eventually we turned off the highway and drove down a side road that leads to the town of San Ignacio. Jim had stayed in this town on previous trips and knew where to park for the night. To our surprise he parked right in the town square. It was a Friday night and there were tons of people around wandering the streets. We were a bit worried about camping in such a noisy place but by the time we were done eating dinner you could hear a pin drop in the square.
The next morning we woke up to the sound of birds chirping. There was a man sweeping the square with a palm frond and Jim was making us scrambled eggs with fresh avocado on home made tortillas he bought in town that morning. San Ignacio is a palm oasis town with a fresh water lagoon. There is a Jesuit Mission in the town square that was built in the early 1700s and is still mostly original. After breakfast Sue and I explored the town and the mission before hitting the road once more.
From San Ignacio we got back on the highway and continued east across the Baja to the town of Santa Rosalia on the shore of the Sea of Cortez. Santa Rosalia was founded by a French company named El Boleo in 1884 who exploited copper mines in the area until 1954 when they shut down. They built houses made of wood instead of stone and installed the Santa Barbara parish, a metallic church building which is argued to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel. We visited a local bakery and bought some amazing pineapple tarts and had tacos de carne at a local taco stand. After touring around for a bit it was time to leave. On our way out of town we were following my cousin and he made a wrong turn down a one way street. All the locals were waving frantically trying to get our attention but we kept on going. At the end of the street a policeman was standing on the corner and gestured for my cousin to pull over. We thought that maybe he didn’t see us behind Jim so we drove around the block and waited for Jim to drive off. When he finally started to move we tried to sneak in behind him but the policeman waved at us to pull over. He got out his ticket book and started writing me an infracción de circulación o tráfico. After arguing Spanish to English with him for a several minutes I think he got frustrated and let us go. We said pedir perdón and were on our way once again. Just down the road we caught up to Jim who was filling his truck at the gas station.
From Santa Rosalia the highway more or less follows the coast of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). The next town we drove through was Mulegé. Mulegé was badly damaged by tropical storm Jimena back in September. The storm came across the peninsula from the Pacific side and caused extensive flooding in the town. We didn’t stop on our way through south but could see the damaged buildings from the highway. The bridge where Highway 1 crosses the Mulegé River was not damaged that we could tell but the water line from the damage looked like it could have been as high as the bridge.
South of Mulegé the highway skirts the edge of the Bahía Concepción with its turquoise waters and white sand beaches. About 100km south of there is the town of Loreto and just south of Loreto another 25km is the village of Juncalito where we were staying. We rolled into Juncalito late afternoon on December 12. The road to the beach where we would be camping starts out as a dirt road but then ducks into an arroyo filled with large rocks. It was a bumpy ride but the bus made it no problem.
We planned to stay on the beach in Juncalito for a few weeks. After scouting out the beach for a place to camp, and getting the bus stuck in the sand twice, we found a nice spot and settled in.
For the next couple of weeks we explored the area around Juncalito. Juncalito is a beautiful little village nestled between the 5000 foot high mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta and Bahia Loreto on the Gulf of California. The land here like much of Baja is very rugged and covered in cactus and mesquite trees. Although it is considered desert it seemed like anything but desert. All the trees were green and all the cactus had new growth. There were all sorts of birds like hummingbirds, pelicans and vultures. One day we went hiking into a canyon in the mountains and it reminded me of prehistoric landscape. We had to crawl through narrow caves and wade through cold mountain streams as we climbed higher into the mountains. The view from the top was well worth the tough climb and after a freezing cold dip in the crystal clear water to cool us off we headed back down.
One morning in Juncalito my cousin came knocking on the bus at 6am to tell us there was a whale in the bay. We quickly jumped out of bed, threw some clothes on and went out to check it out. What we were expecting to see was a whale swimming far off shore. What we saw was a sick whale floating slowly towards shore in the waves. It ended up floating right up on shore about 100 feet from our campsite. We wanted to do something but felt totally helpless. Here was this 40 foot long, 20 ton whale being pounded by the surf and getting cut up on the rocks and there was nothing we could do. At one point I got in the water with the whale and attempted push it off the rocks and point it back out to sea. I don't know what I was thinking trying to push a 20 ton whale and after a few feeble attempts and fearing that the whale might roll over on me I gave up. A little while later someone on the beach used their cell phone to call the local park officials. After about an hour a dozen or so national park officials showed up and worked out a plan to get the whale off the beach. They decided to use ropes tied to boats to tow the animal off the beach. Another hour went by and four boats showed up. They tied ropes to the whale's tail and towed it slowly back out to sea. We hoped the whale wasn't too badly injured from being beached and it would survive. Unfortunately about four days later my cousin Jim spotted a white balloon-like object floating about 500 feet offshore. It was the whale. It had died and its bloated body was floating ashore. My cousin and a friend of his went out in his boat and towed the dead whale to a rock outcrop away from the beach.
A few days after the whale incident Sue and I decided to pack up and head further south to Los Cabos at the end of the Baja. We were planning on taking five days to make the round trip and be back in Juncalito on December 23 to celebrate Christmas with Jim. We packed up the bus and after getting some travel tips from Jim and some other folks on the beach we hit the road once again.
Just south of Juncalito Highway 1 heads west over the Sierra de la Giganta mountains where it again heads south to the city of La Paz. From La Paz the highway splits in two directions heading down both shores of Los Cabos to form a loop that ends in the resort town of Cabo San Lucas. We took the west route to head in a counter clockwise direction. The first major town south of La Paz is Todos Santos on the Pacific coast. Todos Santos is a well known surfing destination and is home to the famous Hotel California where the Eagles supposedly stayed while they wrote the lyrics for the album that bears its name (this was later dispelled).
After looking around Todos Santos for a place to park the bus for the night we decided to head just south to the surfing town of El Pescadero. We had an old travel guide from the early nineties that said there was a trailer park on the north side of town right on the ocean. We drove around El Pescadero for an hour or so and finally managed to find the spot where the park used to be. It had closed down years ago and all that was left was a sandy road leading to the ocean where a small group of surfers had set up camp. It was perfect. We pulled the bus up next to a fellow traveler from Colorado, cracked a cold one and watched the sunset over the Pacific.
The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains and surfers already in the water catching the early morning break. We spent the morning hanging around and watching the surfers before heading back to Todos Santos to explore.
Back in Todos Santos we went to visit the Hotel California where it was rumoured the Eagles wrote the lyrics to the song. We also did some souvenir shopping and headed to a local cafe for lunch and free wifi.
From Todos we got into the bus and headed for Cabos San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja. Cabo is only 70 kilometers from Todos Santos but we new it was going to be a busy city and we wanted to leave plenty of time to find a place to camp.
Feliz Navidad to everyone from sunny Mexico. We want to introduce you to the newest member of our family, Luna.
We got Luna from the Humane Society in Cabo San Lucas. She's a very hungry, very tired and very loyal black lab.
After living the life of luxury traveling with Sue’s sister Laura and her husband Jeff for ten days it was time to get back into budget camping mode. We were planning on heading into Mexico in early December with my cousin James who was meeting us in Palm Springs. For the next three weeks we had to kill time but didn’t really have a plan so we decided to head to Palm Springs and play it by ear. On our way to Palm Springs we headed through Huntington Beach. We were planning on camping but it was $60 a night for a parking lot spot so we decided to head inland.
We took the scenic route to Palm Springs along Highway 74 through the town of Hemet and over the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Palm Springs is at the north end of the Coachella Valley which includes, in order from north to south, the cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells and Indio among others. The Palm Springs area is home to more than 100 golf courses and is a major winter vacation spot for millions of people. When we arrived the first thing we did was looked for a place to stay. The Walmart in Palm Springs doesn’t allow overnight parking but they told us the Walmart in Palm Desert did so we headed there instead.
We spent the next couple of days getting supplies and hanging out in Palm Springs. I did some riding in the mountains east of Cathedral City. The trails there are known as the Goat Trails and there is some sweet singletrack back in there. I biked and hike-a-biked up to the top of Murray Hill which is 2000 feet above Cathedral City and the trailhead. From Murray Hill its downhill in all directions. The trails consist of hard packed desert earth with a few loose sandy sections to keep you alert. There is also lots of cactus to watch out for which I managed to avoid for the most part except for one flat.
After a few days in Palm Desert we decided to go to Joshua Tree National Park. The south entrance to the park is only 30 miles east of Palm Desert. When we reached the park entrance we noticed a few people were boon docking along a service road just outside the park’s south boundary. We decided we would camp here for the night. It was a great spot with awesome views of the valley. We were surrounded by desert life and almost completely alone. At night the stars were incredible. The only negative was the wind picked up one evening and I had to get out of the bus at one in the morning to roll the awning up before it blew away.
After spending a few days exploring Joshua Tree we drove back to Palm Desert. I had some work to do and needed internet access. We spent the week in and around Palm Desert exploring the area and killing time.
The next place we decided to check out was Slab City, an old army base near the town of Niland California that is now used by squatters and passing travelers as a huge makeshift campground. Slab City is home to Salvation Mountain, a mound of earth transformed by Leonard Knight, a full time resident of Slab City, into a monument honouring God and with a simple message for everyone who passes by - God Is Love. Knight made an appearance in the movie Into the Wild (the story about Christopher McCandless’ travels) and when we got there we had a chance to talk with him about his artwork and the movie.
That night we found a spot in Slab City to park the bus for the night. While making dinner I accidentally spilled my drink onto my laptop which was running at the time. That was the last time it ever booted up. With no laptop to keep me busy we decided to check out the local talent. Slab City has a makeshift stage setup with sound equipment run by generators and that night they were having a share-your-talent night. It was interesting to say the least. The seating was made up of old car seats, couches and benches and some old stadium seating.
The next day we had to head back to Palm Desert to go laptop shopping. After visiting all the local shops we settled on a laptop from Costco. I was able to get the files from my old laptop (my crafty IT skills put to good use yet again) and we were back in business.
Before heading into Mexico we wanted to rent a storage unit to store some of our stuff that we knew we weren’t going to need while in the Baja. We found a place in Palm Desert and spent a day cleaning out the bus and organizing our junk.
We planned to meet my cousin Jim at the home of his friends Beth and George. They have a ranch in Alberta and spend most winters at their place in Cathedral City near Palm Springs. The day before my cousin arrived in Palm Springs we discovered that the bus was leaking coolant. Beth and George were very generous and let us use their driveway to fix the leak. While staying with them we went to check out the Pam Springs Christmas parade which takes place at night with all the floats decorated in lights. That evening we joined Beth and George at a friends place for an after parade potluck party where we had our first ever tamales. We ended up staying at Beth and George for a total of four days while we waited for the parts to arrive. The morning they arrived we installed them and packed our things to hit the road for Mexico.
With the bus fixed and everything loaded up we hit the road for San Diego. Jim ordered a part for his BMW motorcycle from the San Diego BMW dealership and we were going to have it installed there before heading into Mexico. It took an extra day but they finally had installed. We stayed in the city of Chula Vista that evening where we got ready to cross the border the next morning.
We admit, we’re very behind on our blog and we apologize to those of you who are loyally following our adventures. Its getting very hard to open the laptop and blog when the weather outside is just so darn nice. Anyway, here is the next installment, now I’m going for a swim.
Before we left on our trip we had planned for Sue’s sister Laura and her husband Jeff to fly out and meet us somewhere along the way. We decided Phoenix would be a good place to meet and from there we would travel to Las Vegas and then to LA where they would catch a flight home. The day had finally arrived and we were picking them up at the airport in the morning.
We were staying in Leaf Verde RV Park in the town of Buckeye about 20 miles west of Phoenix along the I10. Laura and Jeff’s flight was arriving at 11am that morning so we had lots of time to get up and get ready. When we got to the airport we found the right terminal, after some confusion, and dropped Sue off at the arrivals gates while I drove circles around the airport to avoid paying for parking. Sue found them really quickly and I only had to do one lap before I spotted them waiting at the curb to be picked up.
From the airport we headed south out of Phoenix along the I10 towards the famous Wild West town of Tombstone Arizona. Jeff is a big fan of the history of the Wild West and Tombstone was a must see for him. Half way to Tombstone we stopped for a bite to eat. When we got back to the bus Laura pulled out an envelope with a card in it and gave it to Sue. Puzzled Sue opened the envelope and pulled out a card that said “Congratulations” on the cover. Opening it her face turned to immediate joy when she saw an ultrasound image of a baby. Laura and Jeff were expecting a baby and decided they wanted to tell us in person. We were super stoked for them. They told us that some of the family back home knew but had to keep it quiet from us until they could tell us in person. After hugs and hand shakes we got back in the bus and continued on towards Tombstone.
We arrived in Tombstone an hour or so before sunset and drove right to the historic downtown area to see what we could before dark. Tombstone is still a wild place, old buildings built more then a hundred years ago mixed with modern amenities, roads left unpaved to keep the old west feel, and folks running around in turn of the century garb make for a very authentic experience. The town is home to some of America’s best known Wild West sites such as the O.K. Corral where Marshall Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had their famous gunfight with the Clantons and McLaurys, the Bird Cage Theatre which is the only original building left from the 1800’s, and Boot Hill Cemetery where many famous outlaws are buried. We decided to see the Bird Cage Theatre first. The theater is the only historic site in Tombstone that is completely original from the poker chips that are still scattered across the poker tables to the bullet holes in the ceiling and walls. The Bird Cage Theatre was a well known hang out in its heyday playing host to Broadway shows and even lays claim to the longest poker game in history – the game ran non-stop for 8 years, 5 months, and 3 days.
On our way back to our hotel – Jeff and Laura were very kind to spring for hotel accommodations for us for the majority of their stay – we stopped at Boot Hill Cemetery to see where some of the Wild West’s most notorious outlaws (and some accidental hangings) are buried. Our hotel was a Holiday Inn Express just on the edge of town. It was our first real bed (even if it was only a pullout couch) since leaving our friends Don and Dona in Oregon in early October.
The following morning we grabbed the continental breakfast in the hotel and headed back to downtown Tombstone to see the rest of the sites. The first place we went was the O.K. Corral to see where the Earps and Doc Holliday had their famous shootout with the Clantons and McLaurys back in the 1880’s. After touring the corral we sat down for a very entertaining animated diorama about Tombstone. It was made back in the 60’s and narrated by Vincent Price. We also had our photo taken at one of those studios that dress you up in authentic Wild West getup and pose you with a western scene background. Sue and Laura were dressed up as 1880’s "Lovelies" while Jeff and I were a Marshall and an outlaw.
From Tombstone we headed back to Phoenix. Instead of taking the I-10 back we took a more scenic route that gave us a great tour of the Arizona desert. That night we went back to Leaf Verde RV Park where Sue and I stayed for a few nights before Jeff and Laura joined us. It was very tight in the bus with four people but we managed. We were planning on staying a total of three nights in the bus while Jeff and Laura were traveling with us.
The following morning we packed up and headed out of Phoenix. Before leaving town we made a quick detour to see the house I lived in with my parents while my dad was on a training course for his job. The townhouse complex was run down and didn’t look quite as nice as the photos I had seen of it from the 70’s. The community pool where I learned how to swim was empty and the grounds weren’t being maintained any more. I guess things change over time. We snapped a few shots and took off.
From Phoenix we drove north to Flagstaff. We decided to take the scenic route through the town of Sedona instead of taking the interstate. Sedona is a ritzy place nestled in a narrow mountain valley about 20 miles south of Flagstaff. Sedona has a much warmer climate then Flagstaff due to its much lower elevation.
From Flagstaff we headed west towards the town of Williams where we would jump onto Highway 64 north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We made it to the Grand Canyon just in time for sunset (the same time we made it to the North Rim) and drove straight to the main viewpoint to get some photos. The South Rim was a lot busier than the North Rim where there was only one other couple. Here we had to contend with hundreds of other people to find a parking spot and an empty piece of railing to lean out and take pictures.
When the sun went down we headed to the park’s main campground to find a site for the night. The Mather Campground had lots of space available and we managed to find a nice site despite it being pitch black. That night we had our first campfire since being in Jasper National Park back in August. We cooked up some nice juicy steaks and had a few cold beverages.
From the Grand Canyon we headed to the bright lights of Vegas. The drive from the Canyon to Vegas is 5 hours across deserts and barren mountain ranges. To get to Vegas you have to cross the Hoover Dam (this is changing next year when they open the new and very impressive bypass bridge being built just south of the dam). To drive over the Hoover Dam you must pass a security checkpoint where they inspect you and your vehicle to make sure you aren’t up to no good. We passed okay although they were a bit curious about the luggage bag we had on the roof. We stopped at the dam and did the dam tour and took some dam pictures. From there we headed into Vegas. It was dark when we were nearing Vegas and the lights from the city were amazing to see against the darkness of the desert. Before heading to our hotel we decided to take a drive down Las Vegas Blvd to check out the scene. From there we headed to our hotel, the Desert Rose, which was just off the strip behind the Tropicana Casino. The hotel was great. It was a two bedroom, two bathroom suite with a full kitchen.
For our first full day in Vegas Jeff and I decided to head to Boulder City twenty minutes south of Vegas to do a bit of mountain biking at Bootleg Canyon. On our way out of town we dropped Sue and Laura off at a local outlet mall to do some shopping. When we got to Boulder City we stopped in at the local bike shop to rent a bike for Jeff. The shop hooked him up with a sweet Santa Cruz Nomad full suspension bike. With Jeff’s rental bike strapped to the bus we drove a few blocks from the bike shop to the Bootleg Canyon trailhead. Bootleg Canyon is a collection of singletrack and downhill trails built on public land right in the town of Boulder City. After ripping the trails for a few hours we dropped Jeff’s rental bike off at the shop and hit a local pub for lunch before heading back to Vegas to meet the girls. That evening we decided to grab dinner out somewhere along the Vegas strip. We spent the rest of the evening wandering in and out of casinos checking out the lights and the amazing interiors of some of the hotels.
The one thing we weren’t planning on doing in Vegas was gambling. We proved that it is possible to visit Vegas and not spend a penny on gambling. You just have to dish out a whole lot of money for everything else.
The next day all four of us spent the day shopping at an outlet mall. After shopping we went back to our hotel and spent the afternoon around the pool for some much needed R&R.
That evening we headed over to the MGM Grand to pick up tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show Ka that we were planning on seeing the following night. There was at least a half dozen Cirque du Soleil shows playing in Vegas at various casinos along the strip but this one was rated the best. On our way to get our tickets we saw boxer Miguel Cotto who was in town for a Welter Weight fight against Manny Pacquiao. Sue asked him for a photo and I snapped a shot of him with Sue and Jeff. He ended up loosing the fight to Pacquiao that weekend.
After getting our Cirque du Soleil tickets we headed down the strip to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. They have some pretty cool yet odd music biz paraphernalia on display like Keith Moon’s pants, Britney Spears shoes and a double necked guitar owned by Steve Vai.
When we finished dinner we walked down the strip some more and checked out a few casinos. We saw Bellagio with its fancy fountain show, the marble clad Caesar’s Palace and Paris with its replica Eifel Tower that’s half the height of the real thing.
On our last full day in Vegas we decided to make use of the kitchen in our hotel room and had dinner in. After dinner we drove to the north end of the strip to check out the old school casino Circus Circus which was more of an “economical” style casino with less flare then most of the others. In contrast we also checked out Wynn, one of the newest casinos on the strip. Wynn was, in my opinion, the nicest casino on the strip as far as style and ambience. The designers truly went all out to create the perfect atmosphere.
That evening we went and saw Cirque du Soleil’s Ka which was a great show. They had some really wild special effects and the stage they built was floating on a giant rigging so it could be elevated and rotated in any direction, including vertically so the performers would have to hang on for dear life.
Because we stayed an extra night in Vegas - we were only planning on staying three nights - we had to make it to LA in one day to make our reservations at Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach. We woke up early and packed the bus. On our way out of town we stopped at the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign and another outlet mall before jumping on the I-15 southwest to LA. The drive from Vegas took us through the Mojave Desert and over the San Bernadino Mountains down into LA. We didn’t time our arrival very well and ended up stuck in rush hour traffic along the I-10 in downtown LA. For the next two hours we crawled along on our way to our hotel.
One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about this hotel was that it was valet only parking and I didn’t want someone we didn’t know driving our little home-on-wheels without us there. I ended up apprehensively giving the valet my keys and went up to the room. Still nervous about the whole valet thing I stepped out onto our room balcony and looking down I saw our valet struggling with the gears to get the bus up the ramp into the garage. He finally gave up and drove the bus around the back to the lower level the whole time riding the clutch. I decided that was it. When I went to get the bus tomorrow I would insist on driving it myself.
The next morning the four of us headed to the beach to find a place to get breakfast. After a great bacon and egg breakfast we took a walk to check out the vendors and beach homes and the locals. We stopped by Muscle Beach where Arnold Schwarzenegger once worked out back in his body building days.
Laura had reserved tickets for us to go see a taping of Conan O’Brian that afternoon at Universal Studios in Hollywood so we headed back to the hotel to get ready. I went downstairs to the hotel lobby to get the bus. When I got there I told the valet I wanted to drive the bus out of the garage myself because the clutch and gears were tricky and I didn’t want someone unfamiliar with the bus to drive it. He was a bit hesitant but eventually agreed and showed me the way to the lower level of the garage to where the bus was parked. I got in and started to drive to the exit when I noticed a very low hanging pipe on the ceiling of the garage that I was sure the bus wouldn’t fit under. The funny thing was that the only way to get into the garage was under this pipe so the bus had to have driven under it last night. I started to slowly edge the bus forward when the valet waved his hands for me to stop. The roof of the bus was hitting the pipe. I backed up and jumped out of the bus and hoisted myself up to check the roof. The roof of the bus had red paint marks scraped all down it from the paint on the pipe. The valet driver had hit the roof of the bus on the pipe and either didn’t notice or just didn’t bother to report it. The day time valet I was with, who also happened to be the head valet, took a look too and apologized for the scratches and told me that we wouldn’t have to pay for valet parking. I guess it was the least they could do. Luckily the roof of the bus is made of fiberglass and wasn’t really damaged. The paint could be removed at a later time. Now the problem was how to get the bus out of the garage without causing more damage. The pipe had a bit of play in it and could be lifted about an inch but not enough to clear the bus. The bus had to be lowered somehow so we decided to pile as many people in it as we could find. I ran and got Sue, Laura and Jeff from the lobby and the valet ran and got some hotel employees and we all piled into the bus to lower it while two of the hotel guys held the pipe up on either side. It was just enough to squeak by and we made it out of the garage.
The garage fiasco took up quite a bit of time and now we had to hurry if we were going to make the Conan O’Brian show on time. Unfortunately you can’t get anywhere quickly in LA and we found ourselves stuck in traffic once again. Not knowing the streets and without a map we had no choice but to follow our GPS. We arrived at Universal Studios just as the 3:30 deadline was arriving but when we got to the studio where the show was being taped we were told we were too late, us and about a dozen other people standing there. Apparently they overbook the shows to ensure a full audience every time. After arguing with the guard for a few minutes we admitted defeat and sauntered slowly back to the bus. If you’re ever in LA and you need to get somewhere double your estimated travel time. Oh yeah, and never valet park your Westfalia.
We decided to grab an early dinner near the studio so we found a local Olive Garden (yes they still exist down here) and then headed back to the hotel where I parked the bus myself this time on the upper level of the garage where the ceiling was just high enough. Our hotel had a cool rooftop patio so we decided to head up there for some drinks and nice view of the ocean and LA skyline.
For our last day with Jeff and Laura we booked a Hollywood tour. They picked us up that morning in front of our hotel. The hotel agreed to let us check out when we returned from the tour in the afternoon so we could leave our stuff in the room and the bus in the parking garage. The tour took us all around Hollywood and Beverly Hills stopping at some of the various hot spots like the lookout above the Hollywood Bowl where you can see the cheesy Hollywood sign and a few of the star’s homes like Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford’s old place that he built with his own two hands before moving to a ranch in Wyoming. We drove down Sunset Blvd and stopped at the Walk of Fame and the Kodak Theater. In Beverly Hills we drove passed the Beverly Hills Hotel now owned by the Sultan of Brunei who wanted to make it into his private residence but the city wouldn’t rezone it. We also stopped on Rodeo Drive to check out some of the severely overpriced shops that the richy folks frequent. We watched a lady attempt to parallel park her Lamborghini wearing stiletto boots. She made it eventually after about five attempts. I have never seen so many cars worth over $100K in one place.
That afternoon we headed over to the Santa Monica pier where we rode the Farris wheel and checked out the sights before heading to the airport so Laura and Jeff could catch their flight home. We said our goodbyes and wished them a safe travel home and thanked them for an awesome ten days.
We arrived in Moab Utah in the early afternoon and went to the visitor’s center to ask about free camping. We were told that we wouldn’t find any free camping within 20 miles of town so we decided to head north out of town to try our luck in the national forest lands surrounding Moab. On our way we stopped at Arches National Park which is just two miles north of town. We spent the afternoon cruising the only road into the park stopping often to snap shots. We planned to come back in a few days to explore the park more and do some hiking. That evening we continued northwest to a BLM area north of Canyonlands National Park to find a place to camp for the night. We found a campground that was charging $12 per night but decided to head further up a dirt side road where we found a small pullout where we could park the bus for free. We spent the night under a starry sky in the Utah wilderness.
Since we were so close to Canyonlands National Park we spent the following morning exploring the area. Canyonlands has a landscape that rivals the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River flows through the park which created some of the 2000 foot deep canyons that cut through it. We also stopped at Mesa Arch which is a well known spot among photographers – especially at sunrise. We weren’t quite up in time to catch it at sunrise but the scene was no less spectacular.
That afternoon we were planning on heading back to Arches National Park but we had heard the weather was supposed to turn cold and possibly rainy so we decided to head to the bike trails instead. Moab is famous for mountain biking and we wanted to see first hand what all the raving was about. We headed to the trailhead for the well known Slickrock trail, an up and down rollercoaster of smooth sandstone east of Moab. The area is a state recreation area and has a $5 day use fee. It also offers overnight camping for a few bucks more. The Slickrock trail is unique in that it isn’t a worn in path but rather a series of dotted lines painted on the sandstone surface to show you where to go. Sue was still hurting from her crash in Fruita so she was going to sit out this trail. So off I went by myself to ride and see what all the hype was about. Maybe I was just feeling lazy that day but after riding the trail I didn’t really come to the same conclusion everyone else did. I thought it was a lot of work for not a lot of fun and I decided that would be my only run on the Slickrock Trail. After Slickrock I decided I still had one more trail in me and decided that trail would be Porcupine Rim. The trail starts (or so I thought) at the end of the same road that Slickrock is on. The first 3 miles of this 14 mile trail are uphill. From then on it is an 11 mile downhill run that is probably one of the most thrilling rides I have ever been on. On my way up I passed two bikers coming down the trail and they informed me that I didn’t have to pedal up the 3 mile section but rather I could get shuttled to the top of Porcupine which actually starts a lot higher up on La Sal Mountain. Oh well, live and learn. The exercise was good and sometimes you have to earn your downhill. Porcupine is not a loop trail so Sue drove the bus down the mountain and back through Moab to meet me north of town in a small canyon known as Negro Bill’s (no idea where the name came from). That night was stayed in an RV park in Moab so we could get showered up and well rested.
The following day we still had nice weather although it was looking rather overcast south of Moab. We got up and headed back north to explore Arches National Park. We hiked to the famous Delicate Arch and also to the almost equally famous Landscape Arch where we saw a small group of deer very close to the trail. After spending most of the day in Arches we decided to say goodbye to Moab to find a place to camp south of town. We drove about 20 miles out of town and found a rest stop where we stayed for the night.
The next morning we woke up to quite a surprise. A couple inches of snow had fallen overnight and the bus was covered in a thick layer of snow and ice. We didn’t have a window scraper with us so I had to run the bus for about ten minutes and then use my hands to scrape the windows. Little did we know that wouldn’t be the last of the snow we would see. With the snow finally cleaned of the windows we headed south along Highway 191 towards Cortez Colorado where we were going to check out Mesa Verde National Park. The snow slowly tapered off but the roads had become icy and we passed lots of cars in the ditch along the way. When we got to Cortez we stopped at the library to use their free wifi before driving out to Mesa Verde.
Arriving at Mesa Verde we learned from the guy at the entrance booth that the road into the park climbs to an elevation of over 7000 feet and was snow covered higher up. He also told us the plows were out and the roads would be cleared so we decided to go for it anyway. Mesa Verde protects an area that contains 600 cliff dwelling ruins that were built by the Anasazi people 1200 years ago. These homes made of rock and wood were constructed under rocky overhangs on cliff ledges to protect them from the elements. Some of the dwellings where multi-story buildings and one was actually four stories high. After touring the main ruin sites we decided to get back to Cortez before the weather got any worse. As we started to descend back down towards the park entrance we drove into a snow storm and there were no snow plows in site. For the next 20 miles we crawled down the road and around sharp switchback turns some of which had 500 foot sheer drops along the sides of them. Every time I touched the brakes the bus would start to slide sideways. After about an hour of this we were out of the snow and back on dry roads.
Back in Cortez we headed to the library once again to use their wifi to make a few Skype calls to friends and family back home. Then we made our way over to the local Walmart parking lot to park the bus for the night.
From Cortez we drove back into southeastern Utah through the town of Mexican Hat and into Monument Valley in northern Arizona. Monument Valley had a dusting of snow which made for some interesting photo opportunities. From Monument Valley we headed west to the town of Page Arizona where the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell are located. We spent the afternoon in the Page Public Library using their free wifi. That night we camped in the Walmart parking lot at the edge of town where we met a couple guys from England who had spent a year in Whistler and were now traveling around the US for a year in a converted van they bought. They had a great storage idea for their mountain bikes, they had them tucked away hanging inside the back doors of the van.
The next day we drove from Page to Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. Bryce Canyon is located near the western edge of the Colorado Plateau in an area known as the Grand Staircase where different layers of this plateau have eroded creating staggered cliffs which resemble a giant staircase. Bryce Canyon is carved from the Pink Cliffs that create the top step in this formation. The canyon contains thousands of pillars of rock, left behind by erosion, known as hoodoos. We arrived in Bryce Canyon just before sundown and drove straight to the Bryce Point for a quick look at the canyon before the sunset. On our way in to the park we noticed a parking lot used during the peak summer months for park shuttle bus visitor parking. There was a couple of RVs parked in the lot so we decided to camp there for the night.
The following morning I got up early and, with Sue still sleeping in the back, drove the bus back to Bryce Point to get some sunrise photos. After that we drove south to Rainbow Point at the end of the park road. While there we did a short hike through a bristlecone pine forest. The bristlecone pines in the near by White Mountains of eastern California are the oldest living things on earth, some living to over 4000 years. Later that morning we headed to another part of the park to a trail known as Wall Street. There we found some tall pine trees growing from deep inside the canyon.
After exploring Bryce we drove southwest to Zion National Park. Zion was a lot busier then Bryce Canyon. There were a lot of cars to contend with on the park’s only road. The main road from the east end of the park goes through a 1.1 mile long tunnel that was built back in the 1930’s and is only 12 feet tall in the center of its rounded ceiling. They close the tunnel when RVs and buses go through to allow them to drive down the center of the road. Cyclists are not allowed in the tunnel on their bikes and need to hitch rides with passing tourists to get through. It was a wild experience to drive through it. We decided we would come back to Zion the next day to do some hiking and headed in to St George to find a place to sleep for the night.
Back in Zion we hiked a few of the trails, the ones we could find parking for anyway, the place is a sea of people and cars. At around noon we made our way back to the east end of the park and then south into Arizona again. Our next destination was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
To our surprise the North Rim was covered in a dense forest of Douglas fir, spruce and aspen interrupted periodically by golden meadows where mule deer and bison graze. The Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River carving a path through the Kaibab Plateau, part of the Colorado Plateau. At its highest point the North Rim, which sits at 7000 feet (1000 feet higher than the South Rim), is more then a mile above the canyon floor. The North Rim and the more popular South Rim are only 10 miles apart as the crow flies, but 215 miles by road.
We arrived at the North Rim just before sunset and made a mad dash to Bright Angel Point lookout to see the canyon before dark. From the lookout we could see the lights from the buildings at the South Rim 10 miles across the canyon. While we were there admiring the view we met a very nice couple and shared our traveling story with them until it was time to find camping for the night. We camped at the only campground on the North Rim which was running on a reduced rate until the end of the season. The park closes the road in to the North Rim when the first major snow falls.
The next day we drove along the Fuller Canyon road to Cape Royal, another lookout along the North Rim. We spent the morning meandering along this road which offers view points of the canyons east end. After lunch we left the park and drove around the east end of the Grand Canyon to the city of Flagstaff where we stopped for supplies and to sleep for the night.
We woke up to freezing temps the next morning and decided not to stick around. From Flagstaff we drove south to Phoenix where we were meeting Sue’s sister Laura and her husband Jeff in a couple of days. We decided to stay outside of the city so we drove west along I10 to the town of Buckeye where we found Leaf Verde RV Park, which turned out to be a great place to stay. It was reasonably priced and had great showers.
Over a week had passed since Sue crashed on her bike in Fruita Colorado and the bruise and swelling on her hip was not healing. We were getting concerned about it so we called our health insurance and told them we wanted to see a doctor. They directed us to the hospital in Goodyear which is the next town east of Buckeye. First thing the next morning we headed over to emergency to get it looked at. We weren’t sure what to expect at an American hospital but the service was great. We got in within a few minutes and only had to wait about 30 minutes for the doctor to see us. Mind you, it was a Wednesday morning. The doctor was great, he was a real joker and very friendly. He took a look at Sue’s injury and right away told us x-rays were not necessary and that the bump on her hip was a hemotoma. He told us it would go away within a few months hopefully and that resting it was the best thing. He seemed quite impressed with the bump Sue got from biking which made us laugh. He even had another doctor take a look for a second opinion.
That afternoon we headed back to the RV park to clean up the bus and get it organized for Laura and Jeff’s arrival. We knew that having four people in the bus was going to be crowded. It was a good thing we only planned to camp three nights and stay in hotels the rest of the time.
Distance traveled: 23718 km
After rolling into the Lake Tahoe area from the I80 we headed south along the western shore to Tahoe City where we found Olympic Bike Shop. We went in to the shop to ask about the local trails. Our main focus for the area was biking so we wanted to get the most of our one day here. Peter at Olympic showed us where to ride and also gave us a great pointer on where to camp for free in Tahoe. Just south of Tahoe City is Blackwood Canyon road which leads to a free National Forest Campground.
Our one day in Lake Tahoe was dedicated to mountain biking. We wanted to ride the famous Tahoe Rim Trail which is a 165 miles long network of trails (half of which are open to mountain biking) that circles Lake Tahoe high along the mountain ridges that encompass the water. We started our morning with a short warm up trail near our campsite. After that we got in the bus and drove south along the lake through some of the small communities that wrap the shore complete with multi-million dollar homes. Lake Tahoe is divided from north to south between California and Nevada. You know when you’ve hit the Nevada state line because of all the casinos. Half way up the east side we took US50 east to Spooner Summit, one of the Tahoe Rim Trail trailheads. From here we got on the bikes and rode south along the rim. The trail was a gradual uphill grade for the most part. We rode for about two hours up to a viewpoint and then decided to head back to the car. The weather was starting to close in and we didn’t feel like getting stuck in a thunderstorm high up on a mountain. The downhill portion of the trail was amazing. It had just rained the day before so the trail was tacky and there wasn’t much dust. That night we headed back to the Blackwood Canyon campground for some much needed rest.
The next morning we got up early knowing we had a long drive across the Nevada desert ahead of us. We stopped in at a local coffee shop with free wifi to check our email and do a bit of work before heading out of town. While we were having our coffee we looked outside and to our surprise it was snowing heavily. Just yesterday it was sunny and warm. The weather sure does change fast in the mountains. We got in the bus and headed north out of Tahoe towards Reno. To get to Reno you need to go over a 9000 foot mountain pass and we knew the snow was going to get worse the higher we climbed. At the summit I pulled the bus over to let some tailgaters pass me and, while waiting to pull back onto the highway a jeep passed me sliding sideways. A close call that made me worry about the drive down. Luckily the bus has mud/snow tires on it and although the descent into Reno was slow going we managed to crawl down the mountain okay. White knuckles behind us we were cruising I80 across the Nevada desert towards the mountain biking trails of Utah. That night we made it to the Utah border but decided to stay in a casino/truck stop parking lot on the Nevada side.
From Wendover he headed in to Utah and stopped at the famous Bonneville Speedway in the salt flats west of Great Salt Lake. Bonneville is where most of the world land speed records have been set and broken. The “track” is a 10 mile long stretch of the salt flats that is graded and smoothed each year by the BLM. After Bonneville we got back onto I80 heading east towards Salt Lake City and eventually the city of Vernal in northeastern Utah.
We arrived in Vernal around 5pm and headed to the bike shop, Altitude Cycle, to get info on the local trails. We had heard about the trails in Vernal from an article in the June 2009 edition of Bike magazine. After talking to Joel in the shop and buying the local trail maps we headed out to McKoy Flats, one of the singletrack areas for an evening ride. That evening we headed back into town and found a KOA campground to stay at for the night.
On our first full day in Vernal we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day. We noticed that some other mountain bikers from BC had rolled into the KOA late last night and were camped a few sites over. After breakfast we headed back to the McKoy Flats trailhead to get riding. The first trail we road was Jackalope which was a three mile climb to a fast three mile descent. Near the top of Jackalope a trail called Serpendipity splits off from it. Both trails meet up again half way down the mountain so Sue decided to take Serpendipity and I was going to take Jackalope and we were going to meet where the two trails crossed. Big mistake. Both of us missed the intersection where the trails meet because it was in a particularly fast section of the trail and we just didn’t see it. I got to the bottom and as soon as I saw the bus I realized I had missed the trail and was now picturing Sue waiting there for me and worried about where I was. Jackalope is a lot of work to pedal up backwards so after sitting by the car for a bit I decided to pedal back up the three mile ascent to find Sue. Meanwhile Sue did the same thing. She missed the intersection and was near the bottom as well. She decided to pedal back up Serpendipity to find me and when she finally got to the intersection decided to pedal down the lower portion of Jackalope instead. I on the other hand was now coming down Serpendipity looking for her. Long story short, we did end up finding each other back at the bus and vowed never to split up again on trails we didn’t know. At least we each got to ride both trails.
That afternoon we met up with the guys from BC who were also at the McKoy Flats trails. They were just getting ready to do one more ride for the day on a trail called More Hoes (the garden variety). They asked us if we wanted to join them and I decided to take them up on the offer. Sue was worked after our Jackalope fiasco and decided to sit this one out. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was starting to set - probably not the best time to head out on a five mile trail up to the top of a butte and back. Another long story short, we ended up on top of the butte in the dark and had to descend steep rocky terrain using camping headlamps. Not the ideal situation but it made for some interesting riding. We managed to find our way back to the trailhead about an hour after sundown and headed into town for some much needed grub at a local award winning Mexican fast food place called Café Rio. After dinner we said goodbye to our BC friends and headed back to the McKoy Flats trailhead to camp for the night.
After a very windy and not so restful night out at the trailhead we got up, made breakfast and donned our biking gear for a sunny, windless ride. We rode the first half of Retail Sale, then Sue decided to head back to the bus and I continued on to Slippery When Wet before calling it a morning. By this point my brakes had so much air in them they weren’t working at all and riding wasn’t much fun anymore.
That afternoon we headed back into Vernal to Altitude Cycle to get my brakes looked at. The shop owner, Troy Lupcho, was there so we finally got to meet him. We chatted for a bit about riding in the area and about our trip. Then after looking at my brakes for about half a second he told me they were crap and that I should buy these ones, pointing to a shiny new set of Avid Elixirs on the shelf. My kid in a candy store side came out and after a brief glance at Sue for approval I said, “Sure, why not”. Troy also mentioned he was heading out to Cabin Boy, one of the trails north of town, for an afternoon ride and invited us along. Although we were planning on packing up and heading out that afternoon the opportunity to ride one of Vernal’s famed trails with the man who created it was irresistible. An hour later we were pulling up to the trailhead and getting ready for the ride.
A few minutes later our four BC friends showed up along with Kevin and Teena Christopherson who, along with Rich Etchberger, were the creators of Jas/Chrome Molly one of Vernal’s first and most famous trails. After gearing up we hit the trails. Sue decided to ride Jas with Kevin and Teena and I headed off with Troy and the BC folks. The trails were spectacular slices of flowy singletrack and after a few hours of riding we were back at the trailhead with ear to ear smiles (between the gasps for air). That evening we headed back to the KOA for much needed showers and sleep.
On our last day in Vernal we decided to have a lazy day. We woke up in our KOA campsite, made breakfast and tidied up the bus for the tri p to our next destination, Fruita Colorado. We left the campground early afternoon. The guys we met from BC were out riding when we left so we wrote them a short “happy trails” note and headed out. On our way out of town we stopped by Altitude Cycles to get my new brake cables shortened and to say ciao. We said our goodbyes, thanked Troy, Joel and the rest of the folks for a great couple of days, then got in the bus and headed east out of town towards Fruita for some more mountain biking.
The drive to Fruita down Hwy 139 is scenic. We rolled into town around 5pm and went straight to the local bike shop to get the skinny on where to ride. I already had a good idea of what I wanted to ride from research I did before our trip. North of Fruita about four miles is the Bookcliffs where a small collection of fast flowy trails were built up by the locals. We drove up to the trailhead where there is a small, free BLM campground. To our surprise the campground was full – about 50000 people come to the Fruita trails each year. A sharp contrast from being the only people camped at the trailhead in Vernal. After searching in vain for a campsite we headed up a dirt access road used by BLM and oil rig workers and came across a great campsite away from the crowds and right near the western edge of the bike trails.
The next morning I got up early eager to hit the trails. Sue decided to have a relaxing morning at our campsite. Plus I was going to scope out the trails to see which ones Sue would like. I rode the three best trails (in my opinion) Zippety Do Da, Joe’s Ridge and Kessell Run before heading back to Zippety for a second round where I blew a tire. After repairing the tire I rode back to the bus where I told Sue about the trails and that she would love Kessell Run. Kessell Run is a fast and smooth trail with tons of bermed corners. That afternoon Sue and I rode Kessell together and then I went back for some more Zippety and Sue went down Kessell. Half way down the trail I ran into the same stupid rock I blew my tire on earlier in the day only this time I blew both tires. I only had one spare tube with me and was planning on walking out when a group of rides came by and offered me a spare. That was great until the valve on the spare tube I had decided to break putting me back down to one spare and walking out. Just then another group of riders came by and after seeing the gong show of flat tubes lying around me offered me another spare tube. Twenty minutes later and I was back on my bike and smiling again. When I finally got back to the bus I found Sue covered in dirt. On her last run down she crashed hard on a sandy berm and was pretty banged up. She’s getting too fast for her own good. We spent the next hour cleaning and bandaging her cuts and scrapes.
When Sue was all patched up I headed up the hill for one more run down Zippety. There was a bad storm blowing in but I though it was far enough away to get one more ride in. I was wrong. I ended up on top of a narrow ridge with strong winds and hale pounding me from the side. At one point I was almost blown off the edge. Not fun. Luckily the trail crosses the road half way down and Sue decided to drive the bus there to meet me. Man was I happy to see her. That evening we camped in the same spot out in the desert above Fruita.
Leaving Fruita we headed southwest back into Utah to the town of Moab. We took the scenic route to Moab along the Colorado River valley. Moab is well known for its world class mountain biking and is the gateway to some of Utah’s most spectacular national parks. But we’re going to leave all that for the next blog.
The next leg of our journey was from Revelstoke BC to Pemberton BC to stay with my friend Rick and his girlfriend Lennie. Rick moved west just after Darryl, about ten years ago. We arrived in Pemberton just after dark and Darryl, who was traveling with us from Revelstoke, called Rick to get directions to his place. That evening we sat around reminiscing for a while and then went out to the Pemberton Hotel bar to catch a live band. The following day we sat around and got in some much needed R&R.
Monday morning we got up and drove in to Whistler for the day. We dropped Darryl off at the auto shop where his truck was being stored and said our goodbyes. Then Sue and I parked the bus and walked around Whistler Village for the day. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see because the power was out and most of the shops were closed. Sue bought some biking clothes at one of the few open shops then we headed back to Pemberton. That evening Sue, Rick, Lennie and I went out for a ride/jog before heading back for dinner and calling it a night.
We decided to make our last full day in Pemberton and Whistler a biking day. We packed up the bikes and headed into Whistler. We rode the Lost Lake trails and the classic A River Runs Through It and that afternoon headed up to the Logger’s Lake downhill trail. Sue crashed on one of the Lost Lake trails and twisted her wrist up good so she decided to hike River instead of bike it. I decided not to ride the Whistler bike park because I would have had to rent a DH bike and I hate riding bikes I’m not familiar with. Not to worry though, I’ll be back for more.
The next day we planned to leave Rick’s place and head to Abbotsford to my cousin’s place. But not before Rick and I hit one more trail. Another classic that I love to ride – The Tower of Power. This trail reminds me of the riding up near Killbear in Ontario. Lots of smooth granite faces and steep drop offs. It’s always a good time and it brought back so many great memories of past visits to Whistler. While we rode the trail Sue did some hiking in nearby Nairn Falls Provincial Park. That afternoon we said our goodbyes and headed south down the Sea to Sky highway towards Vancouver and Abbotsford. We arrived at my cousin Denise’s place in Abbotsford at around 8pm that evening. To our surprise my cousins Marilyn, Melisa and Kim (Denise’s sisters) and my Aunt Joanne and Uncle Ralph were all over to see us. It was really great to see everyone again and it was great that Sue got to meet the whole Schweitzer family. My Aunt Joanne is my dad’s youngest sibling and only sister. We spent the evening catching up and talking about our travels.
We woke up the next morning feeling very well rested thanks to the amazingly comfortable bed we slept in (Kudos Denise and John for the stellar accommodations). We planned to spend the entire day in Vancouver so after a great breakfast (thanks again guys) we got in the bus and drove into the city and headed for Stanley Park. We spent the morning biking around the sea wall and in the afternoon we hit the Vancouver Aquarium. That evening we headed to Granville Island to check out the market and have dinner.
My cousin Denise also conveniently lives next to some very stellar mountain bike trails in Abbotsford. I decided to sample the local offerings. On my first pedal to the top I met a local rider named Jeff who offered to give me the trail tour. These trails had everything from fast, flowing singletrack to drops to gap jumps - all well placed down this small mountain on the edge of town. I spent the majority of the day exploring the trails. One trail ended with a log ride to a six foot drop. Another had a series of drops into a gully – I hit a nice twelve footer on one of the trails.
From Abbotsford it was time to head back into the US. We crossed at the Sumas border crossing south of Abbotsford. The border guard asked us the usual questions – where are you going and how long, etc. – and I guess he didn’t like our story because he asked us to pull over for an inspection. It turns out they didn’t like the fact that we were traveling for six months, had no jobs (technically), and were planning on being in the US for over a month before heading into Mexico. After explaining to them that we had been planning and saving for this trip for almost a year they were a bit more understanding. Through the whole ordeal we lost two potatoes, apparently not allowed across the border. That evening we drove through Seattle where the streets were so steep the bus struggled to make it up. I had to (almost) run a red light to keep it rolling forward. After the white-knuckle experience in Seattle we headed south of the city and found a rest stop to crash at for the night.
While in Washington we stopped at Mt St Helens. It was truly a humbling experience to see what a volcano is capable of. We spent the next two days driving down the Washington and Oregon coast. On the Canadian Thanksgiving day we made ourselves turkey dinner complete with all the fixings. It made us really miss home.
One of the stops we planned to make on our trip was to visit Buster’s previous owners, Don and Dona, in Eugene Oregon. We arrived there the day after Thanksgiving in the evening. Don and Dona live on an eight acre parcel of land in the hills outside Eugene. They are retired and Dona spends her days in her garden while Don has taken up pottery as a past time.
The next few days we spent hanging out. Don took us into town so I could buy oil and oil filters for the bus. Along the way we got the full tour of Eugene and stopped for a beer and fries at a college pub. While we were staying in Eugene Dona showed Sue how to make concrete molds from rhubarb leaves to use as garden ornaments and Don gave Sue a pottery lesson – apparently she’s a natural at both.
While she was learning to pull pots I went on a day trip to the town of Oakridge, an hour drive from Eugene, to ride the trails. I found a great trail through an old dark mossy forest. It was one of those trails with slippery roots and muddy turns that keeps you on your toes and gives you an ear to ear smile. The last night we were in Eugene Don and Dona took us out for dinner at their favourite Thai food restaurant.
Thanks Don and Dona for a great couple of days.
From Don and Dona’s we started our trip east towards Utah. We drove all day and made it to a campground in the desert near the town of Riley Oregon. Our original plan was to head down through the Steen’s Mountain area in southeastern Oregon and into Nevada where we would connect with the I80 somewhere in the center of the state. Instead Sue and I got talking and plans changed. The beauty of having an open itinerary is you can change it when you want. So instead of heading straight to Utah we decided to make a detour south to Reno and Lake Tahoe.
We’re really behind on our blog as you can probably tell. It tends to get sidelined because there is just so much to do. Anyway, here is the next installment – only three weeks late.
Further along Highway 16 we stopped at Burns Lake to use the free wifi at the visitor’s center. The woman working there noticed our bikes and told us that Burns Lake has a great bike park designed by a well known BC mountain biker Jay Hoots. An hour later we were riding the trails. Some of the trails we hit were Pork Grind, Smells Like Bacon, and Piglet. I think there was a bit of a theme there. We stopped for a bit to make lunch when the rain started so we decided to head out.
The next town we stopped in was Williams Lake where we headed to the local bike shop, Red Shreds, to ask about the trails. The guys working there told us the best trails to ride were AK89 and Mitch’s Brew but to get to the top you need to drive. We were stoked when a girl at the shop offered to come with us to drive the bus back down and meet us at the bottom. AK89 was some great rolling sinlgetrack. Mitch’s Brew on the other hand was a super fast, super steep downhill run complete with large gaps, big jumps and high berms. Sue impressed me by riding most of the trail. There was one super steep section that Sue tried to hike down and it turned out riding would have been easier, it was that steep. Sue was super stoked and proud that she rode the trail without any injuries. After the ride we drove the girl (who’s name escapes us, sorry) back to the shop then Sue drove me back to the top for a second run. After that ride we found great $3 showers at the local rec center and hit the road.
Our next stop was the city of Kamloops where we found a Walmart parking lot to sleep in for the night. The next day we headed downtown to Full Boar bike shop to inquire about the local trails. I asked the guys there if you were only in town for one day and there was one trail you had to ride what would it be. Steve, one of the guys working there, told us to ride Rio which was featured in the mountain bike film Seasons. We were stoked to have the opportunity to ride such a famed trail, getting there however sucked much of our stoke. The uphill grunt to get to the trailhead was a two and a half hour ordeal in the hot sun up Rose Hill Road which leads to an affluent suburb of Kamloops. We stopped pedaling a short ways up and decided to walk our bikes. About three quarters of the way up I was pushing both bikes. But the trail was well worth the punishing uphill climb. Super fast, flowing singletrack. A bit dry, but we weren’t complaining, we were in Kamloops riding Rio. The folks in Kamloops can sure lay out a trail. After the first run Sue shuttled me to the top for a second helping. We’ll definitely be going back to Kamloops to ride this trail again. That evening we decided to head to Revelstoke to my cousin Jim’s place for the night. Rev’y is a two hour drive from Kamloops.
My cousin lives next to the Revelstoke airport which was great because it was like having our own private air show. His property also backs on to the Columbia River valley which makes for some spectacular views of the area. Jim took us mushroom picking (the edible ones for those thinking something else) and plum picking. Jim has a dehydrator and dries just about everything that can be dehydrated. Although technically “retired” he works for a local towing company that specializes in transport truck accident recovery. This means tons and tons of free stuff from oranges to shrimp and pork sides to winter coats. The stuff is all insurance company write-offs anyway. Most of the stuff ends up in the garbage but a select amount ends up in Jim’s freezer. We spent one afternoon cutting up a frozen side of pork with a hacksaw – good times indeed.
While in town I looked up my buddy Darryl, an old friend of mine from back home who moved to BC ten years back. Darryl and his dog Kirra moved from Whistler to Revelstoke a year ago and he is now working on his auto body apprenticeship at a local body shop. It just happens that Darryl also lived by the airport just 500 yards from Jim’s place. He stopped by regularly for dinner and refreshments.
One thing we had to take care of while in Rev’y was to work on the bus yet again. This time it was to figure out why the back tires were wearing so unevenly. Jim called his friend Herman who owns several VW Westies to get his opinion on the tire problem. Herman came by and all four of us tried to figure out what was wrong. Herman decided to jump on the bumper to test the shocks and discovered that all four shocks were blown. That day four new shocks were ordered from the local Napa and the next day Jim and I installed them in his driveway. Problem solved, we thought. While in Rev’y we had to sample the local bike trails of course. Mt McPherson is across the river from Jim’s place and is crisscrossed with fast, flowy XC trails. Sue also shuttled me up Sale Mountain north of Revelstoke to hit the Martha Creek DH trail. The road to the trail head was a super gnarly logging road that was the worst up hill road we’ve taken the bus on and was a great test for the new shocks.
My parents were also on a trip to the west coast and were planning on passing through Revelstoke so we decided to stick around to see them. For the next two nights the five of us hung out together. Jim took us to see a heli-logging operation south of Rev’y. He used to own a business selling helicopter fuel and knows just about everyone in the industry so we had front row seats. It was quite the experience watching logs being hauled off a mountainside dangling 200 feet under a helicopter. While we were there one of the ground crew at the loading site cut a couple cross sections of cedar for Sue to have as a souvenir.
After spending about a week in Revelstoke we headed south through Nakusp then west to Kelowna. Along the way we noticed that the front suspension had a bad knock in it and I was thinking it was something to do with the shocks. We stayed in Kelowna for two days and ran into my parents once again who were staying with friends in Westbank across the lake from Kelowna. While we were there we just had to sample the bike local trails. It turns out that some of the best singletrack and downhill trails in Kelowna just happen to be directly behind my parent’s friend’s house, go figure. We decided that the safest place to work on the bus was back in Revelstoke so the next day we headed back to my cousin’s place to figure out what was wrong with the suspension.
Back in Revelstoke I ripped the bus’s front suspension apart again. This time I discovered that the upper control arm bushings (the ones my buddy Todd and I just replaced before the trip) were toast. This was probably my fault for not installing them right the first time but I’m going to blame it on the Dempster Highway instead. I ordered new bushings from an online auto parts place which were supposed to come the following day but didn’t show up for three days. When they finally arrived Jim and I installed them in his driveway. All in all we spent three weeks in Rev’y and we grew pretty fond of the little town.
This time we left Revelstoke on the Trans-Canada heading west for Pemberton just north of Whistler where my buddy Rick lives. Darryl hitched a ride with us to pick up his truck in Whistler which had been in the shop since he moved to Revelstoke. We took the north route through Lillooet and over the Hurley Pass to get to Pemberton. We decided that if we hit snow along the way we would stop and have a snowball fight – we hit snow. On the decent into Pemberton the road is very steep and the bus’s little brakes weren’t up for the challenge. We ended up having to pull over half way down to let them cool down. And not a minute too soon, they were almost non-functional and glowing bright orange. We managed to get to Pemberton and Rick’s place safely and that night went out to celebrate.
Note: sorry for the long wait between blogs – we ran into a bit of car trouble and have been spending time with that.
So we spent a few more days in Seward and Jer hit the Lost Lake trail one more time. We also hiked a bit of the northern end of the trail and saw hundreds of strange mushrooms. Then we took the Seward Highway north back to Anchorage.
As with our last time through Anchorage we didn't do much sightseeing other than Hood Lake. The interesting thing about Anchorage is that you can look in the sky at any point and see large commercial planes, fighter jets and single engine planes. At Hood Lake there is hundreds of sea planes docked around the lake and a full airport just beside the lake as well. Definitely a must see if you're in Anchorage.
Being from Ontario we were skeptical when we heard that the fall colours are just as good in Alaska. We were lucky enough to be there just as the leaves and tundra were changing and I have to say that it was incredible. There's nothing quite like seeing snow capped peaks, yellow leaves and red tundra.
Driving to Valdez along the Richardson Highway you pass the Wrangell Range and Worthington Glacier, but I’ll get back to those later. We arrived in Valdez and Jer caught up on some work. We met a retired couple from Australia that sold their home, built a custom off road car, and were driving it all around the world. What we found interesting was that they said the most beautiful place they visited was Iran. While talking with them we mentioned we drove the Dempster Highway and noted that we couldn’t find an NWT sticker for the bus while we were there. The funny thing is they just happened to have two so we now have an NWT sticker for Buster! Funny how these things work out. Anyway, we toured around Valdez for a bit, drove up to the Valdez Alaska Pipeline Terminal where the oil gets loaded on to ships, and decided to head back north to find a spot to camp for the night.
We ended up spending the night at the base of Worthington Glacier. The next morning bright and early we hiked up and around the glacier. We found an ice cave and listened to it crack and pop as rocks would fall off and plummet to the ground. After posing for a few pictures we continued on. We hiked around for a few hours and found all kinds of interesting stuff. It was wild to listen to the dripping water and cracking ice while the glacier slowly moved and twisted down the mountain.
When we finished exploring Worthington Glacier we made breakfast and headed to the town of McCarthy in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The road in is paved as far as Chitina, which is the last chance to get fuel before entering the park. From Chitina on it’s nothing but nature. Wrangell St. Elias is truly a wilderness park. It has nine of the tallest sixteen peaks in North America and covers an area larger than Switzerland. There are no established campsites and only a few marked trails. The McCarthy Road and one other road into the north end of the park are the only entrance points. A lot of the locals in McCarthy have their own planes and that’s generally how most of them seem to get around.
We got to the outskirts of the town and discovered that our back tire was loosing air. We were really lucky that a tire repair guy just happened to be right across the road. Thirty minutes and $20 later we had a large nail in hand and our tire once again full of air.
Where to start with McCarthy - I guess the only down side to McCarthy is that there is no water, no gas, no propane, no garbage disposal and the outhouse showers cost $10 per person. Other then that McCarthy is pretty close to perfect. You can’t drive into the town. To get there you have to park your vehicle and walk, bike or take a $5 shuttle bus ride. We ended up walking in to town. We checked out prices for backcountry camping flights and decided against it because it was the long weekend and the few free backcountry cabins scattered in the area were most likely full and are not reserveable. After sleeping on the cold ground in Denali we’d had enough of the tent for a while.
The following day we biked 5.8 miles on an old wagon road leading to the Kennicott Mine site near McCarthy. Prospectors back in the early 1900’s spotted what looked like a patch of green grass and it turned out to be the richest deposits of copper ever found. By 1908 the town had formed and mining began. The old railroad through the mining town moved over 200 million dollars worth of copper ore. The mine was closed in 1938 due to declining copper prices. We did a self-guided biking tour around the town and Jer decided to bike half way up to one of the mine sites known as Bonanza mine. To finish off our ride we stopped for a drink at The New Golden Saloon in McCarthy. We met a guy that had spent the past five months in the bush panning for gold and listened to his wild stories. When we eventually made our way back to the bus we met a couple from Anchorage named John and Jekkah. They just moved to Anchorage from Chicago this summer and this was going to be there first winter in Alaska. We made our way back into McCarthy later that night to check out a local band playing at the Saloon.
The next morning we talked to a local alpine guide and got some great tips on where to bike in Oregon and Cali and then hit the road back to Tok. It was a long day of driving, we decided that while we happened to hit a few beautiful days in McCarthy, for the most part the weather was beginning to feel more and more like winter. Time to head south! In Tok we rejoin the Alaska Highway southeast back into the Yukon. This stretch of the Alaska Highway has some of the world's largest frost heaves and although most of them weren't marked as "Bumps" they were still monstrous! Driving past Kluane National Park we looked intently for a glimpse of Mt. Logan, Canada’s tallest peak (19,524 feet high). When we got to the Kluane visitor centre we were told that the mountain was not visible from the road.
Along the second half of our Alaska adventure we noticed that the engine temperature in the bus was higher than it should be. We tried a few fixes on the road and eventually decided that we needed a new radiator. Back in Whitehorse we got in touch with Ian whom we had met the first time through and he was able to get us into an empty bay in the garage where he works (thanks again Ian for letting us crash at your place on a particularly cold night and for getting us into a bay at your work). We ordered a new rad from a local shop for a premium and installed it that weekend. Problem fixed.
After fixing the rad and saying goodbye to Ian we headed south out of the Yukon. The Cassiar Highway (37), which starts just west of Watson Lake YK, takes you south into BC past a few small towns and many emerald green lakes. We passed a mudslide still in the process of being cleaned up. Aside from a few construction sites the highway for the most part is a good road. At the 37A junction we headed west to Stewart BC and the town of Hyder Alaska which is at the southern end of Alaska. Hyder is a great little town filled with really friendly people. We went to the famous bear viewing area at Fish Creek but there were no bears in sight. So we decided to drive up to Salmon Glacier. The Salmon Glacier is one of those "You have to be there to understand it" kind of places. Photos could never accurately portray the scale of this massive glacier.
Our next stop was Hazelton BC where we went to the 'Ksan Historical Village and Musuem. I checked out the gift shop and we walked around the village and did a short self-guided tour. Lots of interesting totem poles to check out but all the buildings were closed to tourists.
Note: We are currently in Revelstoke where we are once again fixing the bus - this time a wee suspension problem. Check back soon for updates.
On one of our days in Seward Alaska we decided to hit one of the local trails for some riding. The trail was named Lost Lake and it was recommended to us by the Seward Bike Shop. Props to them for pointing us to this trail.
The trail is part of a network of trails running the length of the Kenai Peninsula. It starts just north of Seward and is twelve miles up and back with an elevation gain of 1800 feet. In other wards, it’s up hill for six miles then super nar fast down hill for the other six.
Sue was originally going to drop me off at the trailhead and go into town to poke around but decided to hike a bit of the trail. She ended up hiking the entire twelve miles and as a result we have a beautifully photographic journal of the trail I ended up riding twice in three days.
I’m not going to say any more about the trail. I’ll let Sue’s photos do the talking. Enjoy.
After spending a week in Denali National Park and still not being able to see the mountain thanks to the weather we headed south towards Anchorage. Along the way we stopped in Denali State Park which is adjacent to the national park for one last shot at seeing Denali. No such luck.
From Denali State Park we went to Talkeetna which is where mountain climbers are flown out from to go climb Denali. The national park also has a ranger station here to assist anyone planning the climb to the 20320 foot high summit. The weather up there even in the summer can get to 40 below with 100 mile per hour winds. We had lunch in a local pizza joint recommended to us by one of the Denali bus drivers and then left town.
Our next stop was Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city. After driving all day the last thing you want to do is try and find a free place to stay in an unfamiliar city full of one-way streets. After some frustration we ended up at the local Fred Meyer store (smaller version of Wallymart) where we spotted a bunch of RVs parked. That’s usually a good sign that the store will let you park overnight. We didn’t do a whole lot in Anchorage other then grocery shop and check email. You have to come back through the city after visiting anything south of it anyway.
Driving south of Anchorage you hit the Kenai Peninsula and the towns of Homer and Seward. We didn’t know much about either place so we decided to visit Homer first. Homer is a good size fishing and tourist town at the tip of the peninsula. We didn’t know where we were staying so we decided to drive to the end of town where the road goes out onto a very long spit of land known as the Homer Spit. The Spit is an awesome place to camp albeit not for free but it’s worth it. It is a long narrow strip of land jutting out into the Alaska Sea and has a mix of fishing charters companies, commercial fishing operations, shops, pubs and campgrounds. We camped right on the beach with great views of the surrounding mountains.
The next morning I needed to get into the engine bay to check the coolant level and a few other things. The bikes have to be taken off the rack for this because the engine is in the back. That’s when I noticed our only set of keys for the bikes was missing (I lost the first set somewhere back in the beginning of Alaska, oops). After ripping the bus apart searching for them we decided to move to plan B, cut the lock and buy a new one. Luckily there was a fisherman working on his boat across the street. I went over and asked if he had something to cut a padlock. He had a grinder so we drove the bus across the street and I held the lock while he cut it off. After that we drove into town, bought a new lock for the bikes and a new headlight for the bus to replace the one that had burned out the day before, then grabbed a coffee at some little hippy coffee shop and headed out.
From Homer we drove to Seward which is on the other end of the Kenai Peninsula. Seward is a really nice town. It is in a narrow valley with a deep fjord coming from the Alaska Sea and lush green moss covered trees all around. It also lies next to Kenai Fjords National Park which protects the Harding Icefield and many glaciers one of which, the Exit Glacier, is 8 miles from town. We found a free place to camp along the road to the glacier just outside of town along a fast flowing glacial river. From here we explored the town and surrounding area including the Exit Glacier and a trail named Lost Lake which was recommended to us by the local bike shop as the it place to ride. This trail was so great that we decided it deserved it’s own blog so we will end here for now.
After driving the Dempster Highway we were through with dirt roads. However we had one more to tackle. The Top of the World Highway takes you from Dawson City in the Yukon to the Alaska border where it meets the Taylor Highway. The Canadian side is paved for the most part but the US side is not and it’s pretty rough. We didn’t bother cleaning Buster too thoroughly because we knew he would need another cleaning after these next two roads.
The Top of the World Highway starts in Dawson City, Yukon and goes west to the Alaska border and there is a reason for the name. The views along this stretch of road are stunning. You have to watch out for the corners though. There are no guard rails along this road and some of the drop offs are hundreds and even thousands of feet. We were originally going to stay in Dawson that night but there were too many tourist there so we decided to keep going. We spotted a good pull off for the night where a cyclist had set up camp. His name was Christian and he was from Germany. He flew in to Whitehorse and had cycled all around Alaska and was on his way back to Whitehorse. It turns out this wasn’t his first trip to the Yukon and Alaska. He had been there several times before on numerous expeditions (check out Christian’s website – www.long-expeditions.de). After talking for a bit we headed to bed.
The next morning we said goodbye to Christian and headed to the Alaska border. Along the way we lost our power steering and upon further investigation found that the power steering pump belt had come off the pulley. I reinstalled the belt and drove off only to loose it again a mile down the road. We drove back to the rest stop and I installed one of the spare belts we had with us. The one stayed put and we were off to the border. The northern crossing between Alaska and the Yukon is high up in the mountains between Dawson City and Chicken, Alaska. It’s probably the highest border crossing between Canada and the US – at least the highest one I’ve been to.
After crossing the border we headed to the old gold mining town of Chicken Alaska. Chicken, named that way because no one could agree on how to spell ptarmigan, has a couple RV parks, a restaurant, a liquor store and a winter population of about 15 people. We stopped for lunch and a photo op and kept on going. We stopped for the night just outside of Tok (pronounced toke as I was kindly corrected by the gentleman at the border).
In Tok we got gas, a few groceries and another car wash for Buster, this time a thorough wash including the motor. From there we headed northwest towards Fairbanks through the town of Delta Junction where the Alaska Highway officially ends and the town of North Pole where it is Christmas never ends. We were planning on staying at a pull off somewhere south of Fairbanks but the area is too heavily populated and there was nowhere to stop. There is also an air force base south of Fairbanks that you have to drive through where there is no stopping allowed. We ended up staying in the Fairbanks Walmart parking lot for the night. Fairbanks is a town of about 100K and is a good place to stock up before heading anywhere else in Alaska.
From Fairbanks we headed south to Denali National Park where Denali (Mount McKinley), the tallest mountain in North America lies (20320 ft). To see the mountain up close you need to take one of the park buses into the park because the 90 mile park road is closed to public traffic to limit the number of vehicles. When we arrived in Denali the weather was perfect for viewing the mountain but the campgrounds with views of Denali were all booked up. We had to wait two days to get a spot and by then the weather had closed in and it was raining. We had planned to stay one night at Wonder Lake campground and the following two nights in the backcountry. There are no trails in Denali so you have to bushwhack to where you want to go. There are also approximately 500 grizzly bears in the park and they park gives you a bear safety talk and a bear-proof food container before you go in. When we got to Wonder Lake the mountains were hidden by rain clouds. Because of its size Denali creates its own weather even if it is a clear day. We only stayed one night in the backcountry because the weather was so bad.
After spending almost a week in Denali we headed south towards Anchorage. Along the way Buster hit a milestone, the odometer hit 200000 miles.
Kilometers driven: 9533
Animals sighted: Marmots, Golden Eagle, Moose, Caribou, Grizzly Bears, Fox, Wolf, Rabbits and Ptarmigan
We wanted to drive one of the roads that go north of the Arctic Circle. It was either the Dempster Highway in northern Yukon or the Dalton Highway in Alaska. We chose the Dempster on recommendations from other travelers and on the fact that it takes you to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories – another part of Canada to check off our list. So how do you sum up 1500 km of gnarly dirt road in a short blog?
When we reached the turnoff for the Dempster along the Klondike Highway we fueled up ($1.40/liter, ouch) and sat there for a bit deciding whether or not to go. We knew that it was going to be a rough road – an understatement for sure – and every car coming out was caked in mud and sported cracked windshields. We said a prayer and off we drove.
The first section of road wasn’t too bad. Lots of potholes and big rocks but we could drive a stead 60kph. Our first stop was Tombstone Territorial Park which was absolutely jaw dropping. If you don’t want to drive the Dempster at least drive the first 100km to this park. It’s well worth it. We stopped at the visitor’s center where they fed us tea made from the local plants and backcountry bread known as bannoc (kind of like a pancake) covered in homemade jam made from the local berries. We spent the afternoon here hiking a trail up the side of a mountain and would have made it to the summit if the weather hadn’t closed in. We saw marmots along the way and a huge golden eagle buzzed Sue’s head. The fall colours were already starting to show on the tundra.
By the time we left Tombstone it was late afternoon. We continued north up the Dempster and found an amazing viewpoint that overlooks the Ogilvie Mountains to the south and the open tundra to the north. We decided to stay there for the night.
At Eagle Plains which marks the mid point of the Dempster (km 369) we fueled up – for some reason gas is cheaper here then at the start of the highway ($1.35/liter, still ouch). The lodge at Eagle Plains had free wifi so we checked our email before heading on. We also met a fellow traveler named Mike from Anchorage who was also heading north to Inuvik.
Just north of Eagle Plains is the Arctic Circle (66°33’ north). The point at which, on June 22, the sun never falls below the horizon. Even in August it stays light until well after midnight.
Between the Arctic Circle and the NWT border we saw caribou from the Porcupine herd and a grizzly bear with a couple of yearlings in tow eating what appeared to be a caribou carcass (probably shot by a hunter from the highway). We also met a Swedish guy with a degenerative muscle disorder who had biked solo from Las Vegas to northern Canada and was on his way to Inuvik as well.
At the NWT border we stopped to take the touristy photo before heading on. From this point north the road becomes very rough. Almost the entire Dempster is built on top of the permafrost which stays frozen year round because of the thick layer of moss covering the ground. To keep the permafrost from melting under the road they simply pile dirt and gravel on to of the vegetation rather then removing it first. In some spots the road is 10 feet above the surrounding land.
At Ft McPherson you have to take a ferry across the Peel River. It’s basically a floating platform with a ramp at either end that is pulled across the river by a cable. Getting off the ferry on the north side of the river we buried Buster’s nose into the dirt and got stuck. With an audience of about twenty locals cheering us on we managed to rock the bus back and forth and get unstuck. At this point the road becomes unbelievably rough and we decided it was too rough for Buster and decided to turn around. That was until we met the tourist info guy, an older native gentleman wearing a Toronto Blue Jay cap who, after learning we were turning around, convinced us otherwise. He told us that he made the trip all the way to Toronto – and had the Blue Jay ticket stub to prove it – and that we came this far we should at least go the last 185km to his home town of Inuvik. It was a pretty convincing argument so on we went.
The last stretch to Inuvik wasn’t too bad with only a few rough sections. There was one more ferry crossing before Inuvik. This one was to cross the Mackenzie River. Inuvik is in the Mackenzie Delta. This area is a sprawling low-relief landscape covered in black spruce and tamarack. We were surprised to see so many trees north of the Arctic Circle.
In Inuvik we stayed at Happy Valley campground in downtown Inuvik. The next day we woke up to pouring rain and decided to take a few photos and start heading south again. There isn’t much to see in Inuvik. It’s mostly a working town. We drove around for two hours looking for a sticker for Buster to prove we were there but couldn’t find one. Eventually we gave up and took off.
On our way back south we didn’t stop much. It was pouring rain and the road turned to pure mud, in some spots it was so slippery it was like driving on snow. We did make a stop just south of the NWT border where we saw a small herd of caribou and two grizzly yearlings wrestling on the tundra. It was caribou hunting season and every pickup truck we passed heading north had at least one caribou in the back.
We stopped at Eagle Plains for gas again and continued south to the camping spot we stayed at on the way up. This time the view was non-existent because of the thick fog. Maybe it was just our imagination but the road seemed rougher on the way out. We made it back to the start of the Dempster that evening and used the local car wash to attempt to clean the inch thick mud off of Buster. It took 15 cycles of power washing to get most of the crusted on mud off.
All in all a great side trip even if it wasn’t planned. But I guess that’s the beauty of having so much time to see everything.
The Alaska Highway is long and we’re only half way there. At Whitehorse we left the Alaska Highway to head north along the Klondike Highway. First stop is Dawson City and beyond to Alaska. But before we do that I’ll tell you about our travels up the first part of the Alaska Hwy from Dawson Creek to here.
From where we last left off in Fort St John BC we got back on the road and hauled northward. Our goal for the next few days was to get to Whitehorse as quickly as possible. For the most part the Alaska Highway is smooth sailing. There is of course the occasionally construction zone or in this case more than occasionally. I guess the season for road construction is fairly short in the north so they have to get everything done in the few short summer months. Before we left we had read somewhere to watch out for flying rocks on gravel roads. Sure enough we managed to get a rock in the windshield and a nice little star shaped crack. It only cost $35 to have it fixed in Whitehorse which wasn’t bad.
So we continued up the Alaska Highway stopping north of Fort Nelson BC at a rest stop near Summit Pass. There we met a nice gentleman from Florida named Paul and his wife who were on their way to Alaska. We found that the best way to find free camping is to look for other RVs pulled off the highway for the night. Some of the best views are at spots like these too.
From Summit Pass we drove through Muncho Lake Provincial Park which some say is the most beautiful lake in the Rockies. I would say it’s a tie between Peyto Lake in Banff and Muncho Lake. We stopped along the shore for some lunch and decided to go for a short hike to stretch our road trip legs. We hiked up a dry river bed with strange colourful mountain slopes on both sides until we made it to a stream that eventually disappeared into a crevice in the ground.
After lunch we headed northward again and eventually crossed into the Yukon near Watson Lake. At Watson Lake we saw the Sign Post Forest which was started by a homesick US soldier working on the construction of the Alaska Highway. He posted a sign pointing to his home town in Illinois. Today there are over 68000 signs posted from all over the world. We’re going to post our sign on the way back through Watson Lake next month.
From Watson Lake the road turns west and follows the Yukon – BC border before heading north to Whitehorse. We rolled in to Whitehorse on the evening of August 10 and found a place to park the bus for the night. We spent a total of three days exploring Whitehorse and mountain biking on Grey Mountain. On our first ride on Grey Mountain we met a local named Ian out for a ride with his dog and decided to ride the rest of the trail together. After the ride we pedaled back to Ian’s place for a beer. At Ians we met his girlfriend Andrea and decided to meet for another ride the next night.
One of the things we discovered after leaving home was that we way over packed and we needed to loose some stuff. We decided to mail some of our unnecessary stuff home so we picked up a large apple box from a local grocery store and packed it full of random things we didn’t think we would need on the trip. Another bunch of stuff went to the local Salvation Army. With the bus decluttered we spent the day touring around Whitehorse. That evening we headed over to Ian and Andrea’s for the ride. There we met Philippe, a local bike shop owner and artist. This ride was going to be a shuttle which meant no uphill pedaling. Sue wasn't riding that evening so she volunteered to drive us the top of the mountain. The ride from the top down took a couple hours to complete. That night Ian and Andrea generously offered their spare bedroom for us to crash in. It was nice sleeping in a real bed after being in the bus for so long. Thanks guys for the wonderful hospitality and the great sandwiches and tea and coffee!
The next morning we headed over to the Whitehorse fish ladder which was built to allow the salmon heading up river to climb passed the hydro electric dam. The salmon start their journey in the Bearing Sea on the northwestern Alaska coast before traveling over 3000 km upstream to lay their eggs. They have a visitor’s center set up there where you can see the fish through a glass window under the water. It was pretty wild to see. After the fish ladder we headed over to Philippe’s bike shop to check it out and say hello before leaving Whitehorse. His shop is something you have to check out if you’re in Whitehorse – even if you don’t ride bikes.
After leaving Whitehorse we headed north along the Klondike Highway towards Dawson City. We made it as far as Stewart Crossing and found a pull off where four large trailers parked for the night, all from Texas. You meet so many people from all over the world when you road trip. We talked to them for a bit and they mentioned that they had traveled up the Dempster Highway towards Inuvik, NWT. We were originally going to drive north to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska but so many people had told us to take the Dempster instead. We had a decision to make.
After a night at the Canmore municipal campground we headed back into Banff to try and find a site near the Banff town site. Because of the August long weekend all the campgrounds in Banff were booked. We managed to snag the last available site at Two Jack Lake a campground about 5km from the town of Banff. Sue’s mom Sandra was still traveling with us and we spent the day touring around Banff before heading north along the Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park.
Along the route to Jasper we stopped off at Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake and the Columbia Icefield to give Sandra the grand tour. Being the height of the tourist season all but the Icefields were rammed with people and the only reason the Icefields weren’t busy was because we got there at sun down. It was great though, it made for some amazing photos. The wind up by the glacier was so cold our hands felt frost bitten. After leaving the Icefields we drove the last 150km to the town of Jasper in the dark. A bit of a white-knuckle experience in mountains filled with elk, moose, mountain goats and mountain sheep.
For the next two nights we camped at Whistler’s, a campground near the town of Jasper, to explore the area. While we were there Sue’s mom got to see wild mountain goats and elk for the first time.
Our last day in Jasper we said our goodbyes to Sandra who took a shuttle to Edmonton to catch her flight home. We spent the next few hours riding one of the bike trails near town that was recommended to us by a local bike shop. Some very stellar singletrack, some not so stellar uphill climbs and a few good crashes to boot (Sue).
After the ride and after getting cleaned up we packed Buster and drove east out of Jasper to Highway 40 which goes north to Grande Prairie, Alberta. We stopped about 60km south of Grande Prairie at a free camping area used by ATVers. One of the goals on this trip is to find free camping as much as possible. This has proven to be a bit of a challenge but so far we’ve managed to make it work (not including the National Parks when Sue’s mom was with us). Another goal on this trip is to find free internet access. This too is proving to be a challenge but we are managing to make it work – between Starbucks, visitor info centers and hotel parking lots you’d be surprised how much free wifi there is out there.
With just the two of us in the bus now things are a little less crowded and we are back to our set route heading north to Alaska. Yesterday we spent the day running errands around Grande Prairie before heading north west to Dawson Creek, BC to connect with Highway 97 north, better known as the Alaska Highway. We are currently in Fort St John, BC camped at the luxurious Walmart parking lot along with a handful of other travelers. Today we plan to get as far north as possible.
Kilometers traveled: 5005
It’s been a while since we last posted so there is a lot to say. We’re trying to get in a groove. In total we spent four nights in Redcliff and Medicine Hat visiting my relatives. During that time we had some of the best home cooking. We also got a chance to do some biking around Redcliff. The trails here are what I would imagine Utah to be like - fast, flowy single track. When the dust settled we’d lost 3 tires to cactus but had huge smiles on our faces.
About an hour south of Redcliff is Red Rock Coulee, a valley filled with large red boulders that were rounded by glaciers from the last ice age. It is an awesome place to see. The prairie here is so flat you can see all the way to Montana.
My Uncle Alf invited us over for dinner and margaritas while we were in town. It was great catching up with him and my cousin Scott.
We also got the opportunity to have breakfast at my Uncle John’s farm outside of Medicine Hat in the South Saskatchewan River valley.
We had a great time in Redcliff and Medicine Hat and Sue got to finally meet my dad’s side of the family.
Our next destination was my cousin Torey’s place in Calgary. On the way there we took a side trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park for a quick look. The bugs were so bad we could only stay out of the car for a few minutes so we took our photos and jetted.
We stayed at my cousin Torey’s place for our last two nights of real beds before living full time in the bus. While we were in Calgary we headed out to Bragg Creek for some wet rainy riding at Moose Mountain. The first trail we ended up riding was actually a horse trail and it was a tough uphill grunt for the most part. When we got back to the car we met up with some other riders who gave us the low down on where to ride. That’s where we found the trail Race of Spades which we could shuttle with the bus up Moose Mountain. To this date, other then the rain, this is one of the best trails I have ever ridden (see vid).
On July 29 Sue’s mom flew in to Calgary to join us for a week. She has never seen the mountains and we thought this would be a good opportunity for her to check out the Rockies. The plane arrived late and we had a two hour drive in the dark to our first campsite at Chain Lakes Provincial Park.
From Chain Lakes we drove south into the Crowsnest Pass. We stopped at Frank Slide, a rock slide that occurred in 1903 and buried an entire town. It was humbling experience.
After Frank we crossed into BC where stopped at the town of Sparwood where they have the "largest truck in the world".
Our plan for the next night was to camp at Mount Fernie Provincial Park but it was full so we kept on driving along 93 until we hit Norbury Lake Provincial Park which had a hand full of sites left. One of which had a perfect view of the mountains. That night was had a crazy thunder storm and we sat and watched lightning hit the mountains near us.
From Norbury we backtracked a bit to Cranbrook BC to run some errands and find free wifi. We found a Starbucks and learned that they give you two hours of free wifi per day which was nice to know.
Our next destination was Whiteswan PP which was down a long, sketchy dirt road with sheer cliffs and no guard. We ended up in the overflow camping area because the park was full due to the August long weekend. It just happened that the overflow camping was right next to a rushing turquoise river with incredible mountain views. The water was cold but I still went for a dip – next best thing to a shower I suppose. On our way back to the main highway we stopped at the Lussier Hot Springs where we met some fellow Westy owners. We had a relaxing dip before heading out again.
From Whiteswan we were heading back into Alberta to Banff National Park through Kooteney NP. Our goal was to get a site at one of the campgrounds near the Banff town site but they were also booked solid. We ended up at the municipal campground in Canmore which was right next to the highway but had great (much needed) showers. We spent the evening in Canmore and were treated to dinner by Sue’s mom.
We’re currently heading north to Jasper National Park where Sue’s mom will be heading east to Edmonton to fly home and we’ll be heading north to catch the Alaskan highway in Dawson Creek BC. Other then a serious and very annoying front suspension creak (Todd: so much for those new bushings) the bus is running strong. I’m going to keep an eye on the suspension but I think it will be fine.
Check back soon for (hopefully more frequent) updates.
We are going to write a full blog soon but I thought I would post this 10 second vid because the trail was so stellar.
We spent a day and a half in the Sault visiting and hitting some of the local mountain bike trails before heading out.
After leaving Sault Ste. Marie we drove west along highway 17 to Thunder Bay. We stopped in Wawa where they finally have Tim Horton’s.
The drive from the Sault to Thunder Bay was really windy and a bit of a white knuckle challenge in the bus but we managed okay. I think our gas mileage suffered a bit because of the wind. That day our goal was to make it as far west as possible. We managed to get to Ignace which is about two hours west of Thunder Bay and stayed in the Tempo truck stop there for the night.
The next morning we drove around town looking for free wifi to check our email. We managed to find a motel with a good connection and sat there and ate our breakfast then headed out. Our next destination was somewhere in Saskatchewan as close to Regina as we could get. We wanted to get to Alberta as quick as possible. That day we managed to make it to Whitewood Saskatchewan and stayed in another truck stop just off the highway.
On our third day of driving we headed across the prairies to Redcliff Alberta stopping for gas and Tim’s. There are very few Tim Horton’s along highway 1 in Saskatchewan so when you do see one take full advantage. Trust us. We rolled in to Redcliff just before dinner time on Thurday evening where we are currently staying with my (Jer) cousin Joanna and her husband Terry. They have a beautiful home on the edge of town overlooking the South Saskatchewan River valley. Many of my relatives in the Redcliff/Medicine Hat area are greenhouse growers mostly growing cucumber.
We’ve spent the last few days visiting family and Sue has finally got a chance to meet them all. We both really love it here. It’s so beautiful and there’s some awesome single track trails just a short pedal away. We’ve been eating like kings and it’s awesome to have a shower and clean up the bus before we head out on the open road again in the next few days.
We’re up and running again. We managed to get the alternator fixed. My friend Brent who I'm staying with called around this morning and found Total Auto Electric Rebuilders in the Sault. Props to them - they had my alternator rebuilt in less than two hours and it only cost $100. Buster is now running stronger than ever and today we’re head as far west of Thunder Bay as we can get.
Well, we’re off (finally). It was a bit of a bumpy start. We ended up leaving Sunday instead of Saturday. Even that was rushing it though. After spending the morning packing the bus and a stellar bon voyage breakfast (thanks Lo and Jeff) we managed to hit the road by 1pm.
We had planned to stay with friends of ours, Brent and Barb in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday night but had to postpone till the following evening. We were hoping to be there by dinner but didn’t get in till 9pm thanks to the alternator giving up half way there. We managed to limp the bus to the Sault and when we did finally arrive we were treated to an awesome dinner. We’re going to spend tomorrow removing the alternator and taking it to a garage to have it tested. Will let you know how that goes soon.
We decided to head to Killarney for the Thanksgiving long weekend. The weather was supposed to be great and we were hoping the fall colours were still in full effect. We weren't disappointed. We left our place at 7pm Friday night with the four hour drive to Killarney ahead of us. The last 40 minutes of the trip are along highway 637 which ends in the town of Killarney. From what I could see with my high beams (which wasn't very much) the leaves looked like they were going to be spectacular.
After a food stop and a gas stop we arrived at the park around midnight and proceeded to fumble around the campground in the westy to find a vacant campsite (not easy in the pitch dark). After flashing the headlights on a few unhappy campers we found a great site (to good to be true as it turned out). We setup camp (drove the westy in and popped the top) and went to bed. The next morning we woke up early and rode our bikes to the park office to try and register the site we were on. No luck. Someone had already reserved it for the weekend and was arriving today. The site was amazing though and we made note of it for the next time we're up in Killarney. We spent the rest of the morning looking for a new site and eventually settled on site 102 which backs on to Cranberry Bog and there are no other sites around it. Other then the odd car we were totally secluded. The site even came with a stack of firewood from when the park staff was clearing some dead branches off of a nearby white pine (bonus).
Killarney lies on the northern shore of Georgian Bay and straddles the white peaks of the La Cloche mountain range. The white quartzite hills provided a perfect contrast to the fall colours that were in their peak when we arrived. We spent the next couple of days exploring and relaxing around the campfire. On Saturday before setting up our new campsite ventured into the town of Killarney for the world famous fish and chip stand which, to our delight, was not yet closed for the season. The fish and chips are amazing but I don't remember it costing that much. 13 bucks for a three piece dinner with some chips! For the evenings when it was cold we brought a laptop so we could watch movies in the bus. We watched "Hot Rod" which wasn't super funny and "Made of Honor" which was a chick flick, what can I say.
We hiked two trails while we were in Killarney, the first was Chikanishing trail which winds it's way to the south where Killarney borders with the Georgian Bay shoreline. The second was "The Crack" (Of course I got a kick out of the name) which is the eastern portion of the La Cloche Silhouette trail, the 100km trail that encircles Killarney. The Crack takes you up to the top of a high ridge where you can see amazing vistas of both the La Cloche Mountains and Georgian Bay. It was a 6km grunt mostly uphill and the last portion was an almost vertical scramble up a bunch of boulders in "The Crack", a rift in the La Cloche Mountains. Definitely worth the climb, the views were spectacular.
All in all a great trip. A bit far for a weekend excursion (even a long weekend) but definitely worth the drive to see the spectacular fall colours. I would recommend Killarney in the fall to anyone. Just try not to all come at once.