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September – Day One

When I told my Australian friend we were heading off ...somewhere east, destination otherwise undetermined, she said, “Enjoy your walkabout.” And I remembered the term, used when Australians ...usually scruffy guys with a drinking problem ...find that life in the civilized world has all gotten just a bit too much. They grab their swag and go walkabout. No particular destination, no particular time span. They come back when they are ready to.

And that pretty much describes us. We’ve hitched up our little Trillium trailer, modest New Home Away from Homethough it may be, a definite step up from the Australian swag (bundle of blankets) and headed east.

By the time we’ve shed all the trappings of home and business it’s 11 am. Having the trailer certainly facilitates travel as the basics are all there ...just add fresh food and clothes. This is something new for us tent campers ...a new level of luxury indeed.

Headed out on the Trans Canada Hwy 1, to Hope where we stopped at our favourite restaurant, “HOME” for lunch. These guys are such good cooks and the best part of the meal are the fruit pies. They are so busy, no matter what time of day you stop in. No longer a well-kept secret, so if you are nearby, just head east on the old highway that parallels the new Hwy 1 until you see MacDonalds. Keep going another minute and there you are: nondescript building your left. And no, I don’t get anything for this recommendation! I just like to spread the news about good things.

From Hope we take the southerly route, Hwy 3, also known more picturesquely as the Crows Nest Highway. This brings us through towering, evergreen-covered mountains ...striped red with large swaths of pine-beetle-murdered trees. I hadn’t realized the pine beetle was this far south. This means they will never be killed off naturally because it takes extremely cold temperatures for prolonged periods of time to kill them off. I guess fire will have to do it ...but there would have to be a conflagration that basically engulfs the forests. All of them. Perhaps it will all end with the pine beetle battling the cockroaches for world dominance once humans have succumbed to the pandemic. Or the ants. An awful lot of ants in the world.

This route will bring us through Manning Park and Princeton to Osoyoos. There are dense smoke advisories from the Tatnoosh Fire on the Canada/ US border ...we are skirting those fires. We deoff Hwy 5 east of Vernoncide to continue and see how bad it gets. There are alternate routes along the way.

Our first experience with smoke was the approach to Princeton. It still didn’t look too bad so we continued. However, around Hedley it started getting denser. Our eyes were stinging and we agreed, “It won’t be much fun camping in this stuff.” And if the fire is too close they will have closed the campsite we were heading for anyway. So we took the Hwy 3A diversion towards Penticton and from there Hwy 97 north to Summerland.

There is a lovely warm beauty to the rolling fields of gold. Light plays over the folded terrain, sandstone hoodooos hover over the road winding beneath. Having lived my whole life in the coastal rainforest I don’t know if I’d be happy living here, in this spare, golden landscape, but it’s nice for a change.Okanagan apples

Soon we are into orchards ...cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, apples. When we came through here two years ago it was mid June and our Australian companions went mad buying up cherries at less then $2 per pound. In Australia they are $12.99 per pound and nothing like the big black Bings we have here.

Right now peaches, plums, pears, and apples are in season. We’ll be loading up as we go. No irregularity here!

On the drive up Hwy 97 we come on a young bear cub eating fruit in the trees beside the highway. He was the cutest little guy. Looked too young to be on his own but even when he climbed out of the tree and ran across the road and up into the hills we never saw Mom anywhere.Okanagan Lake campsite

We camp at the Okanagan Lake provincial campground. We scored a very nice site ...right on the lake. We are basically squatting on a million dollar waterfront property ...for $22 per night. The ducks play at our feet ...but aren’t beggars.

Magical evening as the sun sets and the light plays over the lake. The lights of Peachland twinkle on in the distance.

The campgrounds are quiet at this time of year ...maybe 1/3 full, as opposed to a Okanagan Lakecouple weeks ago when you wouldn’t have been able to get in here. It’s the reason I love camping in September ...all the kids are gone and the oldies come out to play.

Fortunately, the weather is incredible ...in the 80s coming up and still so warm we sit out all evening playing Scrabble ...only a light jacket on. No biting bugs.

Sleeping in the trailer is a pleasure ...there are five sets of louvered windows, one on each side of the bed so the air circulation is incredible. Fell asleep listening to the frogs singing.

Day Two

Poached eggs for breakfast ...no dampness in the air here at all as we breakfast at the picnic table. Last night we could see smoke on the horizon from the big forest fires to the south, but they don’t seem to be affecting air quality.

We have a little mouse living in the bushes beside our table. It took me the longest time to catch him in the beam of my flashlight last night. When we were playing Scrabble he was rustling around in the dry leaves ...sounded like there was a rabbit. He sure makes a lot of noise for such a little guy.

Passed a lovely, relaxing day in our chairs ....on our million dollar property. Steve read and played Sudoko. I worked at re-learning my camera ...learned tons including a most useful feature: a voice memo that I can attach to photos. No more trying to figure out which lake that was.

The ducks were entertaining ...quacking around us, begging for snacks. Oh yes, theyOkanagan Duck got over their shyness and came begging once the biscuits came out. And there was some kind of grouse I think ...very small. The males had crowns on their heads. Will have to look them up when we get home. They can fly but obviously are not much into it. What they do is root around in the thickets. That is obviously where they make their home and I think a big part of the noise we are hearing there. I thought it was too much noise for one tiny mouse.

So they root around in the thickets and then they all gather together in nervous, tittering little groups ...then one makes a run across open ground. They run like shit ....their little legs just a-pumping as they literally dance across the open ground. They run in packs of four to eight.

During the night the wind came up over the lake with a vengeance. Huge, deafening winds rock the trees around us, sending the lake into paroxysms of rolling whitecaps.

Day Three

Left Okanagan Lake this morning ...rain gently falling. Good thing we put everything away last night. Have to love this trailer camping ...nothing wet. Just wash up the breakfast dishes and pull away. Anyone want to buy our old tent, cheap?

After a pit stop in Kelowna we continue on north up Hwy 97 to Vernon – beautiful sunburnt hills, spotted with scabby, tough-looking pines. Kalamalka Lake adjoins the highway before Vernon ...just exquisite. The alternating aqua and turquoise waters reminded us of the semi-tropical waters off the north island of New Zealand.

Orderly-looking vineyards and orchards march up, down, and over the rolling hills.

Turned east at Vernon onto Hwy 6. We are now into forests again in a big way, with logging trucks rumbling along, loaded with logs. They are industriously harvesting the forests killed off by the pine beetle so what we are seeing on the trucks are the more slender pine logs, in comparison to the mammoth cedar and fir we see on coastal trucks.

We stop in Lumby for lunch and are really taken with this pretty little town. Have lunch at Ida’s Bakery and Deli. Huge “fully loaded” sandwich plus coffee with refill is $5.75. A humongous cherry turnover is $1.10. The sandwiches are so huge we have them cut and wrapped for takeaway. That will be dinner with soup tonight.

We didn’t have it, but home made fruit pie and coffee is $2.50. Where are you going to get pie like that and coffee for $2.50. Heck, coffee downunder was $4 a cup. No pie!!!! Have to love Canada. We are realizing that more and more as we travel ...there truly is no place like home.Lower Arrow Lake

Continue on Hwy 6, coming eventually to Needles on the Lower Arrow Lake. This must be one of the longest lakes in BC. I have no idea if it is ...but if you look at the map, it is amazing. We cross from Needles to Fauquier by ferry. Quick and efficient. It runs along a cable ...takes about ten minutes to cross and is free.

Cable powered ferry

 

Continue north now toward Nakusp. We stop 16 km short of the town at the MacDonald Creek Provincial Park campground. Beautiful place. Miles of sandy beach ...bet it is full of kids in the water in the summer. At this time of year we are seeing mostly retired folk of our age. Very few tents ...more comfort required!

Travel units seem to come in two sizes: BIG and tiny. In the tiny category are tons of small Boler trailers. Don’t know if they were always there but now that we are pulling a trailer in that class ourselves we see them everywhere. Very few tent trailers ...in fact, can’t say I’ve seen a single one. I think those are part of “family” travel and families are now busy with their kids in school.

September is a beautiful time to travel ....in the Okanagan it was still in the 70s and 80s. Here in the mountains it is considerably cooler. But still t-shirt weather during the day. Steve built a lovely huge fire and we enjoyed those leftover sandwiches and big bowls of tomato soup.

Lovely evening around the campfire. We have a lakefront property here again. The Macdonald Creek Provincial Parklights of Nakusp twinkle across the other side of the lake. We’ll go there tomorrow.

Day Four

Poured with rain most of the night. Fortunately Steve had the foresight to put everything away so we ate breakfast indoors and were on our way again before 9.

Followed highway to Nakusp. Pretty little town on the lake. We are really taken with these small Kootenay towns.

Interesting people too. The lady who came around to take our camp fee last night ($14) was our age more or less ...and does this in the summers. In the winters she travels to China where she teaches English. Who’d of thought.

We are very impressed with the amount of attention that the provincial campgrounds we’ve seen are getting from the operators. Campground servicing was privatized some years ago and there was concern that this would lead to the deterioration of our provincial parks, without doubt a gem of an asset.

But not from what we’ve seen so far. There is a strong presence in the parks, they are spotlessly cleaned and perfectly maintained. Very impressed. The staff seem as friendly as ever too ...never in too much of a hurry to stop and chat for a while.

Hwy 6 to NakuspAfter Nakusp we carried on to Kaslo ...another picturesque lakefront town, this time on Kootenay Lake. Steve declared it “cappuccino time” and sure enough, we came on “Theresa’s Bakery and Deli and Museum.” Nothing pretentious about this place ...that’s for sure. But she had just pulled cinnamon buns out of the oven and served them up with a generous dollop of butter on the end of a knife.

We settled in with our endless cups of coffee and yesterday’s newspaper. Most enjoyable. As we did so, the lady behind the counter worked on her pies ...deep dish pies bursting with fruit, handmade the old fashioned way. She told me she can never make enough ...however many she makes, she sells out each day.

Interesting that there do not seem to be any cappuccino machines here in the backcountry of BC but everywhere we stop, they are baking pies. In the city I can find all the cappuccino I want ...but can only think of one place that sells a piece of pie worth paying for ...Barney’s on Granville.

That’s okay, we’ve gotten over the cappuccino thing. We only got into that in Australia and New Zealand because they don’t make drip coffee. It’s cappuccino or instant. Ugh.

By the way, those huge cinnamon buns and endless cups of coffee cost $5.18 for the two of us.

Continued on down the lake to Balfour where we caught the “Osprey” a 40-minute Ospreyferry to the other side of the lake.

Nice ferry, nice ride, and we had a tasty hamburger on board for lunch. This is starting to sound like the gastronomic tour of the Kootenays but all this food is home made and it’s such a treat to eat food made from scratch by people who actually cook it, not just nuke it.

Did have to smile. Was reading a local newspaper and there was a restaurant review. The meal being reviewed was prime rib, baked potato, and corn on the cob ...among other things. We LIKE it here.

Carried on through Creston to Moyie Lake Provincial Campground where we’ve stopped for the night. Enroute a fat black bear just romped up and onto the road in front of us. The local papers are running stories about the bear problem. They are into their final feed-and-fatten before denning up for the winter. Residents are being pressed to get their fruit picked and ensure none is left lying around on the ground. I asked the campground operator if there was a problem in the campsite.

“Nah ...haven’t seen a bear in here for weeks.”

Well, that’s reassuring. Not.

It has been raining all day ...sometimes VERY hard. It cleared as we came into the campground so we optimistically set out the camp chairs and get the wood ready for a big fire.

Then we head off on a walk to see the lake and find the hot showers which our $22 entitles us to. Find the showers and find the lake but enroute it starts pouring with rain. Too bad, chairs are soaked. Wood is soaked.

We come into the trailer and try out our little furnace. Works like a charm – toasty little home in minutes. Encouraged, I head back out to the showers. That was a BAD experience and I would like my money back please. BRRRRRRRRRR!!!! First lukewarm then freezing cold, then lukewarm, then freezing. I’m a frozen popsicle.

Settle in for more soup tonight. There are other options in the cupboard but it just feels like a soup night again. The rain is pounding on the roof ...but we are cosy. No leaks.

It takes a little organization to operate in a small space like this ...but after spending four months downunder in a Toyota van, this space is outright luxurious. Tomorrow we will carry on to Lethbridge then down to the US for a run through Montana, Idaho and Washington.

Day Five

deer at Moyie LakeWhile we were filling the tank with water this morning, a deer and her fawn came to nibble on the bushes near the water tap. They weren’t at all fearful.

Carried on to Cranbrook where we got gas for 86 cents a litre ...cheapest gas we’ve had in over a year. Then along Hwy 3 to Fernie. Beautiful bowl-like valleys, surrounded by mountains that soar up abruptly from the valley floor. Meadow lands are burnt golden, dark green evergreens dot the hills.

Fernie is a pretty little ski town in the foothills of the Rockies. Magnificent soaring peaks, already snow-capped, surround the town. We stop into that Canadian icon, Tim Horton’s, for lunch. Read in the paper that our Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter McKay, took Condaleeza Rice to Tim Horton’s this week. Nice date Peter.

From Fernie through to Crows Nest Pass and the Rockies, the foliage changes to a much denser evergreen, interspersed with deciduous trees that are now turning colour. Further west in the Okanagan there was little sign of fall colours, here in the Rockies it is everywhere.

The temperatures have really dropped too ...low 40s Fahrenheit. Passed a sign Crows Nestoutside a town here somewhere that read, “We are Celsius-Free.” Have to love the spirit out here.

Not too far past the Alberta border the terrain changes abruptly. From towering mountains to rolling foothills, to flat prairies soooooo fast. All within the space of an hour. The prairies here are not really all THAT flat ...they roll and fold and are cut through by coulees carved by rivers long dried up and forgotten.

Alberta Wind Mills

Towering windmills outline the ridges, spinning in unison.

Lots of livestock and plenty of hay being rolled up into stacks for the winter to come.

What has also changed is the weather. The clouds have socked in and it is raining very hard. We arrive on the outskirts of Lethbridge, pulling into an RV park advertised on the highway. It is $36 for a spot with water and power. The showers are coin operated. That is tacky. For $36 they should include a hot shower.

We’ve chosen a commercial RV Park because it is soooooo cold and the wind and rain are just howling around us. Some electricity and a genuinely hot shower will be a blessing tonight.

Go whole hog on the civilization thing and head off to the mall for a movie. Have Chinese food at the Manchu Wok, then see Last Kiss. One-and-a-half stars max. Food and movie.

Day SixHwy 5 south to Cardston

From Lethbridge we headed south on Hwy 5 to Cardston, then Hwy 2 to the Montana border. A little concerned as we drive because about 40 minutes out of Lethbridge we see snow in the distance. Unmistakable ...a fresh white sheen covers the landscape of hills and valleys and pasturelands, not just the towering mountains of Glacier National Park in the far distance.

Through the border with no worries. We have still have some Okanagan apples and peaches and wood. Had assumed we’d have to give those up, but the guard just wants to know if we are planning to leave anything in the US. Nope.

We had hoped to take the mountain road that actually cuts directly across Glacier National Park, but Logan Pass is at 6800 feet and it is snowing as we drive. The sign also says maximum 21 feet and pulling the trailer we exceed that ...so we opt for the longer, more southerly route, Hwy 2.

Glacier National ParkThis is an interesting road itself. We wind higher and higher. Don't know if it is perfectly accurate, but the altimeter in our truck says we are well over the 6,000 feet we’d hoped to avoid. Magnificent vistas of soaring, snow covered peaks and glaciers, deep river valleys and gentle valleys dressed in the varied greens, yellows, and rusty browns of the fall foliage show. Mother Earth is indecisive, dressing and undressing, back and forth between the earth tones of fall and the stark drama of winter white.

There is lots of snow ...sGlaicer National Park ometimes swirling around us, but nowhere as beautiful as on the Hwy 49 shortcut. This cuts a corner off the bottom of the traverse around the park and was also signed as “Winding, narrow, road closed in winter, maximum 21 feet.”

But we take it anyway and while it is narrow and winding and the drop-offs are dramatic, so are the vistas. We do fine, coming down finally into the small village of East Glacier where we have lunch in the only restaurant still open in town. The season is over and even this place will be closed by the weekend.

Chilli for me, a cheeseburger for him and a piece of their trademark huckleberry pie to share. Have never had that before ...good excuse, eh? Can’t say I’d jump over any hoops to have it again, although not bad, just something you might have to acquire a taste for. The neat thing about this small cafe though, is that coffee was $1 and endless refills. When was the last time you paid $1 for an endless cup of coffee in a ceramic mug in a restaurant, served by a waitress? I can’t remember.

Set off again, circumnavigating the southern end of the park. Come on a herd of mountain goats. The reason we know it was goats, not sheep is because there was a Goats in Glacier National Park pull-off that said “goat parking”. I guess this mob eats out here regularly.

Lovely drive through heavily-forested winding terrain. Sitting in the passenger seat watching these endless waves of green roll by I am struck by how many different coniferous species there are. Some are obvious: cedar, hemlock, fir, pine. But beyond that, so many others that I have no idea about. Some are straight, orderly soldiers, others are more relaxed, their boughs gently drooping. On this road there is another species I’ve never seen before. It looks like an evergreen on drugs ...branches pointing off in every different direction, needles up, needles down ...totally scatterbrained and erratic.

Turn south to Kalispell, a large town with a LOT of pickup trucks. We stopped for gas here ...about ten cents a litre cheaper than Canada.

Continued west on Hwy 2 towards Libby. By now it is 4:30 and we are getting tired. We come on a State Recreation Area and the sign has a tent on it, so we pull off. This is a campground, but it is no longer open. As a courtesy the parks staff have left one pit toilet unlocked and an assortment of people, hunters and the like, have set up self-contained camps in the parking lots of the day-use area.

We do too.

A couple hunters come back to their trailer and start a fire in the middle of the parking lot. The idea occurred to us too but it seems kind of rude. Oh well, they didn’t ask me and it’s their country, not mine.

A few miles back up the road we had run into some other hunters who had the biggest moose head I’ve ever seen. A young woman was in the back of the pick-up holding it up by the antlers and people were taking photos ...don’t know if that means she killed it ...or was just getting her photo taken. No thanks.

We are REALLY in the wilderness here. Thank goodness for the porta-potty but we are using it for liquids only. Solids only in a dire emergency. It is now pitch dark and there are bears out there. I have given my body strict instructions that there will be no further peristalsis until daylight. I am NOT going out there ...not heading down that long, dark, forested path to the outhouse. No way. If there is an emergency tonight ...well, that’s what it will be, an emergency. Not going out there. No way.

Day Seven

Well, bears turned out to be the least of our problems. Remember those hunters who started a fire in the middle of the parking lot? Well, after they played with the fire for a while they got in their big diesel Ram Charger and took off. I am guessing there is a tavern out there somewhere. Around midnight they came back ...and started up their generator.

That’s pretty rude, starting up a generator at midnight. But I figured they’d do their thing and then turn the damn thing off. No. It stayed on all night .

Early the next morning the Ram Charger roared to life, drowning out the generator, the boys in camouflage took off with their big guns to hunt elk ...and I traipsed out to the outhouse, passing the damn generator. I’m just too nice. There it sat ...defenceless. It would have been so easy to smash some important bits with a big rock ...and it would have given me great pleasure tonight, to think of them returning to their trailer looking for a hot shower and finding their generator useless.

But I didn’t. I’m Canadian.

So, we set off under blue skies towards Spokane. It’s a beautiful road ...as they all are in this part of the world. Tall dark evergreens, fuzzy focus deciduous turning the prettiest colours. Clear ...oh so clear, burbling brooks and rushing rivers. Just magnificent driving through here.

Then the weather changed ...back to cloudy, back to rain, back to bone-chilling cold ...and just past Libby we decided to head north for the border and the quickest route home, Hwy 95 north. This route will take us through the narrow north end of Idaho for all of 15 minutes. It will still take two days to get home, but two shorter days.

We cross at Kingsgate, which is near Creston. Lovely driving along Hwy 3B, through small towns like Rossland, Trails, Montrose. Historic and quaint looking in many parts. I was actually born in this area but I’ve lived on the coast for so long that I forget my roots are here.

By 4:30 we are getting tired ...been on the road for eight hours. Oh ...I started driving today ...pulling the trailer. It went very well. No worries. I can do this. I don’t like the downhill parts, but then I never do like driving Steve’s truck downhill and being pushed by a thousand pounds of trailer does not make me like it more. A couple years ago I was driving through the Sierra Nevadas with this truck and lost the brakes. THAT was scary stuff ...my heart still pounds when I think about it.

We pull into Boundary Creek Provinicial Park for the night. There is only one other vehicle there ...and we don’t see any people. We set up ...and at one point a guy on a motorcycle comes through, looking us over. He has no camping gear on his bike so I am wondering why he is driving through the campsite.

The campground is perched just above a river, there is a crude path from the river right up and through our campsite. Steve builds a fire.

An RV comes through and we feel better ...other people are good. But no, they drive away. Then the other vehicle that had been camped disappears.

Steve keeps asking me if I want to stay here and I wonder why he is asking. I mean, we have set up camp. I don’t like it very much, but we are here already, right? But then it is getting very dark and there is a lot of noise in the bushes ...am sure it is just racoons or something harmless, but we are feeling increasingly spooked. Steve asks me again if I want to leave. He won’t admit that he wants to leave ...and I know him, he will fall fast asleep in five minutes. But I know that I won’t. It will be one very long night.

So we pack up and hit the road. Takes less than five minutes.

We drive for about 20 minutes until we come to a commercial RV park. Creep into a spot between two huge RVs. Feels nice and safe to be tucked back in here with other human beings. I manage to lock myself into the toilet ...and end up having to call out through the night for help. Probably would have taken Steve hours to notice I hadn’t returned. Fortunately a man on a smoke break outside his trailer hears and rescues me. I will sleep well tonight.

So glad we left that other place ...there was just something about it that was not right.

Day Eight

Keremeos FruitstandTime to head for home. The route, Hwy 3 again, takes us back through the orchard country of Keremeos ...another opportunity to stock up on fruit and vegetables. And another opportunity to stop at the HOME restaurant as we travel down the Hope Princeton Highway and pass through Hope.

It’s been fun, this walkabout. The trip was our first really good test run with our little Trillium trailer. We like it. Fully loaded it maxes out well under 1,000 kgs and it’s only 9.5 feet long. Even though it’s now 27 years old, everything works perfectly. The decor is a bit skitzy ...orange and brown plaid upholstery with blue and white flannel curtains. The curtains are adorned with blue Ford trucks. I was certain I was going to change them, but now they are kind of growing on me. How many people have blue Ford trucks on their curtains?

Glad to be home again, but kind of sad about pulling a tarp over the trailer. Then again, plans are afoot to pull it down to Mexico after Christmas. According to the flyers, that’s only 86 sleeps away!

Carolyn Usher