Posts tagged ‘travel’

Intro

What does this town have?” She asked with utmost seriousness.

I had a feeling I knew what the answer was going to be. It was like walking through the door of a New York hotel room; what you see is what you get.

If we’d been talking to a modest man, I may have been correct in my assumption. But this was no ordinary man. He was not for a single second deterred by the question. “We have a convenient store across there. Of course there’s the award-winning restaurant. They go in their with money in their pockets, and they come out with their belly’s full.”

He barely took a breath before continuing. “We have a population of 75 people, but we have our own award winning waste water treatment facility, and an award winning theatre. We also have our own council.“

He said this with an endearing contentment of the life he’d spent in this town. He had a hop in his woolly-socked steps, and pleasure in his soul.

He was the candle-maker.

I

 I’ve seen lively towns, and I’ve seen dead towns. This one still had a flutter of a heartbeat.

It was the end of summer, however something told me that is was not a bustling summer town, partly because of the absence of a chip stand, which is practically a must in any summer tourist town in Canada.

Truth be told, the Trans Canada highway decided to give this town a miss. Most wheels don’t hit the streets of Victoria by the Sea, but continue to speed down the highway.

It’s fair to say we had no intention of visiting this town when the day had started. We didn’t even know that it existed. Yet here we were.

We rolled slowly down the main street overlooking the water, eyeing off a potential parking spot for the 31ft motorhome.

With the absence of a designated spot for motorhomes, we parked on an empty patch of land by the waterside. The residents in the adjacent apartments had, for a short while, their water views built out.

Climbing out the camper was like any other time, one foot after the other. Yet looking up, we were confronted with glimpses of a beautiful oncoming sunset. It was a seaside village, quaint and charismatic.

But for all it mattered, this place could have been a ghost town, desolate and empty. All we needed was a key.

Victoria by the Sea

Victoria by the Sea

Victoria by the Sea

II

An hour earlier, we’d stopped at a visitor’s centre. Surely, at this time of year a prominent castor of light would let us ascend it’s stairs, and grant the wish of a little heart.

A ten minute conversation with the historical board had recommended that the owner of the pastel blue shed would hold the key.

III

On the corner we found the pastel blue shed. The windows allowed us to peruse the belongings inside. Along side an old bike were some tools. We could only assume that they were for candle making. This was the candle maker’s store.

Victoria by the Sea

However, the door was locked, which could be expected when the sign hanging on the door read ‘closed’.

We decided to try the house nearby. The sound of empty tapping repelled against the old wooden doors. Out on the street, a passer by said they should be home, so we tried again. The door remained shut. There were no footsteps. There were no voices.

Similar to the candle maker’s store, his house appeared empty. As we stood slightly helplessly on the front porch, we suddenly heard a voice, “Come to the side door”.

We shuffled the kids around to the side, and a woman met us.

There was a brief moment were it felt weird to be relentlessly tracking down the owner of an attraction that we wanted to see. Luckily this was a small town, because you couldn’t get away with this in the city,

“We heard your husband has the key?”

“I don’t know where he is.”

She looked around over our shoulders like he should be out in the front yard somewhere. “He should be home, we are due at our daughters’ for dinner shortly.”

We didn’t move. She seemed more perplexed by her husbands whereabouts than the strange family standing on her lawn. Almost like a complimentary prize, yet in fact a truly lovely gesture, she gave us as many pears as we could hold.

So now we were standing on the side lawn of a strangers house, holding pears, still looking for a key.

VI

As if this were fiction, in the exact moment of our awkwardness on the side lawn, holding pears, she says, “Oh there he is.”

Without dropping a single pear, we pivoted 90 degrees to see a gangly fella on a bike. He looked delightfully happy, carefree, and surprisingly well dressed for a guy on a bike.

Moments later we shared our story of our search for a key. He instantly started to lead the way. The key was in his pocket.

VII

 As the key jangled on the key chain, the kids could hardly contain their excitement. The key fitted the slot. Suddenly the big red door swung open, and we stepped inside a lighthouse.

Victoria by the Sea

The ground floor was the ‘Keeper’s of the Light’ museum, but there was no stopping the kids, as they climbed the stairs and looked out over the ocean.

Victoria by the Sea

Victoria by the Sea

Nearly six months after leaving Ontario, we had delivered on our daughter’s dream to climb inside a lighthouse. We’d got lost looking for a one in Seattle, and with most of the summer season attractions on the East Coast closed by the time we got there, we feared that we’d missed the opportunity.

But with commitment and determination, a big adventure delivered a little treasure.

Victoria by the Sea

 

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Dear Sparkles,

Our beloved motorhome, we owe you this long overdue thank you!

To the unobserving eye, you’re just another of the voluminous number of motorhomes across North America. You see them everywhere: transported to the same ol’ trailer park, driven south to escape the white stuff, or permanently residing in a backyard.

But not you Sparkles. You gave off a vibe that you were ready for adventure.

Were we destined to meet? Well, we searched motorhomes online for over a year to find you, at times very confused as to what would be the best motorhome for our trip. When we landed on the shores of Canada, you were on our short list. You stayed on the list through an RV show, and a couple of visits to RV traders.

It then came down to two. Although the 5th wheel was absolutely gorgeous, it didn’t make sense for our trip. We would be stopping often, we wouldn’t be in places very long, and the kids needed a table to play and do craft while we drove (rather than being stuck in the back of a truck).

You were the one. You were going to drive us 14,500 miles (21,000 kms) around North America. You were going to be our everything; our hotel, our restaurant, our playground, our transportation… our home.

I loved driving you from the minute I hoped in. You didn’t exactly hum. Perhaps I was fulfilling a sudden ‘trucker’ dream. You definitely had heart, and some impressive grunt. That’s why I wanted to call you Grizzly.

However, the name ‘Sparkles’ prevailed, as every time during the trip I said to the kids “Let’s get back to Grizzly”, I was instantly corrected with, ‘No Daddy, it’s Sparkles”.

We picked you up near Hamilton (outside of Toronto), and we both survived our trip home. It wasn’t a direct route as we were hoping to give you a new set of runners (read tires). I’d pre-ordered a beautiful set of 6 Cooper Discoverer tires. As we got closer to the gas station, which we had to go through to get to the garage, it dawned me how big you really were. It didn’t help that the gas station was minuscule, by far the smallest gas station I’d ever encountered.

Against my better judgment, I turned in and I felt like I was driving a monster truck through a kids miniature-land. Some tight manoeuvring found us alongside the garage. I jumped out and took a few steps towards the mechanic who had stepped out of the garage looking somewhat perplexed. “We can’t fit that in the garage, who did you speak to?” It’s ironic because it would not be the last time I would hear those words.

If I’d thought entering the gas station was difficult, the stakes were suddenly raised as we pulled out into Toronto traffic.

Now for most ordinary North American folk, you may scoff. But in Australia, we‘re still building 2 lane highways. So when I was faced with the goal of moving a 31ft vehicle across 4 lanes of Toronto traffic, from a standing start, with the maximum acceleration of a truck, and with my exit only a stone’s throw up the highway, you could say I wasn’t overly excited. Did I forget to mention that my read view mirrors had swung in without me noticing!

Over the next month or so we gave you a lot of lovin’, and finally a new set of tires. It was only fair that as we prepared ourselves for this adventure, we got you ready as well.

Ready to roll, goodbye snow.

What you gave back to us is something that we are forever indebted to you for. This is what you taught us…

1. Dream big, and have the balls to make it a reality

From Elvis’ house in Memphis, to waking up beside the Mississippi River, from watching a bison crossing in Yellowstone National Park, to overlooking the mountains in Whistler, you allowed us to wake up somewhere new almost every single day for 7 months.

We fell in love with country music in Nashville, Tennessee, and were blessed by beautiful little cities like Jefferson City, Missouri. We reached the werewolf ridden La Push beach, Washington, and explored remote towns like Moose Factory, Ontario. Of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without visiting Anne of Green Gables in Prince Edward Island, and touching the Atlantic Ocean at the Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton.

We lived our dream.

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2. Be open to learning and change

Don’t get stuck in your ways. Be willing to try new things from which you may learn. Take a look at how you react and behave in different situations. Give yourself a chance to change!

3. Home can be anywhere

There is something very freeing about not knowing where you will sleep at night.

We tried Walmart parking lots, truck stops, little hideaways in National Parks and RV parks. You also managed to go ‘undetected’ for a few nights only a block or two off the main street of Banff, and saw us spending almost a week in Vancouver for $0.

It didn’t really matter where we went to sleep at night. You were our home. Once the blinds were drawn, we could have been anywhere and it didn’t matter.

You were the constant in our life, and you let our family be together in a way like many families couldn’t even imagine.

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4. Appreciate the little things

A big house and lots of space rarely contributes to happiness. It just gives you lots of stuff, clutter, hard work, and a bigger debt to spend all of your time working to pay off.

It was so lovely to go back to simpler times with fewer things, and instead be out appreciating all the beauty this amazing continent has to offer.

5. Throw away the schedule, and just live in the moment

We had no itinerary, instead we listened to people we met on the road and made on the fly decisions about which direction we would head next.

We cleared our schedule of all organised activities, and let ourselves roam. We gave the kids North America as their playground, and WOW, did they embrace it!

You enabled us to cook dinner alongside many children’s playgrounds, giving the kids something to do at that crazy hour of the day when kids just need to burn off energy! You let us park, and have lunch, at the end of the beautiful gardens alongside the Parliament in Regina. We even had an afternoon nap and then got ready for the Grand Ole Opry in the parking lot.

We learnt to go with the flow, and live in the moment.

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6. Be thankful

Each day we told each other what we were thankful for.

Looking back on the trip, we were thankful that you were with us everywhere! It was a convenience that we greatly appreciated. We could be out sightseeing and just drop in for lunch. If we forgot something, you were minutes away. If we went for a swim by the beach, we could come back and rinse off quickly in the shower. When I spilt my beer all over my daughter whilst out for dinner, I could whisk her away for a clean set of clothes and be back well before mains arrived… and just in time for a new cold one to be delivered to the table.

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7. What do we really need in our life.

We had a tiny kettle that boiled just enough water for 2 cups… all we needed. Marlea found a neat set of kitchen utensils that magnetised to each other, and took up no space at all.

The reality was, we couldn’t buy anything more than what we needed. We food shopped for a couple of days at a time. We had not the space inside, nor the storage underneath, to carry excess baggage. Everything we had on us for the trip was essential, almost daily.

8. Family and friends are everything, and new friends are everywhere

While we de-winterised you, we had the pleasure of staying with two very wonderful family friends. Our hosts were incredibly thoughtful to invite us into their home. It was hard to leave such an amazing home, that had the most peaceful outlook I’ve ever been privileged to see and experience first hand.

In Calgary, we caught up with cousins that Marlea had seen only for 10 minutes in 10 years. It was a wonderful week with a very beautiful family. The kids played amazingly well, I got a fishing lesson, and cousins reunited.

In August, we hit Quebec for an incredible family reunion. It remains one of the highlights of the trip, and it was wonderful to meet the extended family for the first time.

Of course, we will never forget the moments created on our trip thanks to wonderful people that came in to our lives.

Our first ever RV park in Myrtle Beach was the perfect start to our trip. Dora found an adorable little friend, and they sung Frozen together at a Karaoke night. It was such a lovely way to start our adventure, and really set the tone for how we interacted with people along the way.

Golden, Colordo was a place we intended to stay for only a night or two. But we connected with another family, and we spent a week there. We hardly saw Dora for the week, as she found a new bestie. Boots had a friend too, and so did mommy and daddy. Great times, lasting memories.

Again, in Yellowstone, we extended our stay in order to spend more time with new found friends. Nearly every night in an RV park, we spent the evening chatting with our new neighbours.

Another friend we still chat with, we met for 5 minutes in a parking lot while admiring her scooter covered in bumper stickers from her RV travels.

It really didn’t matter whether it was a Walmart parking lot, a tourist attraction, or an RV park, we continued to find and connect with people from all over North America.

We shared conversation, drinks, stories, travelling tips, and a general happiness for life. It’s very addictive.

9. Kindness goes a long way

You did not cause one road kill in your 21,000 km. Bugs – thousands. But animals – zero.

We experienced and offered up kindness. It was hard not to when you have travelled the miles and seen the things that we’d seen. People we’re incredibly friendly and kind to us, and welcomed us into their ‘homes’ and lives almost instantly; and we did the same. Where we could, we gave presents to families and people in need. All we can say is that the world is a truly a better place when kindness exists.

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Sparkles, we loved sharing this adventure with you, and you made us smile and the kids squeal every time we saw you. You were always easy to find in the parking lots. 🙂 You faced some tough driving situations, some long days, and cold nights, but you didn’t complain once.

You crossed the Rockies… twice. You kept us safe. You evaded tornadoes in Georgia, Colorado and Wyoming.

We honestly believe you enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

Thank you for being part of our family last year, and creating the most amazing memories.

❤ Roaming Days

 

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Do you have a place that you want to go to, just because of its name? I’ve always liked the idea of visiting Moose Factory. It just sent my mind wandering. There’s some obvious questions. Do moose live there? Are there any factories? Do moose work in the factories, or are moose the number one delicacy served in local restaurants?

The answer to these questions is no, no, no, and no. Yet still I’m not disappointed with our visit to Moose Factory.

If you were to look at Trip Advisor for ideas on things to do in Moose Factory, there’s not much. St. Thomas’ Anglican Church is listed, it has no rating, and it has no reviews. I don’t recall seeing it (unless it was the boarded up church). So here our top things to do in Moose Factory:

1. Getting to Moose Factory

The number one attraction of Moose Factory is actually getting there. Assuming you are somewhere in Canada, there’s still a highly likelihood that you’re nowhere near this place. So the first thing is “road trip!” You could fly, but it would probably cost you less to fly to Australia. Instead, pack some snacks and drive a crazy number of hours to the little town of Cochrane, Ontario. Rooms at The Station Inn are cozy and do the trick, as you will likely stay overnight before boarding the Polar Bear Express at around 9am the following morning.

At the station, there is 7 day parking for RV’s, or you can park for free (with power) for up to 48 hours, which we used before and after our train trip. The station is surprisingly busy as it has a number of buses arriving and departing, and the train engines/carriages often get moved around. The evening we were there, two engines moved back and forth for hours.

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Moose Factory

Moose Factory

Once on the train, it’s a good 5 hours to Moosonee. It could be one hour if the train moved quicker than walking pace, so there’s no need to panic if you miss the train. A leisurely jog will have you caught up in no time.

Otherwise, the leg room is good, and depending on your carriage, you will have a power supply for your electronic addictions. There’s no internet however, and no phone service. You will be able to control your itch to be connected by loading yourself up with a good movie or opt instead for a book, and settle in for the very pleasant and scenic ride.

Welcome to Moosonee!

Moose Factory

At Moonsonee, you will unload from the train and then wait for the next available taxi.

It’s an efficient service because it seems that anyone in town can be a taxi driver should they choose to be so. If you need $30 for a case a beer, it only takes a cardboard sign in the front windscreen/windshield reading Taxi, and you are a few short trips away from a two four (case of beer).

Moose Factory

Since an aqua duck taxi is not available in Moosonee, you’ll need to catch a water taxi to the island of Moose Factory. The boats are old but sturdy, and with our suitcases and backpacks loaded in the front, Moose Factory was a short 5 to 10 minutes away. In the case of rain, you will be undercover, however your suitcases will not share the same luxury!

Moose Factory

2. Leave Moose Factory

The second attraction is leaving. Nothing against Moose Factory, but if the ride to Moose Factory is a great experience, then the journey home should be too, since its basically completing ‘Getting to Moose Factory” in reverse.

3. GG’s

You will be forgiven if you miss this place. Because literally, if you don’t know exactly where it is, you will definitely miss it. The outside of the store looks like a factory, there is a GG sign on the building – but no description of what the store is, and no ‘open’ sign on the solid closed door. But, inside you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s a very mini Walmart, with a little bit of everything. There’s no prices on most things, so you take a gamble with anything you pick up. Chance are, all goods are imported via the ‘Getting to Moose Factory’ route, so don’t expect to pick up any food bargins. For example, a bag of red apples was $12. Our highlight of this store was the winter jackets. Most were 50% of good winter brands like Columbia and North Face, so we all purchased a new winter jacket. It was probably the biggest splurge of our trip, but based on last winter it will be money well spent!

4. EcoLodge

I will say two things about this place. Dinner. Ribs. That is all.

5. Bears

I’ve had a few opportunities to see bears in the wild, and there’s something exhilarating about it. In Moose Factory, there’s a few local bears that hang out at the local dump. It’s obviously not as much fun seeing bears truly in the wild, but as a friend of mine commented on Facebook ‘I’m guilty of getting takeout sometimes too’. Nonetheless, it’s a sight that I’ve never seen before, and even the locals seem to take an evening drive to the dump to see if their friends are out to play.

The bears generally seemed to be disinterested in their audience, but did occasionally stop to sniff the air. I felt like we locked eyes a couple of time, but funnily enough I was the only one backing away. Never take for granted that these are still wild animals.

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6. Take a walk, a boat ride, or a paddle.

I never expected to find 6 things to do in Moose Factory, but here we are. We took a paddle on the lake in a canoe, but if you don’t know someone with a canoe you may opt for a walk or a boat ride.

Walking around parts of Moose Factory is fascinating. Some of the town operates on steam heat, and there are tons of old buildings and factories that have loads of character. And of course, Moose Factory is on the water, so play on the sanding shores or walk along side the water and enjoy the scenery.

Moose Factory

Moose Factory

Moose Factory

Moose Factory

Moose Factory

Moose Factory

Moose Factory

You can also organise a boat ride to James Bay. If you are really adventurous you could make your way all the way up to Hudson Bay!

During your stay, it’s likely that you will see the emergency helicopter flying locals from the mainland to Moose Factory, since this is the home of the local hospital.

Moose Factory

Overall, Moose Factory is an experience. And now I need to find a new place with a cool name, so I can visit there too 🙂 Maybe Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan? Maybe Intercourse, in Pennsylvania? Or a town that we recently passed in Quebec, Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! I know I don’t understand much French, but I think they’re taking the piss? Ha Ha!

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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.

Not the sight you want to see on Day 2!

Not the sight you want to see on Day 2!

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

A bug line-up

A bug line-up

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.

Sample parking tickets

Sample parking tickets

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.

We have to drive on the right… thanks!

We have to drive on the right… thanks!

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:

bumps

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.

Oops!

Oops!

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!

Roaming Days team with Sparkles.

Roaming Days team with Sparkles.

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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.

Compared to 1

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ready to roll, goodbye snow.

Ready to roll, goodbye snow.

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.

Our first night at Walmart!

Our first night at Walmart!

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!

The kids having fun while the tire is being changed.

The kids having fun while the tire is being changed.

A blown tire… day 2… good start :)

A blown tire… day 2… good start 🙂

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 2nd night at a Walmart, with fellow RV'ers

Our 2nd night at a Walmart, with fellow RV’ers

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 🙂

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A magical hidden garden.

A magical hidden garden.

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!!

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