Well, we have driven over all the mountains, passed through all the wheat fields and have hit the land of forests and lakes. Finally, a land that we like and Gurt does too. Myles has driven across Canada before (well to Toronto) so in an effort to incre
ase his experiences we decided to head south and scout out some American wildlife.
With more small towns, we have found America to have more “unclaimed land” (crown land but I don’t know what they call that in America, Spangle land? I don’t know..) This works well for us, as it is much easier to find somewhere to camp and we are making great efforts to avoid paying for a campsite. Minnesota is the land of beautiful waterfalls, monstrous lakes that look more like oceans, and hunters. Lots and lots of hunters. Me, being the newly found vegetarian and animal lover that I am, am not impressed with this deer-killing society. Myles and I have actually gone to sleep with the soft, calming sound of gunfire – a little concerning what people are shooting in the middle of the night, but anyhow.
East. The direction of our travel. Wheat is in our rear-view, lakes and forests are our new driving companions. Leaving Winnipeg you are hit with a sudden change of scenery. As we drive the now winding Highway 1 we are excitedly fixated on our surroundings. On the lookout for moose and deer we sit as if waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. Winding through the lake-scattered east coast of Ontario, Samara and I had some time to glance at a map. Having heard the drive to Kenora was breathtaking, that was our destination. But as we gained on the small town, we were faced with another decision: keep heading east, or head south towards the Canada US border. Having explored East to Toronto, our minds once again raced as we dreamed about exploring the unknown land mass to our south.
Leaving Calgary, it becomes very clear that you are in the prairies. Playing “I spy” becomes challenging as the only thing yellow is the wheat and the only thing blue is the sky. The alphabet game becomes impossible as there are no signs on the road. I was bored. My once blissful love affair with these beautiful big farms became more like an over played song on the radio.
Anyone who knows me, knows to not be around me when I get bored because I quickly make some vane attempts to amuse myself through making up songs (note: I have absolutely no creative song writing abilities) and playing with my dogs (even they know to just play dead and accept it now).
Driving on the highway, we saw a sign that said something about a border crossing. Myles decided he wanted to try driving through the states for a bit of change in scenery. Without clearly any real thought, I jumped on board dreaming of crossing this invisible line into the states and being in the middle of some lush unexplored rain forest. The border crossing was surprisingly pleasant despite having three dogs in the car and in a matter of minutes, we were in the land of cheap gas and greasy burgers. About five minutes driving in the states and I had a hard jolt of reality, apparently this invisible line didn’t hide the tropical haven that I had dreamed of, in reality it looked exactly the same with long wheat fields, only this side had more oil drills and less Tim Horton’s.
In preparation for the lack of Steeped Teas our southern neighbour carries, Myles and I had recently begun acclimatizing to McDonalds double-double only to have an almost nightmare-ish realization that when ordering in the states and saying you’d like “one large double-double” they don’t know what you mean and the worst part of all, when you receive your large coffee, it isn’t nearly as good as what you have become accustomed too.
Life driving through the Prairies without good coffee, I don’t know how Americans do it! I suppose the prairies wouldn’t be so bad, but driving through it at the high speed of 80 km/hr turned what would be an eight hour experience, into a twelve hour experience. Crossing back into Canada at the North Dakota – Saskatchewan border crossing was, again, a very fast experience, making the border guards giggle at our attempt to escape the Prairies. Before long we were in Manitoba and all the wheat was replaced with sun flowers.
Everywhere you looked, there were hectares of Sunflowers in the most beautiful dance of color. Looking up at the darkening sky, Myles and I quickly pulled over and sat in the complete darkness of the fields to watch a storm roll in. We were in Manitoba for four days and every single day we were there the weather was the same. Beautifully warm, dry mornings that was followed by a giant storm every afternoon. Sheets of warm, nickel sized rain poured down while beautiful strikes of electricity lit up the sky and loud growling thunder shook our van.
I was in love with the moodiness of this province. Myles would get so mad at me for sitting outside of our van in hot puddles of water watching the night sky light up. It wasn’t the periodic lightning like I was used to – it was a constant and steady light show that left me completely speechless. The town of Winnipeg was a blissful surprise as I had no idea what to expect with this little city. Granted that after the prairies, I would have been happy with anything that had “unclaimed land” but what I found was even better. Every single residential street, both downtown and in the suburbs is lined with trees, and all the people were unusually friendly.
The downside to the city is it has the worst streets you have ever driven on, and it is home to the most bugs you will ever in your life see. Since leaving for this adventure a month and a half ago I have been stung by six bees (on a hike Myles accidentally stepped in a bee hive), four wasps (they’re just assholes) and probably eight million mosquitoes. After stopping in for a wonderful time spent with some of Myles family, we are ready to leave Manitoba and drive east in search of some much needed lake time.
So, it may have taken us a month and a half but we finally left British Columbia. I’ve always heard people say that we are living in the most beautiful place in the world but having travelled very little of British Columbia, let alone Canada I never quite realized how amazing it truly is. It’s sad really, I realized that I have travelled other countries and know them even more intimately than I know my own. For those who haven’t been to British Columbia – go! For those who live there, go outside and explore your backyard. It really is incredible, my highlights were the Kootenays specifically from Midway to Nelson and Vancouver island, specifically the beautiful drive from Nanaimo to Tofino.
Driving towards the Rockies my excitement only magnified. The beautiful waterfalls and all the tall mountains to explore – for an adventure lover, it’s paradise! For a van, it’s not!
Luckily Gurt held up strong, only started throwing a bit of a tantrum waiting for all the traffic in lake Louise (stop and go traffic for 3 km up a mountain). Lake Louise, in my very introverted opinion, is a gorgeously blue lake surrounded by beautiful scenery but not worthy of the hour and a half wait to park your car and the hundreds of other tourists who were there and cramming to take their selfies. In my opinion, the Rockies offer so much more absolutely breathtaking places than just this one sought after spot.
Our descent from the Rockies quickly brought us to Calgary, a place we quickly drove through but Myles and I tend to shy away from big cities so without much of a detour we continued to the badlands. Leaving Calgary, instantly all the lush green forests and tall mountains were a faded memory as we without warning were into the farmlands. Not the 10 acre farms I’m used to on the west coast, I’m talking 300 acres of wheat.
Myles, with his attention span, got bored in about 5 seconds flat. Me on the other hand, I felt like I could fly. How beautiful, all the slight rolling hills and the beautiful different shades of green. Yes, you feel like you are barely moving when you’re actually near flooring your vehicle (we even hit speeds of 100km/hr, a record for our girl!). Any feelings of claustrophobia I’ve ever had were gone! All I could think of was taking my shoes off and running through the fields! All of a sudden, I could see nothing, the sky continued but it literally looked like the end of the world, with no more land in site. As you approach you see this sunken city, we have hit drumheller.
This absolutely gorgeous prehistoric town build into the most beautiful layered rock is sure to bring the child out in you. We b-lined it straight to the Royal Tyrell Museum to let our nerd side shine as we read all about these ancient creatures. I expected drumheller to look like a Dino town with big plastic “life sized” Dino figurines and only really went because Myles was excited. But again Myles was right, the whole town exceeded my expectations. I found myself running up the sides of mountains (more like hills) looking at the different layers. The hoodoos were absolutely amazing for what they are, these natural little wonders made from the sand and rock.
The formations were gorgeous but the sight was very touristy with metal staircases everywhere and hundreds of tourists everywhere. While it may not be so photogenic, as it is almost impossible to not get people in your photo, it’s a beautiful sight when you look past all the modern touristy details.
As we do every morning, we woke up the next day, made our coffee and unfolded our map. We both decided that we had an urge to drive east. So, we folded our map, filled up our gas and hit the road, let’s see where this takes us…
Everyone knows that common American Dream of driving to an airport, looking at the screen that says all the different flights going out and blindly choosing one. Movies have been made about
running into the unknown with no responsibilities and disappearing. However, I believe that only a very few amount of people could actually get to the boarding time, let alone actually purchasing the ticket without panicking.
“I have no luggage, no plans, no hotel, what is my boss going to say – and my husband, I haven’t done any research, I don’t even speak the language.”
I believe this common fantasy is more like a not very well thought out fairy tale for most. However, I can confidently say that it is close to what #vanlife is like, for us anyway. It could be because we are still new to vanlife, having only been at it for just over a month now, or it could be that this is how most people feel about it. But I hardly ever know what town I will sleep in that night when I wake up in the morning. It may be our disorganization and excited (and arguably not very well thought out) planning but there has been more than a handful of times where I will be up getting lost in the mountains somewhere and will look at Myles and say “what city are we in right now again?” One amazing evening talking to some new friends over a fire we received advice to head towards the Rockies. That is all it took for Myles and I to jump on a late night ferry off the island and speed (ha!) to go see this beautiful unknown land. Clearly we are not the most patient of people as the Rockies have been standing for quite some time and will remain for much longer. We just wanted to go, and for us that’s enough of a motivation as any.
I’m sure we will have to eventually become more organized. We will have to stop zig-zagging our way across for this trip, but for now we are testing the boundaries of freedom this lifestyle offers. And so far we haven’t found many boundaries. We are now eating right, having learned that this is the most important thing because in an area as tight as ours. There’s little room for the hangry green monsters that sometimes come out. With only food, gas and dog food as expenses Myles and I feel free to do whatever we want. This lifestyle does not have bells and whistles. You have to for one be pretty comfortable with yourself as changing in public will become a common occurrence. Brushing your teeth at the beach is a thing; going into McDonald’s to refill your water bottles when you’re driving through cities will become a norm.
Pro tip: Myles and I bought gym passes to a anytime fitness – a gym that’s open anytime of day and located all over North America. This means we can use their showers, refill our water, go to the bathroom, steal some WiFi etc all along the way without having to pay each time.
But if you can handle all that prepare for an unbelievable amount of freedom. I truly didn’t know this level of freedom existed. The way I think has changed, the options I have in life seemed to have opened up tremendously, our relationship with each other and with ourselves has gotten so much stronger – and we are less than two month in!
Myles and I consider ourselves pretty worldly, for our age at least. We have both explored different corners of the world, but we both agree that Vancouver island is unlike anywhere either of us has ever been. Perhaps it’s the expensive ferry ride to get here or the incredible charm of Victoria that makes people not want to explore further, but we have found ourselves in the clearest of waters and the most incredible of beaches without a single other soul in sight – and we are traveling in August, what should be peak season.
On our drive from Nanaimo to Tofino I tactfully convinced Myles to pull over at a rest stop along the way so we could nap. What I didn’t expect was Myles to come running back to me before my head could even hit the pillow and tell me to follow him. What he found literally steps away from the rest stop was a little lagoon filled with the clearest water either of us had ever seen. Fully equipped with a rope swing and lots of rocks for cliff jumping, the only thing that was missing was the hundreds of other people that would have been sitting there as well. Maybe we just come from a big city but I couldn’t help but feel like Vancouver Island was this absolutely gorgeous unexplored tropical island with lush rainforest and some of the most beautiful sights that was yet to be discovered by anyone else. If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of the places we’ve found, all without another soul in sight:
Spoke Potholes, Sooke, BC
Holland park trail, Duncan, BC
CY Hampson park, Saanich, BC
Taylor river, Port Alberni, BC
East Sooke, BC The funny thing about it is, we have been told by most of the locals that the northern part of the island is much more remote than the southern and central parts that we have already explored, as wild as that seems. Who knows what’s yet to be explored, one thing we do know is always have a camera close by!
Myles and my relationship is far from a fairytale. We put two big personalities into one relationship and when you add three independent mutts, life can get a little chaotic. Now putting that chaos into 80 sq ft… Kinda crazy. The way we looked at it was that it would be the best or worst thing we’ve ever done. What we’ve found is that we still argue, but now it’s about amazing things like what city or mountain to explore. Our most current battle being Myles wants to go explore caves while I want to go scuba diving.
One of these arguments was about coming to Vancouver Island. I didn’t want to come, thinking it would be much like Vancouver, and the idea of a cold and wet climate really didn’t appeal to me. But what we’ve found is that it is nothing like Vancouver, the best difference being that dogs are more widely accepted along here. The roads are more forgiving so Gurt even enjoys it more.
Our quirky little family finds itself more at home in the woods than in cities and the Island has proved to be a perfect place for that. We have found that it is easy to feel a million miles away even when you are in a “big” city. It may be luck, but we have found that wherever we go you are only a small hike, or drive, away from finding your own secluded little hideaway.
Everyone we have met has been completely supportive and has understood our motivation without need of explanation. We have even found a place where we can go both scuba diving and cave exploring. Alright Myles, you win this one!
There are many things that we are excited about for this trip. We are trying to balance not having any expectations while being dreamers finally living OUR way and naturally getting so excited. We know that it will be hard, we are fully expecting lots of tears, some fears, a decent amount of boredom and our fair share of arguments. But we are also dreaming of all the mountains we get to climb, all the hidden waterfalls we get to swim in, all the many faces we get to meet along the way and we can’t help but get excited. We have thought a lot about what kinds of things we want to accomplish in a more personal growth kind of way – flexibility, healthy diet, promoting our beliefs, etc. The one thing we can never stop smiling about is the thought that we have all the time in the world to do anything we can dream of. Our wondering minds have no boundaries. We can write books, go to school, take up art, learn how to play guitar, anything we want. The saying “the world is your oyster” has never seemed so fitting. It’s a big responsibility, the utter freedom, but one thing we can both agree on is the comfort of having our home with us. No hotel rooms, never having to go home at night but to instead always be home and have that familiarity. To never have to leave your loved ones and your belongings, but rather carry all that’s important with you. There is a possibility that this all may fail, that we may come home after a week wondering what we were thinking. But just imagine, what if this is the best thing we’ve ever done.
Patience is a virtue, one that I unfortunately don’t possess. Only a short twenty seven days until we leave and to say that we are excited would be an understatement. One of the most beautiful things about switching to this lifestyle is the lack of certainty, the profound unknown. The only thing we know, is that we don’t know anything. There is somethings so raw and vulnerable about realizing that your whole world is about to be completely turned around. We would no longer be able to buy in bulk, we would no longer have an oven to use, counter space was going to become virtually inexistent, even showering will become an unplanned but I’m sure very welcomed privilege. We will have to have jerry cans full of gas, and be prepared to eat a lot of no name noodles (yes, even kimchi will become an unaffordable luxury item). We have searched hard on Instagram and Twitter and have seen lots of families take to a simpler van life but we haven’t found anyone who has three furry children along for the ride.
That, for us, is both an incredible excitement while admittedly being an additional obstacle. In an attempt to truly do this 70s inspired lifestyle, we have decided to ditch our Google maps and gps and plan this entire trip as little as possible. With nothing more than the signs on the road, a paper map, and the input from all our amazing friends, like you!
We plan to star the spots on the map that we consider our must sees – and find roads and trails along the way to take us there. We want to see a few cities but stick mostly rural – the more hot springs and hidden beaches, the better! This last week has had many ups and downs that come with completely overhauling your life but we both can’t believe how happy we are that we are actually starting our fairytale life, running away to live in the mountains. Now comes the hard part… The waiting game!!
Are you a fellow #vanlifer or adventurer that knows some great spots in North America? Please comment and let us know some of your must see places and help us build our maps✌️
What would you do if you won the lottery? What would your life look like if money wasn’t a concern? These are things we all day dream about and ask ourselves. Would you buy a mansion? Buy a nice car? Quit your job? Our answer, travel! We have both traveled a bit, but with 3 dogs a jeep payment and careers we were horrified with the realization that our dreams of travel would have to be fulfilled with a mere 2 weeks a year that our vacation time allowed along with the odd long weekend.
That is not enough time to submerge yourself in a new culture, to get lost and see it all, to both relax and see all of the sights. So going on a vacation that we can bring our dogs on and go at our own pace seemed like the best way to spend our life. So, we are taking the leap! Committing to do what in our minds seems so natural, yet in our circle is unheard of. “You’re crazy”, “that’s not how life works”, “you need to work and buy a house”, we had a steady flow of doubt and loving ’bouts of reality’ from family and friends. Understandable, after all this concept of off-grid living wasn’t common amongst our loved ones and we were the first of our friends and family to really question the “get a career, get married, buy a house and have kids” lifestyle. What we have been told our whole lives, since elementary school.
We were told we are trying to be hippies in a world that can no longer handle them, it isn’t safe, it’s too expensive, there are too many laws against them. None of this was going to stop us. We have completely romanticized the idea of selling everything that doesn’t fit into our 32 year old van and hoping it will hold up long enough to take us up mountains and through forests to find the great wonders lying in our own backyard. (Although saying it, or rather writing it, does sound kind of crazy!) Luckily for us, we have a whole Instagram world that’s saying this is an actual possibility, and with that we pray they are right.