Our first day on the road was full of thousands of emotions. At night time, we couldn’t wait to sleep. We took an exit on the highway, drove down the street and almost instantly
found a small dirt road to pull off and rest our heads. Five months later we have slept everywhere from beside hot springs and the ocean, in the forest, Walmart parking lots, to residential streets. Surprisingly, sleeping anywhere and everywhere has been one of the easiest transitions for us. With only paying for three nights in over five months, we quickly learned we can fall asleep just about anywhere. That is something very important with this lifestyle. While, obviously, we prefer the nights where we wake up with an amazing view in reality that isn’t always the way it happens.
Our previous life seems father away than ever. And yet, we are still learning how to live our new one. It has been five months since setting
out on the open road and we can honestly say that it hasn’t at all been what we expected. We tried not to have any expectations, but you can’t really get away from them all together, can you? Literally every aspect has changed in our life down to how we brush our teeth and the kind of coffee we drink in the morning. Having what is quite possibly the worlds smallest fridge has even made the way we buy food change. While we are still learning the best ways to do things, we are happy to say that for the most part, we are loving it. Don’t get me wrong, five of us in a van poses a challenge, but we have learned that this challenge is only really present when we are in cities.
Vanlife: A messy, claustrophobic and absolutely wonderful way of life.
After spending almost a week
playing in the cool white sand of the ever-moody Pacific North West our spirits were lifted and our colds were persistent. Myles and I can’t seem to get enough of the beach. Salt or fresh water, 40 degrees or 10, you can always find us at the beach playing like children in the sand. In our Vancouver beaches, we have the protection of Vancouver Island that breaks our waves and makes it so that our coastlines have much more swimmable beaches with less
The sheer force of the ocean here was probably the only thing keeping us out of the water. Well, that and all of the signs saying “people have died here, stay out of the water”. Still, our days were spent with bare feet chasing the tide as it went out and then turning around to run away from the crashing wave coming towards us. With sandy feet and salty hair, we decided that it was probably time to be better adults and take care of our nagging coughs. Without any intention to leave the beach-side, we thought the responsible thing to do would be to at least go to where its warm out; give our bodies a fighting chance. So, we packed our pups begrudgingly back into the van and headed South.
After an intense love affair with Colorado (for anyone who hasn’t gone, go and allow yourself at least double the time you intend to stay there, it is AMAZING), Myles and I headed north toward Wyoming. We were told by quite a few people that Wyoming was home to some of the most beautiful and ever changing scenery. After crossing the border and instantly finding some hot springs, a new found favourite activity of ours, we were very happy to be there.
After driving through Wyoming we stumbled upon this lonely Syncro wasting away. Our undying love for these vans got the better of us and less than twenty four hours later we found ourselves with the keys in our hands and a forty-eight hour permit to leave the country.
When we started this trip we had an idea of what it was going to be like. As much as we tried to do this without expectation and without any planning, nature set in and we couldn’t help but dream about our freedom. But, as always, reality is different. When we started this life, we were much like children at recess, running in circles basking in our new found freedom. We are now more like children after school – still running around hyped on sugar, but we know we have a little more time than the 15 minutes now.
In two months of Vanlife we have only paid to sleep once (I am writing this from an air-conditioned room in Saint Catharines, Ontario). We have slept everywhere from the mountains outside Lillooet to a department store’s parking lot in Wisconsin.
Six months ago Myles and I were sitting in our basement suite both injured and both extremely unhappy. Our injuries, although very different from one another, left us feeling in very similar ways. We were too young to feel like this, we felt bed ridden. Blinded with self pity we hardly ventured outside, we barely did anything. With no plans for a future, we certainly didn’t think anything positive.
In the past two months, we have traveled across five provinces and driven through eight states. Seen everything from frogs and vultures to bear cubs and elk, climbed up mountains, swam in lakes and got lost in the forests (more times than we care to admit). We’ve been euphoric, humbled, even scared. We have stopped in the most incredible cities, and some we wish we didn’t (a wrong turn just before getting into Colorado combined with a car that wouldn’t run turned a lot of heads and left us more than a little nervous). We’ve broken Gurt, and then fixed her more times than we can count.
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…