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 increase 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!
To our friends and family and all our readers we greatly apologize for the lack of communication from us since our departure. This trip has been a roller coaster. Incredible highs met with unexpected lows. Vanlife, for us, was a way to disconnect; to completely unplug from our everyday lives and focus on our priorities, our little family.
When leaving we had a naïve excitement for what’s to come. A blissful work free, stress free easy lifestyle. We knew there was going to be an adjustment period but we thought mostly of the bright early wake ups and tripping over each other with the lack of space. What we actually found was something greatly unexpected and something that I believe we had to learn along the way.
For us, we began our second attempt at vanlife northbound up the coast of British Colombia where we visited all the major tourist attractions in Squamish, Whistler, and Lillooet (if you haven’t already done so, add the drive from Pemberton to Lillooet to your bucket list – a steep climb up a mountain rewards you with unbelievable views and many places to stop and relax) in an effort to get to our main destination: Kamloops. I wanted to visit some amazing friends of mine to say goodbye before departing into the great unknown. Only what we didn’t realize at the time was that we were already on our trip. Always living for the future is a hard concept to shake. Always having a destination was something drilled into us, it was unexpected and even while on our trip we didn’t realize we were still living by.
After spending two nights in Kamloops we had our next destination in mind, to go visit Myles grandmother and family in Vernon. Myles passport was lost so we were forced to spend almost a week of our trip in Vernon. Luckily, we met with both of our families to visit vineyards and help us pass the time. While we were oh so impatiently waiting for his passport to arrive we had the time to have one of our infamous worldly discussions where hours pass by unknowingly and we discuss every dream and worry we have.
We realized that silently we were both having the same doubts and concerns about our trip thus far. We were rushing through towns in an effort to find our next destination, we were not set up in the van how we wanted to be (completely over packed) and we didn’t actually believe we were on our trip; This meant we were not doing it how we wanted.
We were surprised however how much space we truly had, not once had we tripped over each other. In one afternoon we cleaned out our entire van (cutting what we had currently packed by about half). After (finally) getting Myles’ passport, and doing some much needed maintenance on the van (including a fuel pump and fixing our water pump), we were on our way with new eyes and hearts full of hope.
We set sail Southbound to Osoyoos stopping at local fruit stands and always finding time to jump in the unbelievable lakes, even in a storm. We learned a few things: cleaning was a constant and important task in such small quarters; opening up our blinds helped to make everything feel much bigger and brighter; and most importantly to never forget about the excitement of what we were doing. With having no more places to stop, nowhere to be, we continue with a little experience and a ton of anticipation. How vanlife should be lived.
We promise to write more often now that we have our life in order 🙂
After six long weeks, we finally have her back. Our new soon-to-be home on wheels, back from the repair shop. With only a week left until we leave, we were incredibly eager for her return and our excellent mechanic was just about ready to have two new employees in us. We purchased Gurt for such a great price we decided to put in some extra money to make her as reliable as an 1984 vehicle can be. With a newly rebuilt engine, we are the most excited we’ve been.
Being able to finally start cramming our possessions into every nook and cranny, testing our new solar panel (yeah! we got one, thanks to Samara’s family), this is feeling real.
As you could probably tell we’ve spent the last few weeks taking turns panicking about this trip. Luckily, we never seemed to panic at the same time and always found the voice of reason. We won’t be able to sell all of our stuff, what if we don’t get our van left, do people really do this, holy crap we just sold all our stuff, holy crap WE are really doing this. In the last few days, pieces have been falling into place. Our stuff has been selling, we got our van back, and we have people lined up to show Relish to (our second Westy).
This has been a whirlwind project that is finally coming to fruition. Life was either going to get harder and push us to rethink our plan or reassure us. Thankfully it was the latter. Now there are just small things to do like sell two cars, clean our two-bedroom suite, pack our life into our van and start our journey (can you sense the sarcasm).
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✌️