Stettler to Kelowna

Tar Sands and Fort Mac
Redwood Strands and Kitimatt
(This is our home) and down in the Shuswaps too
I’ve seen many nights feel like high noon from the Dome to Saskatoon
There’s confederation bridge and butterfly ridge and Sudbury and the Sault
I’ve been snowed in for days on the Trans Canada Highway
And that was in the month of June and this is our home

(Mike Plume Band, This is Our Home)

Bitch as I do about the Canadian government and the cost of living here, the variety of landscapes and climates of this vast country will never cease to amaze me. There hasn’t been a moment since I left my property that I didn’t look up and marvel at the beauty of the scenery, from the Prairies through the Badlands, into the foothills, and across the Rockie Mountains. That I have done this trip for the second and a half time, doesn’t make it stale at all.

I left Stettler at about 9:30 on Wednesday morning and drove straight through to Olds, where I conceded I wasn’t going to reach cheaper gas on the outskirts of Calgary. From Olds, I continued southwestward, passing Spring Hill RV Park north of Cochrane, where I stayed in late September of 2008.

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(Spring Hill RV Park)

I didn’t go through the pretty town of Cochrane, instead veering west on highway 1A just before town, until I reached the junction for the Transcanada Highway.

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(very low sky entering the Rockies)

From there, it was a short drive to Canmore where I got some groceries, using my Safeway card for the first time in a year. I bought $30 worth of food, all on sale, and paid only $20 with my Safeway discount!

The entrance to Banff National Park is right after Canmore. I elected to pay the $9.80 for a day pass so that I could stop if I wanted to without risking a fine. Having been to Banff and Lake Louise, I had no intention of detouring, but I still wanted to be able to pull over for a leg stretch, a view, or to use the bathroom.

That said, this was my third time driving across the Rockies and I didn’t have much better luck than the previous two trips since the weather was crappy; very cold and rainy. 🙁

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(Not quite cold enough for snow, but it almost felt like it!)

Still, the drive was effortless. I don’t know what it is about this stretch, but it always makes for really good gas mileage. I’ve never done better than 500KM on a tank with my truck, but I ended up getting about 600KM on the tank I got in Olds. A good part of it is that you just drive straight through, so you don’t waste gas stopping at street lights and such, plus the stretch is mostly downhill. Several times, I put Moya in second gear and took my feet off the pedals, saving both fuel and wear and tear on the brakes.

I stopped at the Spiral tunnels and the entrance to Glacier Provincial Park, where the air smelled like evergreens and snow. I wish I could convey that smell through pixels; it will be a highlight of this summer.

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 (Lots of snow on the mountains, even though it’s late June.)

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(This cut in the rock shows how much work it was to carve a road into these mountains.)

This trip, I was finally about to stop at the Rogers Pass discovery centre! It’s a small museum that makes a good leg stretch break.

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(This is the first time I’ve noticed that the GPS screen more or less matches the terrain.)

I forgot that I was going into the Pacific time zone, so I hit Revelstoke much earlier than I would have planned. It felt too early to stop for the night, but I decided to find the 2008 turnout and see if I had internet there. If so, I would check if the Vernon Walmart was RV friendly, otherwise  I would spend the night.

From Revelstoke I quickly found my first landmark, but drove further past it than I remembered doing in 2008, so I began to think that the turnout was gone. But nope! When I came to it, I recognized it instantly and pulled around to the far side. I had internet and the Vernon Walmart is NOT RV friendly, so I decided to stay put.

A Gregory Peck movie on Netflix occupied most of the evening (my favourite actor of all time), at the end of which I discovered that I had apparently left my iPad charging cord in Stettler! Oh NO. I left myself just enough juice to check emails in the morning and went to bed around 9:00 (10:00 my time).

Even though it was pouring rain, the truck bed felt cozy and warm. I would have slept soundly if trains hadn’t passed by about once every hour.

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This morning, around 5:30, it was very damp out, but not raining, so that made it easier to repack for the day’s drive since I could leave the doors open. I had gained two neighbours, an RV and a semi.

I did the math and even with the gas prices averaging $1.35 per litre ($5.31 per gallon), taking my truck and sleeping in it is cheaper than it would have been to go with a subcompact and take a hotel. I’m going to spend about two weeks camping in the truck this summer (at least) and that will help me figure out what I need to make camping in it more comfortable and easier. A taller and non-leaky canopy is definitely in order! But it’s reassuring to know that I was dry even during last night’s downpour.

I pulled out and drove to Sicamous where I got gas and coffee. It began to pour again as I pulled onto highway 97 and it was a wet, miserable, couldn’t see anything drive into Kelowna. Sunny Okanagan my ass. This is my least favourite part of Canada. 🙁

My first stop was Walmart to see if I could find a cheap iPad charging cord, but nope. I tagged in with my friend Amber, changing our plans from dinner to lunch, and then I headed to a CIBC because I had left my ATM card in the reader at the Canmore Safeway. I HATE those friggin’ chip readers!!!

Getting the new card was painless and it’s one I can now use in the U.S. as it’s part of the Visa as well as Interac networks. I was warned that there are big fees, so I’m better off using my Visa or cash, but it’s nice to have a third option just in case.

Then, I went to Best Buy, which only opened at 10:00. Instead of waiting 15 minutes for them to open, I decided to go to a dollar store and see if I could find a super cheap iPad cord. It’s been my experience that using non-Apple cords is hit or miss and has absolutely nothing to do with price or brand, so it seemed like a worthwhile experiment.

My GPS directed me to a dollar store that had a cord for $12, cheaper than anything else I knew I’d find, but it wasn’t refundable if it didn’t work. Hmm. I knew that I had to get something marked iPad, not just iPhone or iPod Touch as the the iPad chargers offer more juice. I have a little Belkin cradle for my iPod Touch that I had hoped would tide me over until Donna can get my cord back to me, but I got the dreaded ‘charging is not supported with this accessory message.’ Anyway, I decided to take a gamble on the $12 cord, accepting that I’d be stuck using the iPod all weekend if the cord didn’t work. Yes, I am spoiled. 🙂

Well, the cord WORKS. YAY!!! It is charging veeeeeeeery slowly, but I don’t care. I’m just grateful I didn’t break the bank and have my iPad again.

I then headed out to Westbank to meet Amber at a Thai restaurant when I saw a sign that made me do a double take:

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OMG Dollar Tree has come to Canada!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀

I found Thai Fusion Restaurant without any trouble and Amber was right on time. We both had the chicken pad thai. It was fine, but not that flavourful beyond a little heat. I wasn’t surprised or disappointed since I know food tends to be bland out west. It was a nice portion and the prices were very reasonable.

Amber and I gabbed for almost two hours. It was so good to catch up!

I’m now at a library, catching up on some things and finishing up my slideshow. This branch closes at 6:00pm, so I’ll go find a parking lot to hang out in for a few hours before moving to my overnight spot, which I am not going to divulge for matters of safety, obviously.

The first event doesn’t start till 5:30 tomorrow, so I’ll likely spend a good chunk of time tomorrow at a different library.

The Best Laid Plans…

Wow. I sure didn’t expect to be here today, here as in the Okanagan Valley, here as in the capital of wine country, here as in the end of the road for the next month.

Yesterday didn’t quite go as planned. By the time I stopped for the night, I was sure that I couldn’t possibly ever again have a worst day. By the morning, though, I was grinning and realising that nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever be as bad as that crunching day between Thunder Bay and Selkirk.

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Here’s Miranda at the Spring Hill RV Park 9km north of Cochrane, Alberta:

Cochrane is quite possibility the most beautiful full service town I have ever visited, even more beautiful than Banff. I could have easily stayed a few months there.

I left the park almost two hours earlier than I had planned. I’m grateful that they had propane and gas fill up stations, so I was able to do everything there before pushing off. All of that, plus the one hour time shift and the week’s rest I just had meant that I was ready to drive if conditions warranted it. Tourism time had ended and it was time for me to get to work. I’d have plenty of time to come back into the mountains to explore in later months.

So, I made it to past Revelstoke yesterday, about 480km, but it wasn’t a drudging sort of drive because I did make the time for two touristy stops, one of which was an hour and a half long.

This stop was, of course, at Lake Louise.

As I expected, Lake Louise is 100% a tourist trap. Oh, the lake is definitely worth the long climb up a narrow winding road, but I can’t believe that people are saps enough to pay 55$ for a one hour canoe trip on the lake. Just call me the cynic. Or maybe I’m just frugal. 🙂 Having had lunch in the rig and craving dessert, I went into the Chateau

to look for ridiculously overpriced ice cream to munch on while I walked partway around the lake and was delighted to find merely overpriced ice cream.

My next stop was at the Spiral Tunnels. I waited almost a half hour there hoping to see a train go through them, but I finally had to press on. The pictures I took here don’t really show anything, so I won’t post them. Very briefly, the Spiral Tunnels were an answer to the Big Hill, a really steep bit of Transcanada rail line between Field, BC, and Kicking Horse Pass. This hill cost a fortune to run and was the scene of many accidents. The spiral tunnels cut into the mountain reduced the grade by 50%. I really can’t do the story justice, so you’ll just need to go read the Wiki article. 🙂

Then, I drove.

My first possibility for an overnight stop was the Kicking Horse rest area, just west of Yoho National Park. Unfortunately, it was only 3PM local time when I arrived there and there was blasting and other construction going on. So, I pressed on, surprised to find myself already going through Glacier and Revelstoke Parks.

Just west of Revelstoke, I found what seemed like an informal truck stop, but it looked very busy and noisy, so I pressed on.

Then, I found what seemed like the perfect stop to stop for the night. There was a rest area with a road leading down to a utility shed, with a large open area. It seemed private and quiet, so I decided to make that my stop for the night.

Which is when I discovered that I had absolutely no power. Now, my batteries were fully charged, but no power was getting through to my 12V system. I check the terminals and my fuse box, trying to figure out what had happened in 5.5 hours to break my electrical system! It was about to get dark and I decided to drive 10km. If I didn’t find an RV park within that time, I would come back to this spot and tough out the night without power.

As I drove, I suddenly remembered Croft’s suggestion that I try to start the generator with the truck engine running. So, having passed two closed RV parks and being ready to turn around, I pulled into a rest area and tested his trick. It worked! I had power! Noisy power, but at least my fridge was running again. I decided to go back to my previously selected spot when I realised that I didn’t need to. This rest area was built a bit like a tea cup. I was parked in the bowl. To the right of me was a thicket of trees and there was a narrow path going around this thicket, like a handle. I pulled into it and to my delight found myself tucked away out of sight of the road. It wasn’t as quiet as the other spot would have been, but at least I didn’t have to double back. It was fully dark now and pouring rain, so I was very, very grateful that my day of driving was done.

I set to work making dinner, then I read for a couple of hours. I went to bed ridiculously early, about 8:30 local time, but it was 9:30 my time and I was beat!

For a first time pulling off the road and sleeping in the middle of nowhere, I slept pretty well. I woke up around 1, then slept soundly again until 5. I ran the generator again for a couple of hours as I puttered around, waiting for it to be light enough out for me to set off. This kept most of the contents of the freezer frozen solid, thankfully, and used up only a negligible amount of gas. I can almost get used to the noise inside, but would hate to run the generator when there are people around!

So, my first day in BC dawned like my first day in Manitoba, very rainy and foggy. I decided to drive until such time as the weather cleared up and run the generator again for about an hour for the fridge’s benefit, then I would make a straight run for Oliver where hookups would give me time to figure out what was going on with my electrical system.

I was in a really good mood this morning. I’d slept well, had an indecently yummy cup of coffee while watching the sun rise at the rest stop, and realised that the part of my journey I had feared the most was over: I was clear across the mountains! Sure, part of the day before had sucked (driving in the dark in rain with no power and chicken about to thaw in the freezer), but, sum told, it had actually been quite a good day. I was especially proud of myself for being able to recognize a good place to stop and, most importantly, for not pushing myself any further than I absolutely needed to.

So, I set off in pea soup fog and made a quick stop at the site of a major event in Canadian history:

And that was it for tourism. I drove quickly through Vernon and Kelowna, glad when I saw them that I wasn’t stopping there for my week of reconnaissance, and then I pulled over at a rest stop outside of Penticton for lunch (thawed out pizza that I hadn’t been able to stuff into the colder part of the freezer with all the other stuff that was still, thankfully, frozen solid).

The Okanagan area looks quite like I expected it to, except for the hills which remind me of the Sierra Nevadas!

Okanagan Valley

Sierra Nevadas

I’m now settled for a week just outside of Oliver, which is the wine capital of Canada. I passed too many wineries to count on the drive down here, so I think I’ll just start at the closest one to here and work my way south to Osoyoos, and then north again, asking at each one if they’re hiring pickers yet. Tomorrow, though, I just might take the morning for a wee bit of sightseeing as I am very eager to see Canada’s only (non-Arctic) desert. But, after that, it’s time to look for work!

So, the first stage of my great big adventure has ended. I have successfully traveled the roughly 5,000km (not counting mileage done with the toad) that separated me from my old life in Gatineau to the new one awaiting me in the Okanagan Valley. I arrived here a lot less naive and cocky, but in excellent spirits and with a month’s worth of memories that make up for a lifetime of disillusionment.

Now that my rig is well broken in and I am more knowledgeable, it’s time to think about finding work, a place to spend the winter, and a way to make Miranda comfortable during that season.

In a way, I feel that my journey is still just beginning. Today is not an ending, just a really, really, really major milestone.