A Trip Within A Trip!

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Okay, I’ve been absolutely bursting to tell everyone:

Today I woke up happy-eye-crinkly and giddy (can you tell?) because my flight to Costa Rica is tomorrow!

I am leaving my adventure partner and Fiona the RV behind for 8 days while I take off to a country I’ve never been to with another fellow adventurer.

I will not be posting anything here (though I have some many backdated stories to share of so many places) because, as always, I will be busy exploring someplace new.

I will resume traveling around the states in my motorhome for the next two months when I return. Wish me bon voyage! Oops! I mean buen viaje!

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What to Do in “New Iceland” Gimli, Canada and Why You Should Visit

The fishing town of Gimli is quaint and relaxing. It offers what most lake towns do–a lovely lake to gaze upon and a picturesque town to stroll through, but there is something else very special about it and that is its history.

When you first find yourself in Gimli–if you know nothing about the town–it might appear ordinary. But soon, you will notice the massive Viking sculpture, the New Iceland Heritage Museum, some interesting food options here and there, the strange names for some of the businesses, and the placards informing you about the original settlers. You soon realize that Gimli is alive with history and culture. And if you didn’t know about the group of immigrants who made the plot of land west of Lake Winnipeg their home, you soon know the gist of it thanks to little reminders tucked here and there around town.

Hopefully by now you know why Gimli and the surrounding area is called “New Iceland” and how it came to be known as such. If not, I would recommend you go back one post and familiarize yourself with the mass emigration of Icelanders to Manitoba, Canada after a volcano destroyed their homes and farmlands.

I enjoy anything that tells a good story–be it a book, a movie, a person, or a town. If the town’s history has sparked your interest and you’d like to come see it yourself, read on for a few ideas on what to do once you find yourself in Gimli.

I recommend starting the day with an aimless walk around town to see what you might discover without any guidance. Read some signs, snap some photos, sit on a bench where you might find a smiling rock (see photo). Have an ice cream, a coffee, fish and chips, whatever your heart desires. We did all of the above. My boyfriend had ice cream at two places in town, one of them being the local laundromat while we did our laundry–an unusual but smart idea; you’re going to sit there and wait anyways, why not be tempted to spend the rest of your quarters in the same place? The owner of the place was exceptionally friendly; he told us about how he enjoys having variety in a town like his. There are the touristy months that are busy and profitable, and then the residents get their town back when it slows down and strangers are rarely seen, only familiar faces.

We also had fish and chips and fried pickle spears at Kris’ Fish & Chips, pizza at Brennivin’s Pizza Hus, and coffee at Flatland Coffee Roasters. Flatland is owned by Chad, who is a second generation Canadian but whose grandfather was an Icelandic immigrant–just who we want to meet in New Iceland. Chad told us a bit about the town, gave us some tips on how to get to his favorite spot on Lake Winnipeg (he even drew us a quick little map on a sticky note), and treated us like old friends every time that we came into his coffee shop during the four days we spent in Gimli. And we spent every morning there without fail–my boyfriend is working remotely during this trip, and I needed a place to write notes and addresses on all of the postcards I wanted to send back home. (Here is a picture of me at the post office that took me an hour to find. It took me even longer to write the 16 cards I sent from Gimli, especially the Russian one. But I’m very proud of how my Russian cursive turned out!)

We also visited Sugar Me Cookie Boutique, a bakery across the street that is owned by Chad’s mother, to try some of Amma Stina’s Vinarterta, a traditional Icelandic cake with multiple thin layers held together by prune jam. She was also incredibly friendly and chatty. She showed me how to properly cut and serve the cake and how small the portions should be. Barely holding back her laughter, she told us about how she saw a man purchase the same 1/4 size that I did (they sell 1/4 of a cake, 1/2 of a cake, and a whole cake) and proceed to sit down inside the bakery and eat the entire piece in one go. Her eyes went wide with astonishment as she explained, “It has prunes in it! I hope he was okay afterward!” We thanked her for the tip and retreated to the motorhome, where I cut the cake into small rectangles like she showed me to and ate one piece with a hot cup of milk tea. The 1/4 cake lasted us a week!

After you’ve had your fill of coffee, cake, and locally caught fish (hopefully not all at once; that sounds like an odd combination), what else is there to do in Gimli?

There is also the water right nearby, and if you head toward the harbor you will right away see the Seawall Gallery, a cement wall along a pier that had been turned to an outdoor art gallery. Most of the pieces were originally painted by Icelandic people (just look at some of the last names!), but many have been restored since as the originals have faded over time. My favorite one is the one of the Húldufólk – the elves of Icelandic and Faroese folklore.

Local artists who currently reside in Gimli (some of whom have restored several of the Seawall pieces) are also featured in an indoor gallery, a cottage-like building in a park by the harbor. A gazebo right outside the gallery happened to feature a musician who played the saxophone for hours while we wandered around. A  farmer’s market was going on between the gazebo and the art gallery, and I bought some fresh veggies for cooking in the RV. Others who bought something to snack on sat at picnic tables and listened to the music and people-watched as tourists and locals milled about.

And once you’ve seen all the art and tried all the food and listened to all the music? Well, there’s Gimli Beach right nearby! The beach offers paddle boards, kayaks, etc. for rent and was full of people enjoying the lake in whatever way they preferred–even if it’s just lounging around on a blanket by the water. And if you want a different beach to explore, one that is bigger and possibly more popular, a fifteen minute drive away is Winnipeg Beach, in a town by the same name, but that lovely area will be covered in its own blog post later.

After you lounge around the beach or paddle around in the ocean until you’re tired and want to turn in for the day, you might want to begin making plans for tomorrow. Have you visited the New Iceland Heritage Museum yet? Or taken a picture by the famous Viking sculpture? How about taking a peek into H. P. Tergesen’s & Sons, the general store that’s been open since the 1800s? And don’t forget to visit Steina’s Studio and chat with Steina herself, an artist with a beautiful art studio and shop where I purchased the colorful place mat in the photo of the Vinarterta above. And lastly, have you walked under the plane monument and wondered why it’s there?

Initially, I had no idea why there was a plane monument in the center of town and near the museum. When I found out about the famous Gimli Glider later, I recalled the plane monument and wondered if that was in honor of the glider (shows you how little I know about planes). If you haven’t heard the story of the Gimli Glider, it’s fascinating. A plane that ran out of fuel in the air had to make a crash landing on a sports car racing track.

Why did it run out of fuel? Well, the metric system was just being implemented in Canada at the time and someone made a mathematical error while manually calculating how much fuel the plane required (the fuel gauge was broken). Due to the miscalculation, the plane ended up with only half of the fuel it needed for its flight. Luckily, the pilot was talented enough to be able to crash land the plane with the aid of nothing but gravity–after 17 minutes with no fuel and two failed engines–and no one was killed. More info on that incredible story here. The town honored the pilots’ efforts by hosting a parade and unveiling a mural of the Gimli Glider on the Seawall Art Gallery (and here I am standing right next to it).

If airplane incidents like this get your heart going and you’d love to read more, I found a whole complication of them here.

So, the jet I snapped a photo of earlier was not a small scale version of the Gimli Glider, and actually looks nothing like the commercial plane now that I see a photo of it. It is an actual jet that was one of the many aircraft used to fly out of the Royal Canadian Air Force when they had a base in Gimli, which closed shortly after WWII. The jet was placed on a pedestal in the middle of town to honor the town’s military past.

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And if that’s not enough activity for you? If you can travel to Gimli in early August, you will have even more to do, as that is when the town hosts their annual Islendingadagurinn, a festival celebrating Icelandic culture and descent, complete with tournaments, fireworks, and Vikings. Unfortunately, I arrived in Gimli at the end of August, just a few weeks after the festival, but the upside of that was that I got to enjoy a quiet town mostly devoid of tourists (like me).

If you don’t like food or lakes or art or music or relaxing (are you human?), well, at least come to Gimli for all of the history immersed in everything anywhere you go. Study the art for its historical significance if not for its skill. Research the monuments or murals like I did (I didn’t know a thing about the Gimli Glider, for example). Talk to some of the locals about what the town was once like. Appreciate the many years of hard work that made Gimli what it is now. And maybe do a little bit of that everywhere you go. You’d be surprised how many interesting stories are slowly fading into the distant past every single day.

Side Note: The only thing that was missing was more Icelandic food options. I didn’t find any bizarre Þorramatur (I’d probably opt out of that sheep’s head though) or even something simpler, like Pönnukökur (Icelandic pancakes, though they look almost identical to Russian blinchiki that I’ve had a million times, so maybe missing out on these wasn’t a big deal). I will eat (almost) anything once, so finding only fish and chips and pizza in an Icelandic town was a bit disappointing. If only I knew an Icelandic grandmother in town who could have invited me to dinner! I could have made some traditional Russian food to exchange the favor. 🙂

 

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Gimli: An Inconspicuous Little Fishing Town (with a Captivating History!)

The little fishing town of Gimli deserves its own blog post instead of being bunched up into the rest of the places I visited in Canada. Why? Because it’s special to me.

No, no, it’s not what you think. While I am a European mix of things (Russian, Ukrainian, with a last name that’s Polish, and a grandfather who is part Belarussian), I’m only a mix of several countries that used to all be part of the USSR. There is no Icelandic in me, though, honestly, I wouldn’t mind if there was. Icelandic culture has always fascinated me–from their food, to their poetry. Add to that their Norse paganism/mythology and their Viking ancestry (though I am also familiar with the often-still-debated story of Vikings mingling and mixing with the Slavs around 862 AD and the theory that every Russian has a little bit of Viking in them), and I get lost in the storytelling of anyone of Icelandic descent.

That is how I ended up reading the book The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley. I found it wherever it is that I find most books–most likely either a thrift store or a little free library outside of someone’s home. The short synopsis of the book, taken from Sunley’s website, hints at what the book is about: A young woman obsessed with uncovering a family secret is drawn into the strange and magical landscape, language, and history of Iceland.

I skimmed through the book and was instantaneously captivated. There’s so much about Iceland that I don’t know, just like the main character in the book, and as she learns about the country and its history and culture, I’d learn along. The protagonist first travels to “New Iceland,” which is the town called Gimli on the west side of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, and there, her curiosity about her Icelandic heritage grows until she travels to Iceland to find out more. I read it before I began my trip to Canada–and while I did think about the story since because all good books stay with you for a while–I didn’t think I’d get to visit Iceland itself, or “New Iceland” in Canada anytime soon.

A month or two after reading the book, I found myself in Canada. I had plans to visit Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, Banff, and Jasper, and then head back into the states through Montana. But the smoke from nearby fires in western Canada pushed me eastward. I looked at the map of current fires in the country and realized that they were almost all on the dry, western side, and that the east looked green and full of lakes. And since we decided to skip Montana, also due to fires (have you seen the video of the father and son attempting to flee the burning forest around them in Glacier National Park?!) and leave Canada through Michigan instead, I thought maybe we could find someplace interesting to explore along that route.

I opened up a map of Canada and studied it. Let’s see…we’d been to the province of British Columbia and Alberta. If we continued east through Canada, we’d cross Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario as well. Hmm, Manitoba looks like it has an enormous amount of lakes. Let’s zoom in and see what’s there…suddenly, I froze. The word “Gimli” stood out to me as if it were glowing. Wait, that’s familiar…Gimli, as in New Iceland? And oh, look, Lake Winnipeg! But that’s from the book I just read! And it’s on our way!

I ran to my boyfriend, bursting with ideas, and grabbed his arm and shook it back and forth excitedly. I thought I’d have to harass him a bit to convince him, seeing as how it was a little bit of an extra drive north, but he surprised me by exhibiting the same type of enthusiasm as I (he had not read the book but knew that I loved it and that was enough for him, apparently; he’s a sweetheart).

So, we left beautiful Banff National Park and drove east, eager to experience what we assumed would be a relaxing time in a lovely little lake town. But first, a mini history lesson: How did Gimli originate? Why did a bunch Icelandic immigrants end up in Canada? What drew them out of Iceland?

As you all probably know, Iceland is known for its frequent volcanic eruptions, and no wonder! It is estimated that the country has 130 active and inactive volcanoes because it is in the middle/on top of two tectonic plates and is therefore, right over a hot spot. Some interesting info on a few famous volcanoes–and how Icelanders sprayed spreading lava with seawater to stop it!–can be found here. Not on the list is Askja, a caldera in the Dyngjufjoll mountains that contains several volcanoes, including Viti. It is this volcano that Freya focuses on and it is the story of this massive eruption that got me so interested in New Iceland in Canada.

In the 19th century, many Icelanders had lost their homes and farms to the eruptions from that particular area as a blanket of ash covered the land, poisoning it and killing their livestock. A large part of the population in Iceland fled the country to find a new home elsewhere, 20% of the population heading to North America. In 1875, the first group of Icelandic refugees arrived to Gimli, a town that is part of New Iceland, on land that was promised by the Canadian government to the Icelandic people as a safe refuge from the volcanoes of their homeland.

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Wikimedia. Creative Commons

Initially, New Iceland operated as if it was its own little country of 2000 or so people. The settlers had their own laws, newspapers, schools, etc. and kept their culture very much alive. Eventually, the newcomers began to assimilate, especially with the foundation of the Icelandic National League of North America, which assisted Icelanders with adapting to Canadian life. The author I mentioned earlier, Christina Sunley, explained how, when she visited Gimli while writing Freya, she found it “was no longer a thriving Icelandic enclave.

I didn’t care. I still wanted to see it. And see it I did. Details are all in tomorrow’s post.

 

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A Guide to Vancouver, Canada (for Introverts)

Our Canada road trip began with Vancouver, as we entered the country through Washington. We spent only two full days in Vancouver because we had our RV with us and had issues maneuvering/parking it in the city, but if you’re in a regular-sized car and are sleeping in it or at an Airbnb/hotel, you should have no issues. During our short stay, we experienced a bit of what Vancouver had to offer, though we tailored our activities to the types of things we enjoy.

I’m an introvert and a small town girl who loves to occasionally visit cities (you should have seen 21-year old me and my obsession with New York). But while I enjoy visiting, I could never live in one or stay in one for an extended period of time. Luckily for me, my boyfriend is from the Philly area and has realized since he left the city that he’s not the city boy he used to be. He and I are on this road trip to potentially find a small town we’d like to move to, while our trips to the city are just for a change of pace (not for seeing whether we’d like to make it our new home). Therefore, we have allotted less time to the places we’re just looking at, but not seriously considering.

For anyone else not that into the hustle and bustle of city life and just taking a quick peek at Vancouver, I thought I’d leave some suggestions based on what I ended up doing in the city while there. I know I missed a lot of what the city is known for, forgive me; but consider this a short list of the few activities specifically targeted toward introverts like me (and feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments too!).

  1. Take a ferry into downtown

    It cost us a whopping $1 (Canadian) to take our bikes with us onto the ferry. One of my favorite things in the world is water, especially being on the water rather than in (I’m not that great a swimmer). I love boats, kayaks, paddleboards, and any kind of gently meandering down a slow-moving body of water more than anything. There, of course, are exceptions to my preference of the leisurely pace, such as racing to Catalina Island to get 1st place in the Catalina Island Series 2015 (story on that later). But what’s more relaxing than letting the current take me where it wants to while I float on a board or tube? Or sitting back with a book on a ferry with an incredible sunset to look up from my book and gaze at? I love ferry rides, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and I loved beginning and ending my day exploring Vancouver with a ferry across the Vancouver Harbor.

  2. Bike or walk around

    We left Fiona the RV in North Vancouver and recommend you do the same. Leave your car elsewhere, grab a bike or go on foot, and enjoy a stress-free day in a city without having to deal with traffic or parking issues. We biked around easily, passing all the crowds on the sidewalks and the cars stuck in traffic, until we found a place we wanted to stop and get something in (I can’t remember exactly but it was probably a slushie as it was extremely hot outside). We locked our bikes to a bike rack, and decided to explore the rest of downtown on foot. No concerns over parking meters, time limits, parallel parking–bikes are so handy in cities.

     

  3. Shop at the outdoor produce markets

    Although many of the markets don’t look very appetizing on a hot, sticky day with flies flying around the fruit and veggies, a peek at some of the interesting options will make the visit worth it anyway. If you’re traveling in an RV like us, or staying at a hotel or Airbnb with a decent kitchen, be sure to pick up something for meal prep or to snack on later when you settle in for the night. I found some Chinese okra and gobo/burdock root (something I could never find in Oregon) for a stir-fry, as well as some Asian pears and ripe, burgundy cherries. I love cooking in our RV and having fresh fruit for dessert afterwards. Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, grab a passion fruit or something unusual to snack on while you walk around.

    Sometimes, a particular market appears more crowded than the others. Usually, I find that it’s because a large family or two has stopped there to get a few things, and not because there is anything better or more interesting at that specific market. I usually either choose a less crowded one, or circle the block/go somewhere else first, and then return when the large group is gone. No waiting for a group of eight to move before you can reach the Chinese green onions, no shoving past each other and whacking one another with baby carriages, backpacks, elbows, or hips. I come back when there are just a few lone shoppers squeezing peaches and sniffing cantaloupes who will not bother me while I look around.

  4. Visit the library

    When visiting cities, I always like to sneak off somewhere quiet to get away from the crowds for a bit. I had just grabbed a snack (some interesting Chinese-style roti bread–it seems Chinese is the theme for my Vancouver trip) and wanted to duck out of the heat and noise of the city for an hour or so. Right across the street from the Chinese place turned out to be the library, and we went inside to find something to read while we gave our legs and introverted selves a break. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the library had a large collection of zines.

    If you’re not familiar with what zines are, Wikipedia defines them as: “a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier.” I browsed through these and found some interesting ones about musicians who didn’t really make it, lawyers who look more like inmates due to their facial tattoos, being a tomboyish lesbian and fighting for the right to not be forced to hold the required flowers in the class photo like the girly-girls, and other random subjects that I didn’t relate to at all but was greatly amused by. I read, recharged my batteries (introverts’ batteries drain very quickly when surrounded by hoards of people), left behind the six or so zines I’d managed to finish, and continued my exploration of Vancouver.

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  5. Go out to eat someplace interesting

    In a city, when your stomach starts rumbling and you begin looking around you to stuff yourself somewhere, your choices are unlimited. There are so many options when it comes to choosing a place to eat, as all large cities tend to offer. Find something that has good reviews or catches your eye, and go fill your belly. On my first day there, I picked some Korean food that tempted me from afar and was not disappointed. On my second day, the boyfriend chose a Cambodian place for dinner. Once a day, I also cooked in the RV (that stir fry with the Chinese okra, etc. from the outdoor market), either before we left or after we returned. Traveling on a budget means trying your hardest not to eat out multiple times a day, even when in the city.

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  6. Grab a drink at a cozy bar

    Finish the night off with a drink, if you’d like. Like picking a place to eat, there are tons of places to choose from when you want to grab a nightcap. We just walked around until we saw a sign advertising cheap drinks, and traveling on a budget means I can’t have my favorite Perfect Manhattan, up, with Knob Creek, or Michter’s Rye, neat, every time, if at all (I’ve resisted thus far! We’ll see how that goes…).  So we had $4 public sodas at a public house, which—wait, screeching detour–I’m about to start rambling about something only I find interesting:

    Apparently, a public house is not only a common name for a bar in Canada, but elsewhere too–though, abbreviated. You know how the British, Irish, etc. go to the “pub?” Well, maybe everyone knew this but me, but I thought a pub was a pub and that’s all there was to it–I had no idea that it was an abbreviation for “public house.” What helped me figured it out is going to the public house in Vancouver during the same day that I read a part of the classic I just finished reading (which I want to give away to one of my blog readers, more details below!*): Silas Marner by George Eliot. After visiting the public house, we headed home to Fiona and stayed up reading while nestled in bed. I happened to come across a scene where Silas ran to the house where the public gathered, which was their local bar, and it suddenly clicked in my brain. Call me dumb, go ahead–this may be common knowledge. But my boyfriend didn’t know either, which makes me feel better. 🙂

  7. Find a venue with live music

    This is something we initially planned to do, as my adventure partner/boyfriend and I love to catch a good show in any town we visit. Usually, we opt to see the amateurs try out their new compositions at the local open mic, as my boyfriend plays/writes music and enjoys getting a practice sessions here and there (that’s actually how we met–at an open mic!). Plus, we often end up discovering amazing musicians who simply happen to be shy/not serious enough about their musical talents to perform at a venue. Unfortunately, parking the RV in Vancouver would have been an absolute disaster, so we ended up taking our bikes instead. Biking, exploring the town, going out to eat, and all of the aforementioned would have been incredibly difficult if my guy had grabbed his guitar with him and I carried my art supplies (I love to paint at live music shows), so we skipped the music/art scene and decided to get some food, drinks, and exercise to work off the food and drinks.

    Plus, the drive from Bellingham required a few hours of sitting still and driving and we hadn’t gotten used to doing that yet as we had just spent more than two weeks biking, hiking, and swimming in the state of Washington. We had not acquainted ourselves with the sedentary lifestyle at this point. A month and a half into our trip, we now rarely take our bikes around town, and the arch pain in my foot cuts short any extensive hiking (I ordered arch support insoles to my family’s address, which they are waiting to ship to me when I’m staying in one place long enough to receive a package).

    Next time I visit Vancouver, I’ll try to put more effort into seeing a show. Maybe I will even stay a little longer, though as I mentioned earlier, I get overwhelmed in big cities if I stay more than a few days. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and San Diego, I’ve spent lots of time in San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York City, and a few months ago, in Philadelphia too. I’ve even been to London, Paris, and Dublin.

    Cities, in my opinion, are wonderful to visit–albeit briefly–and not linger in. I know many of you disagree; there are those of you who thrive in cities, not wilt, like I do. You might seek out the biggest, busiest city in every place you travel to. And more power to you, if you enjoy your time exploring the city for weeks, months, or even years at a time. Do whatever makes you happy. Small towns make me happy. Give me places like Truckee or Big Sur, California (population: 16,391 and 839 ) or Golden, Canada (population: 3,708). That’s where I come alive. And I’m sure that if you chose to read this blog post, you’re most likely an introvert too, and you understand.

    *FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY: I want to part with a book I greatly enjoyed while on this road trip. While it doesn’t have much to do with travel, I love to get lost in stories from another time and place (which is sort of mental traveling!). It never made sense to me to read books about hiking the PCT when I was hiking the PCT, for instance. I read The Sea-Wolf by Jack London while hiking the PCT (and was mentally aboard a ship while physically on a trail), which I plan to give away soon too, so stay posted. But if you want to me to mail you Silas Marner by George Eliot, tell me something interesting that you know or just discovered–yes, Google is allowed–about the author in a comment below, and I might pick you!

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The Not-So-Glamorous Part About RV Life

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Looks like a dream come true, right? A little home on wheels with all of the conveniences of home, parked somewhere beautiful (this is actually right next to a path that leads to a beautiful lake), somewhere new to camp every night, exploring towns and cities I’ve only seen on a map before… well, it is, but, there’s a not-so-glamorous part to it, too.

I mentioned in my previous post that Fiona the RV was having battery issues. We needed to be jump started two days in a row, and we knew something else was wrong too. Prior to the times that the battery failed, we also had issues with starting the car when the battery was fully charged. Several times, the car would start for about 10 seconds, then shut off. Multiple attempts to start the engine was something we almost began to expect every time that we were ready to move on to the next spot.

We had already made an appointment in the next decent-sized town, and just needed to make it there in one piece. Backtrack to last post’s efforts to get to Calgary without taking any breaks in fear of the RV shutting off again. We made it about 2 AM, parked right outside the business, and slept a few hours to be ready for our 8AM appointment at Big Dog Performance auto repair shop.

The next morning, we had our tired Fiona serviced. She needed to have her fuel filter and fuel pump replaced. We were told the fuel pump was working poorly and therefore, working overtime to keep up, and that might be causing the battery drain. This is also why the car’s been shutting down after 10 seconds; sometimes the fuel pump wouldn’t kick in at all and the car would cycle through the fuel in the lines before shutting off due to no added fuel supply. The mechanics also notified us that there’s a kink in one of the wires going to the battery that doesn’t seem to be an issue now but that we should keep an eye on it. We paid a reasonable price for the service, drove away happy, parked the car on a residential street around the corner from downtown, and went to walk around town and find a place to get big celebratory meal.

Three hours later, we walked back to the RV and tried to start her up and take her to a temporary home for the night . No response. Not the typical dead battery sound, no attempts at cranking, just nothing at all. The auto shop was closed by now; it was a Friday and they didn’t open until Monday. We didn’t want to bother the residents, but what else was there to do? We were parked outside their home. Hesitantly, we knocked on a door and were greeted by a family that didn’t speak English. They ran to get a friendly, English-speaking neighbor two houses down, and he tried to jump start us.

The battery charge meter didn’t appear to be affected at all after a half hour of charging, and the friendly neighbor suggested that our battery might be entirely disconnected. We took apart the doghouse (the carpeted section between the two front seats can be unscrewed and removed to take a look at the motor, etc.), he climbed in the RV and hung upside down until he discovered a loose battery wire that needed to be tightened. The wonderfully kind stranger (his name is Kevin, and though I don’t expect him to ever come across this blog post, thank you, Kevin, once again and for all of eternity!) screwed it on tightly while his children milled about and explored the RV.

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Fiona was happy once again and roared to life. We drove off to the next town: Moosejaw.

Sorry for all of the boring car talk, but RV life isn’t always fun and games. I felt obligated to share that with anyone who might be considering a road trip in their own RV someday soon–may you come across a Kevin when you need him!

Has that been our only issue thus far? Well, I’m glad you asked! Because…no. Not at all. We also have a generator that doesn’t turn on, and we have so far not camped with any hookups. As a result, we have been solely dependent on our house batteries for nearly everything–running the water pump, lights, fans, etc.– which we use sparingly throughout the day and let them charge up via solar in the morning. This usually lasts us about 3 days if parked the entire time. Afterwards, the house batteries (these are separate from the main batteries, in case you’re unfamiliar with how it works) will not charge up fully via solar, especially with the lack of sunshine we’ve been having due to either smoke or rain. The incessant beeping letting us know that the batteries are running low will drive the most patient person insane, so off we go on a long drive to the next town to charge everything back up. Come to think of it, we might be needing new house batteries; they seem to be draining quicker than is normal lately.

In addition, we have a water heater that’s probably never been cleaned, and after I watched a video of all of the gross build up in one of those things, I can’t imagine using it until it’s clean. I bought a wand that’ll help get rid of some of the build up, but we don’t have the wrench necessary to get the drain unscrewed. Once we unscrew the drain, we’ll need to buy a new anode rod and install one of those (to prevent corrosion of the water tank), use a wand to flush out the inside, and then–and I’ve watched a million videos but still haven’t figured out how to do this myself–somehow attach a hose that can pump vinegar from a bottle and into the tank and let that soak off the rest of the gunk in there.

I’ve given up thinking I can do it myself, so I called around multiple RV repair shops to ask how much it would cost to do a thorough cleaning of the water heater. 5/5 of them did not call me back. So, we’ve been taking quick, cold showers, or running off to use campground showers when they are available (I once rented an Airbnb just for a hot shower when were in a big city with no coin-operated campground showers; I was that desperate!).

And besides that? We have some dashboard bulbs not working, while other lights that shouldn’t be lighting up are (“check engine soon,” for example). Plus, a closet that won’t stay closed because its clasp broke (we need to barricade it with the laundry hamper so that it doesn’t swing back and forth), a kitchen drawer that no longer stays locked while driving, and another kitchen drawer that gets stuck and won’t open when I need to get food out of it. Am I done? Nope. We also have a headboard that had some screws rip through and now won’t stay in place, same thing with the fold down part of the floor that covers the steps, oh, and our step–that thing has been driving us absolutely berserk. It jams and makes a sound like its trying to open or close or do something when its not supposed to do anything and drains out house batteries pretty quickly when that starts happening…so we probably don’t need new house batteries but just need the step fixed.

Am I at least getting close to being done? Um. Not really. The hood on our fan keeps detaching and requires us to climb up onto the roof to attach it again, the car air conditioner no longer cools, the fridge has been freezing everything on the top shelf, the vent for the fridge has a wooden panel in front of it that keeps falling off, the wooden floors have a few loose planks that we’ve superglued a couple of times, and—wait, let me take a break for a moment.

Okay, let me proceed. Our rear view camera sometimes does not work (but we think we figured out that it’s due to a wire that detaches from behind the TV; the issue is that the TV is mounted into a box the same size as the TV and the entire thing has to be disassembled in order to reach the wires in the back), we think one or more of our speakers may have blown, there’s a leak that lets the rain in somewhere right above the dashboard, and a good amount of water damage on the ceiling in the living room and kitchen area that we know was there before but we think it might be growing.

And second to last and the least aesthetically pleasing; the other day, a panel that we didn’t even notice before on the outside of the RV (it looked like it was just part of the body) flew off and got lost somewhere, leaving the back end of our fridge exposed to the elements.

Last but not least, our door handle sometimes jams and stays in the open position when it should close. It sometimes requires several violent slams and door-handle-jiggles to engage and properly shut the door. Once, we started driving and the door opened because of this issue. I ran to close it, slammed it once, and it bounced open; I then grabbed it and slammed again while simultaneously trying to hold on to the door jamb so as not to fly out onto the street. Turns out, the door jamb is exactly where the inside the door goes when the door is closed…and my finger happened to be there. I thought I severed it for a second (it hurt that much, and yes, I cried, which is why my nose is red in the photo, haha), but luckily just lost a little chunk of skin and have a dark red bruise under the nail now and for the next however-many-months it takes for it to grow out.

But let my complaints not dissuade you from your own adventures. I love my little home on wheels so much. It’s taken me on so many adventures, handled itself well on all kinds of rough and beat up roads, and overall, has fared well for a 1996 vehicle that hasn’t had much done to it in the past 20+ years.

So, let me recount the positives. None of the issues we’ve had have been serious. And we’ve always found help when we needed it. We haven’t been stranded in the middle of nowhere somewhere with no cell service or  human in sight. We have what feels like an endless supply of water (every time we go to dump our black and grey water tanks, we still have about half of our fresh water left), and it flows wonderfully from our shower and kitchen/bathroom sinks. We also have what feels like an endless supply of propane and have needed to refill it only once in the past 3 months (and this is with daily cooking and a fridge and water heater that operates on propane!). We have heat in the RV when its cold. We can open windows/turn on fans when it’s hot.

And again–and most importantly–we have a home on wheels! And it functions! It drove us all from Idaho, to Oregon, to Washington, to Canada, and now almost all across Canada. It drives well, powers up hills without huffing and puffing too much, fits in two parking spots easily due to its somewhat compact length, and it keeps us safe and comfortable every night.

Speaking of comfort, the RV really does have all of the comforts of home: a full-size kitchen with all the appliances, two tables, two seats in the front and two chairs in the kitchen (we removed an extra two chairs and two recliners that it came with but which we didn’t need), a bed, a couch that unfolds into a bed, a toilet, so much storage space (and so cleverly disguised! the bottom of the couch pops out and you can put whatever you want inside it), and I can go on and on, but this is getting to be the longest blog post in all of history, I’m sorry. You can also just see photos of the interior here.

All I want to say is this. Traveling in an RV can be luxurious, compared to for example when I was sleeping in the back of my Subaru after I moved to Big Sur (if you know Big Sur, there are no apartments or condos, just $2000 a night vacation homes and hotel rooms, so staying in my car at a campground was my only option), or when my boyfriend and I lived in Central Oregon and explored Eastern, Western, Southern, and Northern Oregon during the weekends in his Ford Econoline van. Having everything with me, and with so much room, really is “glamping” (glamorous + camping). But things go wrong. Things break or get lost. And it can be frustrating, expensive, and can take away from your vacation when you have to shop for parts or take your home to the repair shop and live at a coffee shop for the next 10 hours while greasy men in muddy boots traipse through your home putting band-aids on issues that may need immediate replacement.

But this doesn’t happen all the time. Homes have plumbing issues, flood, lose power, need bulbs replaced. Appliances fail, require new fans, new wires. Cars need tune-ups, old parts switched for new parts, routine cleanings. And an RV is all of the above. A home, (multiple) appliance(s), and a car. Understanding that soothes any irritation I may have while dealing with a minor problem. Or, I may just be an optimist who chooses not to let little obstacles get the best of me. I just know that having a great time while traveling is impossible if I grumble all the time.

If you decide to go on an extensive road trip in an RV (or maybe if you already are on one!), may you not only come across a Kevin (or a Big Dog Performance) during the occasional setback that threaten your peace of mind, bank account, or both, but also–and most importantly–a positive attitude. It’ll come in handy, I promise.

 

 

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“Is Banff National Park Beautiful?” See For Yourself!

lake louise panaroma

While traveling in Canada this past month, occasionally I have family and friends ask me, “How’s Canada? Is it beautiful?” Knowing that words won’t do it justice, I wish I could just send photos in response. Alas–free roaming calls, texts, and data with AT&T does not include multimedia messages. Besides, a blog post is so much more detailed!

I thought I’d start off with a summary of (summary? oh, who am I kidding? I can’t summarize! I ramble on for hoursss) the cities and towns I visited in Canada thus far, but my photos of Banff begged to be shown first, especially with the humorous amount of “Is Canada beautifuls” that I’m getting lately.

If you read my previous blog post, you’ll find out why we ended up skipping Jasper during this particular road trip (hint: too many fires nearby). Banff happened to be mostly unaffected by the smoke for the four days we spent there. It began creeping back in on the evening of the fourth, so on the morning of the fifth, we left and continued east (the convenience of having no set plans, hotels booked, etc.).

While in Banff, on Day 1, we hiked to Lake Louise from where we parked the RV (about 5 miles?), sat down for a packed lunch while hoards of tourists milled about the lake incessantly, and then did another hike around the lake itself. There were teahouses you could hike to, and while that’s a lovely idea, we already had our own hot tea in thermoses with us. The arch of my foot began acting up midway (something that’s been happening every once in a while since hiking the PCT), so on the way back, the boyfriend hiked while I hitched a ride back from a kind stranger.

On Day 2, we were a little sore (sitting around the RV for weeks and then doing two hikes in one day will do that to you) and my arch still hurt, so we stayed in watching movies with a healthy home-cooked lunch and dinner. In the evening, we went out to find appetizers or drinks someplace, but decided to avoid the crowds and crazy prices (a cocktail alone was $25+!) and went for tea and dessert in a mostly empty hotel restaurant instead. A pleasant, quiet day, just the kind we wanted.

By now it was Day 3, and we drove up to Lake Moraine (hiking it would’ve been 15 miles or so and I’m telling you, we’ve turned into soft, lazy people!), which in my opinion, was even more beautiful (and way less packed with tourists) then Lake Louise. I would’ve spent all day there but the mosquitoes were pretty vicious at both lakes once it cooled down. And once we had taken that steep uphill drive to the lake, it got late pretty quickly as we had to wait until 7PM; we were told parking for a vehicle our size would be nearly impossible any earlier. We hurried back to the RV and thought we’d head to our usual camping spot for the night. Aaaaannnnnd the RV didn’t start. We were the last ones there at this point and had to call AAA for a jump start. (You’ll soon discover that this is a pattern.)

Day 4, our last day in Banff, we chose to spend it in town. We visited coffeeshops, tea shops (we stocked up on some interesting flavors of loose leaf tea at Banff Tea Co), museums (we read the bizarre story about the prisoners who built the national parks in Canada at Banff Park Museum; the particular book I skimmed through is this one), wandered around the Cascade Gardens, and did the short little hike to Bow Falls (a simple hike that is mostly just a dirt trail with rails and stairs, but the arch of my foot has been having problems and so I had to stop more times than the elderly hikers who breezed past me) from where you can see the castle-like hotel peeking from behind the trees.

Afterwards, we thought we’d take a look at one of the local hot spring options, Banff Upper Hot Springs, but it turned out to be just a huge man-made pool with 100+ people sardined together, and we opted to skip out and find another hot spring elsewhere later on in the trip, hopefully one in a more natural environment. While taking a peek at the jam-packed pool, I found some pamphlets on horseback riding (and for a reasonable price too!) and visiting sled dogs during their off season. I wanted to stay and do both, but, by now, Banff was getting clouded up in gray smoke again. Besides, after needing help starting up the car the previous night as well as a slough of other issues, we wanted to get to a bigger town where we’d scheduled an appointment at Big Dog Performance (yes, that’s really the name of an auto shop in Calgary) to have Fiona the RV looked at. Well, Fiona wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t put off her appointment any longer by demonstrating how much she needed it.

At about 9PM, on the top of a mountain, with nothing but a hotel and the hot springs nearby, our Trek didn’t start up again–for the second night in a row. We asked a couple in an idling car for help, and after charging us up for a half hour, the RV still didn’t start. We felt bad and sent them home. By now, the last business still open, the Rimrock Resort Hotel, was going to close in 20 minutes and we ran inside to see if anyone could help us out before they all left for home. A concierge who just got off his shift used his MotoMaster 1200 A Battery Booster and got us going again. We decided not to risk getting stuck anywhere else again; we headed straight for Calgary that same night.

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Meet Fiona IV, Our Lovely Motorhome

But wait! Before I tell you all about the road trip, the towns and national parks and adventures we’ve had in the RV, I need to introduce you to the RV herself. Actually, her full name is Fiona Harold Pendragon IV, if you’d like to know. Where did we come up with such a ridiculous name? Let me tell you that story.

The previous owners live in Eastern Idaho and we drove all night for 8.5 hours from Bend, OR to make sure we were the ones to buy the RV of our dreams–the Safari Trek–before anyone else even noticed the Craigslist post that popped up just that day. We arrived, and were greeted by a super sweet middle-aged man on a gorgeous, spacious, green property. Before offering to let us give it test drive, he spent two hours showings us most of the bells and whistles that came with the now-somewhat-of-a-collectible-and-maybe-a-little-vintage RV.

The only thing we didn’t like (and this is important to only those of us who care about such silly things) was that he had named the RV a less glamorous name: “Shrek,” (Get it? Safari Trek = Shrek?) and had a human-sized stuffed Shrek doll in the passenger seat when we came to look at it. Well, there was no way I’d call my beautiful new home “Shrek.” But to honor the previous owners, who took really good care of the RV and were kind enough to let us camp on their property overnight, we decided to keep the name in the family. Shrek was married to Fiona, and that is a much better name for a car, in my personal opinion. And because I’m weird and wacky and like to complicate things (my old car was named “Ulrich Alaricus the Third” because those names meant “trustworthy” and “dependable” and I was the third owner; don’t worry, I called him “Ully” for short), I decided to research what Shrek and Fiona’s last name was.

Turns out ogres don’t have last names or something, but I did find out that Fiona’s father’s name was Harold and her cousin’s last name was Pendragon, so it’s quite likely that she had the same last name as her cousin, right? And that she chose to keep her maiden name upon marrying someone who didn’t have a last name? I think that’s pretty reasonable (just defending possibly bad storytelling and the omitting of terribly useful details). Oh, and we are the fourth owners, hence the IV. And there you are have it.

Safari Treks originally had a painted image of a wild animal on the back of each RV, but these images faded, cracked and peeled over time, and now there’s a big, blank spot that I considered utilizing for a painting of a regal-looking Princess Fiona (the non-ogre version) riding a dragon. While I do paint and rather often, I have never painted on a vehicle and never a DreamWorks’ princess, and I quickly realized that I would need a good amount of research, time, and some new supplies to accomplish this feat. I decided traveling was more important.

But I’m sure you’d rather know all about the features within the RV and not just her goofy name and history of pampering. Well, I did mention that we are the fourth owners, but luckily for us, the three owners before us each took her on one trip only, and our 1996 Safari Trek had a whopping total of 26,000 miles on her. As a result, the lack of wear and tear on the interior was an extra bonus. The wooden cabinets, sinks, shower, and furniture were in great condition, as you can see.


These photos were ones we took when we first came to check Fiona, and I have since beautified the interior even more so while living in it (I had to cover up that boring, gray upholstery). I plan to eventually make a walk-through video, so stay posted if you happen to be interested in buying a motorhome soon for yourself.

Oh, and before I go, I thought I’d fill you in on how our camping trip went the night that we stayed with the previous owners of the RV. We stayed in a spacious camping spot on his property, all vinbrantly green and grass-covered. Turns out, he rents the spot out for events such as the recent eclipse on Hipcamp.com, a website where people book a campsite not just in national parks and designated campgrounds, but also on lawns and in the backyards of people’s homes.

I knew we would camp that night and so I grabbed a few things so that I could cook in the RV. We were in a rush to make the long drive, so my options were limited to what I had at home. I grabbed canned soup and potatoes. The canned soup, I warmed up on the stove in the RV, but the potatoes, I threw in the fire pit outside, wrapped in tin foil. We didn’t have anything to pick them up them with when they were ready, so I used a twig to flick them out of the fire and onto the (covered in dew and not likely to catch fire) grass, and my boyfriend ran around collecting them into a pot with a spoon. When they cooled a little, we opened up the foil, made a dent in the potato with a spoon, and put butter and salt inside. You all know how to eat potatoes from the fire; I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. Anyway, there was a mishap. With us, there always is.

No, we didn’t start a fire. We had two huge buckets of water to drown the fire out before we went to bed, don’t worry. It was a mishap of another kind. Not knowing how to use anything in a motorhome yet, we left something on and ended up stuck on the property with a dead battery. The owner of the place had left to a doctor’s appointment three hours away (he lived in the middle of nowhere) and when we called him to tell him what happened, he sent over a friend (a cowboy with duct tape keeping his boots together) to help us out. The friend struggled for some time trying to figure it out (there were two sets of batteries and he didn’t know which ones he had to jump), and someone who knew him happened to be going by on his motorcycle, spotted him, and offered to help out as well. The two of them were incredibly kind, walked us through what we did wrong, showed us a few things we didn’t know, and brought Fiona back to life, following us out of town afterwards to make sure all’s well.

You’ll soon discover that a dead battery in the most isolated places at the most inconvenient time is a fun pattern of ours.

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