As the evening set on the final evening of the 39th Summerfolk Music Festival in Owen Sound, this ‘drummer’ silhouette appeared during the set of Rachelle Van Zanten (supported by the Mackenzie Blues Band).
Driving a 31ft vehicle can be a challenge, especially when you drive it everywhere!
As we’ve hit 10,000 miles on our trip around North America, its time to take a look at the hurdles and challenges we’ve faced, and decide whether Sparkles* (our Motorhome) or North America can claim the title!
* Sparkles (our Motorhome) may not be the most fitting name for this heavyweight title fight. I preferred Grizzly, but when we’re out for the day and I say ‘let’s get back to Grizzly’, the kids always correct me and say “No… Sparkles!!” So Sparkles it is.
LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!
Round 1: Sparkles vs Really small streets
Early on in the trip Sparkles was touring through the ridiculously small downtown streets of Gettysburg. It was only my second day of driving (a rig), and as I pulled up to a set of traffic lights for a right hand turn, a car pulled up at the lights on the right, narrowing my turning circle.
As I took the corner, the back tire clipped the gutter and we heard ‘pfffffffff’.
Round 1 winner: Really small streets by blown tire.
Round 2: Sparkles vs Bugs
An unfair match-up really. The bugs don’t really stand a chance. High speed, truck sized window, and the final blow is an overhanging cab. So even if the bug hits the windscreen lightly, they get sucked up and find a permanent spot on the underside of the cab. Goodnight bugs.
Round 2 winner: Sparkles by instant knock, but there is always another bug so the fight continues
Round 3: Sparkles vs Parking tickets
An evenly matched round. Sparkles earned back-to-back parking tickets in Tennessee for taking two spots and only paying for one. The instructions weren’t clear, and both parking lots were almost empty. The ticket says the vehicle was registered is Oregan… and it is not.
Round 3 winner: Sparkles by default of the privacy law.
Round 4: Sparkles vs Roadwork
Roadwork really threw some nice punch combos.
The ‘RV unfriendly detour’ combo involved removing us from the comfort of a main road to a back street, where we faced a rapid fire series of parked cars, overhanging trees, gas guzzling stops and starts, pot holes, speed humps, and other RV shaking obstacles.
The ‘Do what we like highway roadwork’ combo was a never seen before combo, and the legality of the combo is still in question. There was no structure to how roadwork was carried out in the USA, and the conditions were as equally poor and dangerous for both driver and workers. However, a rather unfair fine of $10,000 was imposed for drivers hitting a workman. The workman on the other hand could inflict the most ridiculous driving conditions, including driving on the shoulder of the highway over ‘rumble strips’, and seriously narrow lanes caused by the placement of the road safety cones/barriers.
In an overview of the round, Sparkles shone! It ducked and weaved the roadwork punch combos. On one patch of road, where the cones were placed so far over in the driving lane, Sparkles clipped a couple, sending them hurtling over the empty highway.
Round 4 winner: Sparkles by 1 point, earned by sending a cone over 3 lanes of empty highway and into the ditch. No workman were hit or injured during this round.
Round 5: Sparkles vs Moves that are much easier in a car
This round will go down in history as a classic! Sparkles was faced with some seemingly impossible 3 point turns. Namely, on a two lane roadway outside of Seattle, Sparkles cleverly used a driveway (which disappeared at about a 45 degree downward slope toward a waterfront home) to navigate a 3 point turn without stopping traffic.
The biggest benefit of a Motorhome over a 5th wheel or a travel trailer, is that we can reverse more easily (especially because we’re not towing a car). But still, the sight lines are very different on a long vehicle, which has a 10ft overhang from the back tires. Directly behind the vehicle is a complete blackout zone, so you need to be very conscious of everything around you at all times. Thankfully, moving in reserve has been successful to date!
Driving forward is sometimes harder. For example, many places kindly offer RV parking. Surprisingly though, unless it is a large ‘bus zone’, they make one painful mistake. Despite making the space double long (compared to a car spot), they don’t make them an inch wider. It basically means that if there were 4 spaces, only 3 RV’s would fit. In downtown Banff, with my wife standing out front directing me, I drove the vehicle into a space that many would not dare to attempt. When parked, I had an inch on either side of the vehicle to spare (with the side mirrors folded in)!
It was equally as tight when I pulled Sparkles into a Mr Lube in Vancouver. We told the guy how big the Motorhome was, and he said ‘yeah it’ll fit’. I did not appreciate the look on his face when we drove it towards the entrance. He ushered the other mechanics around as they all helped me navigate Sparkles into the garage. I honestly don’t know how we squeezed in!
Round 5 winner: Sparkles by driver skill 😉
Round 6: Sparkles vs Winnipeg
This city gets so cold in Winter, the roads are just torn apart once the 1 month of summer rolls around. On most highways, any significant bump is accompanied by the following sign:
If Winnipeg employed the same criteria, the side of the street would be lined with these signs.
Online press supports these terrible conditions:
– Bad roads hurting patients: Paramedics (globalnews.ca)
– Winnipeg roads really are the worst (Winnipeg Sun)
– Manitoba roads ‘embarrassing’ (cbc.ca)
It was no surprise that the no.1 local business was windscreen repairs.
Round 6 winner: Winnipeg by the worst roads in Canada (this includes Moose Factory which has no paved roads, and driving is a bit like slalom skiing over potholes).
Round 7: Sparkles vs Shopping trolley
The weather system is the USA is frightening at times. The speed and ferocity in which a storm can hit is freaky. One particular evening, we pulled into a Walmart seconds before a storm hit. The wind picked up and it shook the camper violently. The rain pelted down. And as my wife put the kids to bed, and I packed up the Motorhome for the night, an object suddenly slammed into the camper. It hit so hard I had no idea what it could possibly be. I looked out the window to see a shopping cart now on its way across the car park at high-speed.
Thankfully the shopping cart caused no damage, but it was a scary experience.
Round 7 winner: Sparkles by deflecting a solid punch, and avoiding all other shopping trolleys (which are a common threat at Walmart).
Round 8: Sparkles vs Parking lot pay booth
Some days were meant to be cancelled, not proceeded with, shut down… you know, where you just go back to bed and forget about it.
This was one of those days.
After looping the city of Calgary to try and find a parking spot, we finally agreed on a paid parking lot. As we turned in, it became a no turning back situation. Behind us was a busy city street, and in front of us was the boom gate. I grabbed a ticket, the gate was raised, and we started moving through. As we turned to the right, I knew that the turning circle was tight. Really tight! As I turned Sparkles enough to miss the row of parked cars, I heard the first sound of crunching. I’d just smashed the rear left-side tail light. At this point I can do nothing but proceed forward. I managed to snap part of the boom gate off, but that was my last punch. The toll booth removed part of Sparkles and the momentum in this battle shifted.
Round 8 winner: Parking lot pay booth by physical scarring.
AFTER 8 ROUNDS: THE FIGHT IS EVENLY MATCHED, AND SPARKLES IS SLIGHTLY AHEAD AT 5-3
HOWEVER NORTH AMERICA HAS CONSIDERABLE MOMENTUM AFTER THE 8TH ROUND, AND THIS ONE IS GOING DOWN TO THE WIRE!
THE ALL IMPORTANT ROUND 9 MAY BE CRUCIAL IN DECIDING THIS BATTLE.
Round 9: Sparkles vs Fuel consumption
I’d heard bad things about the petrol/gas consumption of Motorhomes.
Sparkles took an upper hand when I heard from a 5th wheel owner that their mileage was similar to our Motorhome. We’d considered a 5th wheel thinking that the mileage would be a bit better, so that was nice to hear that this was not the case. Plus we’d overlooked the fact that the truck pulling the 5th wheel has a much smaller gas tank, so they need to stop twice as often to fill up.
However, the reality is that a 55 gallon tank is expensive to fill, and we get about 10 miles per gallon. This reality became even more shocking when we entered Canada, as the gas prices were remarkably higher than the USA.
Round 9 winner: Gas/petrol by emptying bank account
Round 10: Sparkles vs Rocks:
Sparkles may beat all bugs that touch the windscreen, but has been less successful against rocks. There’s been a few minor surface scrapes and one big crack which looks a bit ominous. For the distance travelled it has been an evenly matched battle. However, ongoing bumpy road conditions means that existing chips may have the last laugh.
Round 10 winner: Rocks by likelihood of replacement windscreen
Despite leading almost the entire fight, North America came back to tie this one at 5 rounds a piece. After the judging, Sparkles emerges as the victor as the challenges we’ve faced have truly made this an amazing adventure. Sparkles is a true champion!
Compared to last year, my life is very different. I’ve gone from a corporate lifestyle to living on the road. Once the tidy, well presented fellow, the new look of freedom has people reacting differently to me; either the way they look at me or talk to me. It’s humbling to be truly human again. It’s like Undercover Boss, except this is not a disguise. This is me.
Here are some of the comparison’s between last year and now…
Slept in a level bed.
Each night we sleep on a different angle. Head rushes, danger of rolling out of bed, it really depends on how level the motorhome is. However, I’m sure there’s some benefit to this; a better centre of gravity, improved core strength… hey there might be a new fitness craze out of this.
Woke up to an alarm at 5am to get ready for work.
I don’t use an alarm, the clock on the dashboard is wrong, I don’t have a watch, my computer still shows Australian time, so to be honest I never know what time it is. Does anyone know the time, seriously, I have no idea?
Opened the living room blinds and looked out at the same lovely and peaceful street every day.
After 14 weeks on the road and 8000 miles under our belt, we usually wake up in a new spot everyday. One day at a rest stop, we woke up next to a cattle truck. At truck stops, we listen to the sound of generators at night, and wake up surrounded by 50ft+ vehicles. At Walmart, it almost feels like home now since we’ve stayed at so many. We usually wake up next to fellow RV’ers who have stopped overnight, and others who are, well, lets just say semi-permanent. And finally, at RV parks we often find peace and quiet. Unless we’re near train tracks, and then we hear the freight trains rattle by in the early hours of the morning, and if we’re lucky they blow their horn as well.
Showered every morning.
Don’t even ask! While we’re dry camping (i.e. not hooked up to electricity, water, etc), the combined issue of amount of fresh water, the size of the grey water tank, and the small hot water tank does not permit regular, lengthy showers. When we hit an RV park, we used to fight for the first shower. Now we just try to remember to shower before we leave.
Shaved as required.
When we first moved to Canada, it was Man vs Winter so limited shaving was required. When the hockey season ended I considered neatening the edges, but I’ve since decided that I will just be more prepared for when the next winter roles around. Sadly that’s only a few months away!
Got dressed in a suit and tie.
First I put on my shorts, then I decide if I want to wear a shirt.
I drove fast(ish). The ‘ish’ is for my mother.
Take 3 ½ minutes to get from 0 – 60.
I caught the train to work everyday.
Have considerably lowered my risk of catching diseases, and significantly increased my happiness levels, by not catching a train.
Purchased 2 coffees a day at $3.50 per coffee.
Have gone through two jars of instant coffee (that I brought on a 2 for 1 sale). Have purchased a handful of very dodgy truck stop coffees. Total cost over 14 weeks is around $10.
Once a month I would go and have my hair cut.
Haven’t had a hair cut in 8 months (since leaving Australia). There becomes a point where you stop taking yourself seriously. The extra weight would be a disadvantage if I was required to outrun a bear, but it definitely increases my chances of getting a role in the next season of Game of Thrones.
Didn’t think too much about what I was spending.
Buy food and gas/petrol, everything else is a luxury, including paying for overnight accommodation. Walmart stays have definitely been aplenty.
Drove a maximum of 2000 kilometres all year; home to train station, train station to home.
Drove 1000 kilometres in one day across Kansas. It’s not that Kansas isn’t beautiful, I’m just terrified of tornadoes. I wouldn’t have rushed if I knew our destination of Colorado was just as prone to severe weather!
Drove a car that I filled up with gas/petrol once every 3 weeks.
Drive a beast that is thirstier than an Aussie at a BBQ, and it ain’t drinking VB.
Thought I was water conscious.
I’m water conscious.
Was not handy. Not even a little bit.
Have learnt how to use RV glue. Excessively.
Would buy designer t-shirts for $50+.
Spent $8 on a t-shirt from Walmart, and eyeing off a $5 one as well!
My phone was an extension of my arm.
Didn’t have a phone for the 10 weeks we travelled through the USA. Remarkably, the world still goes around.
I was connected 24/7.
We choose not to get an internet plan while on the road. We rely on internet at RV parks, Information Centres, and stores that we can park near enough to, to tap into their internet. More often than not, it’s so slow I expect to hear the sound of the internet dialling up… remember that! If you don’t you can hear it here.
So, instead of being online all day, I provide undivided attention to my kids… all…. day… long… and then I have a beer, or a wine, I’m not fussy 😉
Had a microwave.
Had a microwave, blew it up, and it’s surprising how much you really don’t need one! Note for prospective buyers, there was only a small flame, it was contained, and the microwave will be replaced before you buy the most amazing home on wheels 🙂
Used toilet paper abundantly.
A few squares are enough. Highly biodegradable RV tissue paper at $1 a roll helps with this! Possibly too much information, just be thankful I’m not telling you about my experiences in Nepal. There’s a reason they shake with their right hand.
Toilet paper was thick and plushy.
Toilet paper as mentioned above is highly biodegradable, which means it disintegrates on contact with wet things. Enough said.
Used a 2 metre counter top to prepare dinner.
Work with two 30 cm areas for food preparation, which also house our kettle, toaster and fruit bowl. And you haven’t seen the size of our fruit bowl!!
Would light up the room I was in. I’m talking about electricity and light switches… not me.
The RV contains a number of 12 volt lights throughout each room, so I only use the light for the part of the room I’m in. When dry camping, we’re living off a single 12 volt battery, so every minute of energy is precious.
I watched television occasionally.
The television in the living area bounces and shakes as we drive along, the cords hang to the ground, not connected to power or cable. At an RV park, the picture is generally the same except it doesn’t bounce around as much unless the kids are having a dance party.
The fridge was on constantly.
The fridge runs off propane when we are not plugged in at an RV park. So throughout the day, whenever we stop for longer than an hour, its propane on, then propane off again when we leave. The crutch is making sure we turn it on when we are settling in for the night at a Walmart or another ‘non-electrical’ providing location. Three months in, and we haven’t forgotten to do this. Now watch me forget in the next few days!
Had a enough cutlery and dishware for a large dinner party.
We have 4 cups, 4 mugs, 4 big plates, 4 side plates, 4 kids plates, 4 forks, 4 knives… you get it. Its simple, use, wash, reuse. No more dishes lying around. You don’t clean, you don’t eat.
The kids had a larger share of my house than I did; bedroom, full toy room, toy area’s in living room’s, outside play area, swing set, cubby house…
The kids each have a small toy box and a combined craft box. The toy box hardly comes out of the cupboard. Instead, they have a couple of favourite toys which stay out, and otherwise they’re busy doing crafts and playing outside.
I would get on the roof once a year to clean the gutters and put the Christmas lights up
I’m on the roof of the RV every two weeks for general maintenance/checks, and just to hang out really. Usually it’s a good view from up there.
We had lovely neighbours
We meet lovely people on the road, even the guy that was playing his makeshift drums to Ace of Base in the Walmart parking lot until 2am. We all have a story.
Attended meetings all day long, and saw my kids for about an hour each day
Play with the kids all day long, and see them 24/7… there’s pros and cons ☺ Mostly pros. Teaching my daughter to ride her bike, starting to play chess with her, and just watching her develop in so many aspects of her life. And my little guy is the light of the family, bringing laughter and cheekiness to our lives.
Thought about touring North America in a motorhome.
Am touring North America in a motorhome… live you dreams 🙂 Happy living!
Sightseeing comes in many forms and, after a run of downtowns, it was time to get back to nature.
We’d just spent a night in a hotel after a tornado warning for the Georgian State, so we were bustling out of Atlanta with Nashville in sight. But we couldn’t resist stopping at a little place called Rock City, and we were ever so glad that we did.
Rock City is in Chattanooga, a couple of hours north of Atlanta. At first I questioned the admission fee (approx. $27 US) to ‘see some rocks’, but the issue of cost quickly faded as we stepped into an enchanted world. We weaved through some beautiful rock formations, and were mesmerised by the natural beauty of our surroundings.
Having a 4 and an almost 2-year-old, I was worried about how suitable the trails would be, but both kids walked almost the entire way. The first trail ended at a landing where we could see 7 states. We then started the second trail, and the kids were excited by the hope of seeing fairies in Fairyland Caverns. Who knew that they would see a whole lot more!
We stepped into the world of nursery rhymes in ‘Mother Goose Village,’ and the effort spent on the displays was remarkable.
There are some places that just deliver so much more than what you’re expecting and Rock City was one of them. The kids absolutely loved it, and so did we. What else can I say, if you’re in the area… don’t miss it!
Click on any photo below to view the gallery.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum (Charleston, SC) is the home of the USS Yorktown. This massive aircraft carrier has been converted into a museum, and don’t expect to get in and out in a hurry. The length of the ship is about 4 football fields, and you can roam through a handful of different tours on multiple levels, including the flight deck.
We learnt that the USS Yorktown was used for service in Vietnam (1965-1968), and also picked up the astronauts and the landing capsule from Apollo 8 in December 1968. If you’re a history buff, visit http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/y1/yorktown-iv.htm to find an in-depth breakdown of the Yorktown’s history.
The museum is reasonably priced given the many hours you can spend on the ship, and kids 5 and under are free. However, if you are taking a stroller/pram, you will be limited on some of the tours due to stairs and narrow corridors. We highly suggest a baby carrier, especially if you will be visiting over your little one’s nap time.
Overall, we highly recommend Patriots Point for all ages and it’s a great family day out.
Click on a photo below to view the gallery.
Blank canvas is not about starting a new life. Instead it’s a change of mindset. It’s about a new way of looking at each day. It encourages us to live life through practical learning, emotional experiences, and soul-searching adventure. It’s finding beauty in everyday life, and capturing that picture.
What an exciting time ahead for our family. Wow, in less than 12 months we will walk away from a life that we’ve grown very comfortable in … careers, a home, stability, and routine. We will land on the shores of Canada for an adventure, blended with family time and a road…
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Our first 1000 miles of RV life have been exactly what they were meant to be. Full of adventure, laughter, challenges, and things we’ll truly never forget; a cyclone warning, torrential rain and wind, a blown tire, our first couple of nights in a Walmart parking lot, and so much more.
The wheels started turning on Monday morning as we headed south towards the USA border at Niagara Falls. We didn’t rush out early, as the whole point of this trip is to relax and take our time. We had no time constraints, and there was no-where we ‘had’ to be.
I’ve not had a smooth border crossing in to the US for some time, and the trend continued. Despite having a current ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation), which is the new and ‘easier’ way to travel through the USA under the Visa Waiver Program, for land border crossings it doesn’t help at all. We pulled up to the window and straight away we were told we had to go inside.
The officer inside asked us the address of where we were staying, but Marlea had left the address in the RV. The officer says to us “I can check the white pages”. So we gave him the home owners name and town. He then says to us, “Is the home owner aged between 60-64?” Last I checked the white pages didn’t provide this information, but of course this was not a time to question the privacy of US citizens.
So officially we entered the USA, and we headed east through New York State. We stopped at Denny’s near Batavia, and it was at this point that the weather channel told us that there was a cyclone warning for North and South Carolina, which is where we were heading. The US news tends to over exaggerate things so I wasn’t sure whether this was a ‘blow your hat off’ or a ‘tie down your Motorhome’ type warning? Therefore, it was no surprise that as we started heading south in to Pennsylvania, we encountered some very heavy rain and winds. The Motorhome handled the conditions extremely well, and gave us a lot of confidence that the wind wouldn’t blow us over anytime soon.
It was after midnight by the time we pulled into a Walmart parking lot in Lewistown, for a well earned sleep.
Tuesday was a slow start. After going into to Walmart and both kids having a minor meltdown, we took some time in the Motorhome to ensure everyone was well fed and relaxed before starting off again. We had also experienced some issues with our RV 12V battery, which powers the radio and interior lights, and starts things like the generator. After buying a new one at Walmart and installing it, everything worked like new.
A few hours later we arrived in Gettysburg, and we were very excited! We drove through the downtown, and as we turned to head up towards the visitor centre, I had to take a tighter turn than I’d hoped as there was a car at the stoplights (and the streets were tiny). The back wheel clipped the gutter/curb and there was a sudden rush of air. We made it to the visitor centre before assessing the damage, as the RV still drove normally.
I won’t lie, I was furious. Firstly because I’d hit the gutter/curb, but more so because I knew the afternoon would involve sitting in the visitor centre car park rather than doing a driving tour of the battlefields. It was an unfortunate incident on the second day of RV life, but if I’m ever going to blow a tire, this is the way to do it. We weren’t travelling at high speeds, and the family was not put in any danger!
A local tire dealer popped out to put the spare tire on, and this was followed with a drive to a nearby gas station to pump up spare tire. It was at this point that I was ‘almost laughing’. The air valve was on the inside of the outer tire, making it almost impossible to attach the air pump! While the owner of the gas station tried to help me, Marlea had to be on look out for people entering the gas station… seriously!
It took me a while to find the calmness that I’d had up until this point, and nothing like peak hour traffic via Washington to get my attention back on the road. In all honesty, we had a beautiful run through peak hour and found a little mexican/indian taco joint for dinner, not too far passed the city.
We had a great night, and did books and bed time routine with the kids in the parking lot. Everyone was settled after another big day. We strapped the kids into their car seats and we were on the move again. Before we new it, the kids were asleep and the night was ours to chat and get some miles under our belt. We drove late in to the night, finally settling at 1am in another Walmart parking lot. This time we joined a number of fellow RV’ers, and we felt right at home.
Our 3rd and final day on the road to our first stop was the best so far. Our only obstacle was the sudden closure of a small country road. All the driveways on the street were narrow and to each side was a large dip for the water drainage. To add to the drama of performing a 10 point turn in a narrow driveway, the property owners dog had joined us and ran around and under the front of the RV. The owner stood and watched from the house, and eventually came down to drag the dog away.
We stopped for lunch at Greenville, North Carolina. Today we suggested the kids should go in to the food store and pick their own lunch. Dora was great, selecting a yogurt, the makings for a BBQ chicken sandwich, and a juice for herself. We opened up the RV and took an hour to just sit and watch the world go by. What’s fascinating to me is how relaxing a parking lot can be! We had parked in a shady spot near a patch of grass and it felt like our own little peace of paradise.
By mid afternoon we’d arrived at our first stop. We’d driven through Ontario, New York State, Pennsylvania, Virginia to arrive in New Bern, North Carolina. What an absolute gorgeous part of the world this is, y’all. We’ll show you around in our upcoming blogs.
Until then, happy living 🙂
So we have the Motorhome. We were hoping to leave our ‘temporary’ home in South Western Ontario by mid to late March. I thought we would head east first. My wife thought west.
It appears though, we are waiting out an extended Canadian winter. Wiarton Willie told us we had another 6 weeks of winter, and those dreaded words ‘Polar Vortex’ have reappeared in the news headlines. So after little consideration we’ve agreed to head south.
It would come as no surprise that if we’re only just deciding on which direction we should head, we don’t have a set itinerary. It may be a little unconventional, but instead we want to have the flexibility to stop (and go) wherever we want, whenever we want. We want to give our kids the world as their backyard, or at least a Walmart parking lot (as we’ve heard you can overnight in their parking lots for free). If we find a place that we love, we can stay longer (hopefully not a Walmart parking lot).
That all being said, we would love to know of your favourite places in North America. It could be your favourite city or town, your favourite little eatery or tourist attraction, or anything else we just MUST MUST DO!
As we move across the continent, we will take into consideration any suggestions that we get so please send them through!!
Over a year ago we had a vision, and that was to drive around Canada in a Motorhome. It could be said that this type of travel is reserved until retirement, but sometimes I think we live life backwards. So much of our ‘prime’ years are spent working. Plans to travel, do our bucket list, ‘live life’ is saved for a time when we may no longer be capable.
We decided that whilst we are fortunate enough to be in good health, we should do something big! And what’s bigger than sitting behind the wheel of a bus like contraption? So the big news is that we have our new home. We’ve picked up a 2004 31ft Coachman Freelander and I can confirm that overtaking/passing is now a thing of the past, and downhill skiers move quicker than us. I can also breakout my very old New Kids on the Block cassette tape to play in our vintage cassette player.
Check out the new addition to the family. We’ll be calling this home for the next little while…