Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Joy of Being Small

When I was a young boy, my asthma medication stunted my growth, and the other kids called me "shorty". There are worse nicknames than that, of course, but not when you're ten or eleven and wishing you could just grow up already. I finally did, along with all the other boys, but that stigma of being smaller than most others stayed with me. What was so wrong or embarrassing about being small?

When you're little, it's easier to get pushed around. There's always a bully around the corner, but hardly ever a bodyguard in your path. When you're shorter, you get picked last on the playground team, but always first to get picked on when you make a mistake. And, when you're small, you're always running to keep up with the others, and almost always the first to be left behind. Just like the Tom Hanks movie from long ago, when you're small, you wish you were big.

Most adults, later in life, are happy to be taller, bigger, stronger. They don't have to climb counter tops to reach the cookie jar anymore. They don't have to piggy back someone's shoulders to see over the fence. They don't have to worry about playing sports, reaching the gas pedal, or being high enough to ride that ride at the country fair. Of course, not everyone wants to stand out; they are more than ready to simply blend in and immerse themselves in a much larger world.

Years ago, I watched an old black and white science fiction movie, the kind that always came before the main feature at the drive in. It was called The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), the story of a man who begins to shrink after being exposed to a strange mist hovering over his boat. Soon he becomes small enough to live in a dollhouse; later, he is trapped in a cellar and must fight off a spider with a sewing needle. He continues to shrink until finally he is smaller than a blade of grass and, without fear, he crawls through a wire mesh and faces his new world with new curiosity and bravery. He begins to see with new eyes into a horizon that, until then, he had never noticed.

Like the hero of that old movie, I began to shrink about a year ago, when Chantal and I took to the road on our RV journey. All of a sudden, the roads multiplied, expanded, and went off into infinity. The towns and cities and people we saw along the way also multiplied, expanded, and seemed endless. The stories we heard, the lessons we learned, and the research we did also seemed endless. And, at the same time, our living space also shrank. We now had four tiny rooms pressed together. We had less food to cook, less food to store, and less food to buy. We had fewer things to clutter our way, fewer distractions to pull us away, and fewer items to clutter our plate.

I became even smaller as we explored through parts of America that once thought was never possible. Route 1 to Key West, Florida; the mammoth underground caves of northern Kentucky; the expanding farmlands of Amish Pennsylvania; and, the endless Chihuahuan Desert landscapes of lower New Mexico. I felt like a fly on the wall at White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns and the vast Apache National Forest, and yet nothing prepared me for what I was about to see in Arizona.

The Meteor Crater

I first saw this giant hole at the end of John Carpenter's Starman (1984), where Jeff Bridges is rescued in the nick of time by his alien comrades. The production did so much damage that the caretakers of the site refused to allow any more movies to be shot there. The crater itself is a sight to behold, and makes you wonder about the sheer size of the meteor that struck the area about fifty thousand years ago, at a rough speed of twenty six thousand miles per second. Even more staggering to consider, this crater site still leaves meteor fragments to be found, carbon dated to be about two billion years old. Still more incredible to believe is that this site is a mere fraction of the meteor that struck along the Gulf of Mexico about seventy million years ago, an extinction level event that ended the era of the great dinosaurs. After taking all that in, I could not help but feel very small.

The Petrified Forest National Park

No panoramic angle can ever hope to capture the breathtaking beauty of this often overlooked natural wonder. Wherever you stand, you see for many miles, and marvel at the diverse rock and wood formations that have been sitting for uncounted millions of years. Many parts of this preserve could pass for a Martian landscape, and every view challenges your senses and inspires the imagination. It would be quite something to become lost in the Painted Desert, or among the thousands of petrified logs, or even in the assorted protruding buttes, and many hikers have done exactly that, gripped by the silent stillness, completely alone with their soul searching journey.

The Grand Canyon

Everyone has a bucket list, and most have the Grand Canyon listed on it. But why? To take a bunch of selfies and being able to say "been there, done that"? To add to your souvenir collection and grab stocking stuffers for the holidays? To make a photo album for the grandkids?

You cannot take a bad photo at the Grand Canyon. But it is not enough to simply shoot and upload; you must download yourself into it. The Canyon got its name from American explorer John Wesley Powell in the mid 1800s, but native tribes dating back four thousand years refer to it as a holy place. This 277 mile long rugged landscape dates back even further; some of the older rocks at the bottom have been tagged as almost two billion years old. This immense chasm dares you to enter it at every turn; some of the best world hikers have described it as the ultimate walk. The air is thinner up here, at over 7000 feet, and the terrain is merciless. At the bottom, the mighty Colorado River teases you to ride through its twisting turns and rapids. To be one with nature here is to truly be small. The Canyon can and will swallow you up, and when you return from its depths, you are forever changed.

The Wupatki Sunset Crater Volcano

Surrounded by the Coconino National Forest (another dense otherworldly wilderness ready to take you), this hidden treasure outside of Flagstaff is a mountainous terrain covered by black petrified lava, and I was made even smaller by knowing that the Grand Canyon is just one of many vast landscapes waiting to be discovered and embraced. Painted by a volcano eruption a thousand years ago, the Sunset Crater and surrounding hills carve through 37 miles of scarred forest landscape, creating a view unlike any other. As I walked through this breathtaking wooded maze of frozen lava flow and the proud, upright pine trees that remained, I was again reminded of the power of nature and the insignificance of human footprints.

The Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff

After seeing the Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, and a Volcano landscape, what more could make me feel even smaller? A seminar at the Lowell Observatory about stars and galaxies. Hosted by an undergrad dressed in pyjamas and a toque and looking like a cross between Sheldon and Bernadette from A Big Bang Theory, the classroom discussion introduced us to the expanding universe and clearly defined, once and for all, just how small I - and everyone else - truly are. Through various telescopes around the campus, we were shown the Vega star, a cloud nebula (a dying star), and even the "nearby" Andromeda galaxy, which was later explained to us will collide with our own Milky Way galaxy in roughly 4 billion years. The undergrad host, Ashlynn, closed her discussion by reminding us just how little and insignificant we all are compared to the infinite realm of the known universe, not to mention the rest of the universe which is still unreachable by us. The class briefly brought me back to my college days, when the world seemed so much bigger than it became years later.

Now, as an RVer, I have been given a chance to be small again, so small that every step I take now feels like the first step into a new universe. As we left the Observatory and the giant Clark Telescope and the earth shattering presentation on the expanding universe, we drove down the winding driveway and slowed as we reached a lookout point, where many vehicles were parked. We looked out and saw the twinkling stars meshing with the soft, glowing low pressure sodium lamps of the skyline of Flagstaff (a designated Dark Sky community). High above us, the Milky Way was proudly smeared across the darkness, and I knew that I had finally shrunk to the size of a blade of grass.

We are, in fact, microscopic, in the grand scheme of things, whatever that scheme may be. And it's okay to be small in it. More than that; it is reassuring, and a blessing.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

How We Keep Our Campround Costs Low

For a lot of people, camping seems to be expensive. And it is true that in some cases, there are a lot of costs associated with camping. Some upscale resorts (yes, there are RV resorts) will only allow certain types of vehicles no older than a certain number of years. They charge $100++ per night for a leveled pad facing the water, complete with outdoor fireplace, campfire ring, patio furniture and private BBQ. Some people might require the most upscale locations, situated conveniently next door to the attraction they want to visit. Some might want the all inclusive type of resort, complete with hot tub and spas, next to the golf course.

For us, this seems excessive and unnecessary, since we spend most of our days either doing chores (laundry, groceries, oil changes, home improvements, repairs, bills to pay, etc) or exploring for the day (which is 100% better than chores!). We would rather spend less and be away from the major attractions, but still able to visit them by driving an extra 25 miles for it. You can spend a lot more for convenience, not only for your sticks & bricks, but also for your RV!

Our free campsite near a Carlsbad, NM attraction
November Campground Fees *

Our campground fees were at $616 CDN. That is $21 CDN per night. When you consider that a cheap motel is at least twice that, paying $20 a night to have my own kitchen, shower and toilet is priceless. A motel location will usually be pretty noisy, while our home on wheels is usually in quieter locations and with a view. And if we don't like it, we can just pack it up and move.

Campground Memberships

We prepaid for a few camping memberships. We renewed our Passport America membership in November since we seem to use it more than we thought. It allows us to pay half price on the participating campgrounds. Most of the States (and also in Canada) have at least 20 campgrounds listed, ranging from posh to meh. We stay at these when it makes sense (we won't go out of our way) and if the online reviews are good. We paid that membership in November and have used it already (the hot springs resort - nice bonus!). The cost of that membership is 45 USD per year and it has paid for itself already many times over. 

Happy campers at the pool - Passport America campground in Tampa, FL (Feb 2017)

The other membership we purchased before leaving for the States is a camping pass with a company called Thousand Trails. We used it last year for the East coast and the cost of the membership was spread over 53 nights, which means 56 USD per month. The more you stay, the better it is obviously. This year again, we paid upfront 600 USD for the West coast. We will only be able to use it once we reach California and all the way up towards Canada (they have locations through the coastline). We figure that we need to stay a total of 55 nights to say it was worth having.

We also have a KOA membership (that we received free the first year when we purchased our RV; it renewed automatically for the second year and we haven't paid for it...). The membership is 30 USD per year. You get 10% discount on their rates with your card and you also accumulate points that you can redeem towards your future stays.
For example: we get 10% off the nightly rate and a 50$ discount (from points accumulated) for our 4-night stay at the KOA Grand Canyon, which brings the cost to $25/night all inclusive to stay close to one of the most popular attraction in the Southwest, use our kitchen & bathroom and be in our own bed at night. Can't complain about that!
This year, we also jumped aboard the Escapees/XScapers program. For 40 USD per year, we can get discounts at a lot of RV parks and also special prices at their private parks. For example, we were able to stay a week for $50 + electrical at their Ranch location in New Mexico. That's pretty hard to beat and we also met a community of truly wonderful people. We will also be attending their annual Xscapers Convergence in Quartzsite, AZ in January. It will be nice to meet other non-retirees who still have to work!

Our SKP Ranch site - Best campground community! 
There are many others campground memberships that gives you discounts, free stays or prepaid campgrounds fees for the year. We have a few others, such as Harvest Hosts, Explorer RV Club, Good Sam and so on. These are for another post, since I have babbled long enough already!

On a final note, when we visited the Carlsbad Caverns, we purchased a pass called "America The Beautiful". This pass costs 80 USD and good for one year. The pass gives you free entrance to national parks, as well as national monuments and other federal locations where you pay a per person or per car fee. Once we enter the Grand Canyon, the pass will have paid for itself in less than a month. Anyone who plans on spending a winter RVing through the Southwest should get this pass!

* All these annual fees are included in our monthly expenses for campgrounds.

Thank you for reading,


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Camping, Unplugged

A week or so ago, we were at a free camping site. We wanted to explore the local attraction but didn't want to spend money on a campsite when we would be there only for dinner and sleep. 

We spent 2 nights watching the stars, playing cards, cooking simple meals, visiting the local caverns and enjoyed the silence. We had no TV, no microwave, no electric space heater. Our RV batteries operated lights, furnace and water pump, while our propane tanks ensured we could cook, keep our fridge cold and our hot water heater operating.

(click pictures to enlarge)
The Carlsbad Caverns Entrance (doubles as the exit for the million of bats, hence the seating area seen here)

I got up early to position the solar panel for the first ray of light. That would recharge the batteries for the day. I boiled water, in a pot, for our coffee. No coffee maker this morning. But, I ain't going without coffee. The Aeropress has been a blessing! I took my cup of coffee outside to make sure the panels were doing okay (I am a bit obsessive about solar panels). Walked around the field, back inside to start the Buddy Heater (yes, we are safe while operating propane apparels indoors). Time to wake up Rob so we can get started on our day of exploration. Came back later that afternoon to full batteries and a warm RV, thanks to the sun.

We had a great evening, complete with a camp fire and star gazing. Before heading in for the night, I positioned our solar panel eastward and prepped the coffee corner for the next morning.

Our free spot, complete with unobstructed sunrise views. We just don't do sunsets here!

Needless to say, we slept well in the silence of our empty corner of New Mexico.

But why would we want to do that? Isn't it easier just to go in an RV park and plug in? Yes, an RV park - or any park that has sites with water and electric (like state parks) - does come in convenient most often than not.

For example, even though we are Canadians, we had a Thanksgiving dinner. We had to find a place with electrical hookups. We're cooking turkey, mashed potatoes, green veggies, stuffing, etc. Having electricity sure makes it a lot easier. Turkey goes in slow cooker, potatoes on the electric element, stuffing in toaster oven, and gravy on the stove top. Open up a tasty bottle of white wine and we're happy campers! (sorry, no pictures of the turkey dinner)

Also, an RV park (and on occasion state parks) will have laundry, wifi and/or cable. Yeah sometimes we like to indulge in a bit of TV or YouTube binge watching! And not having to drag our laundry to the town's laundromat is quite convenient.

But we haven't left the comforts of a home/neighborhood, where everything is at our fingertips, to live in an RV like we would in a home.

No. We like to challenge ourselves. *

We love learning about water management, electricity limitations, best angles for our solar panels to capture a maximum of light, how to take an efficient shower to conserve both water and battery, etc.

We had no power to our wall outlets for 2 days, but we read, played cards, hiked, watched the sunset and the sunrise. You tend to not do these things when plugged in an RV park. Also, watching the sunset over your neighbor's awning is not very scenic nor romantic.

We will gladly save the $25-$40 a night in a crowded RV park to find ourselves occasionally camping with no amenities in the middle of nowhere, far away from our closest neighbor, where we can observe the sunset, watch the cows grazing by in the distance and enjoy a campfire.

When we started doing research and following all these other bloggers online, this is what attracted us to boondocking/dry camping in the middle of nowhere. And it is what keeps us coming back to it.

* Note: while we love boondocking/camping with no amenities, we did buy a generator that would allow us to use a microwave and watch TV if we wanted/had too. However, we view the generator as an emergency tool in case we don't get solar for a few days and need to recharge the batteries in order to avoid damaging them.

~~~ *** ~~~ 

Do you have questions about our lifestyle, or certain aspects of RVing? Please use the comment box below and ask us! If we get a couple of questions, we will answer them by video!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Back in America

Part I: Planes, Trains and Dressed Up Trailers

Our second adventure as RV travelers meant cutting across America as fast as we could. With the colder weather hot on our heels, we spent a week near Milton, Ontario, planning our next route which would ultimately lead us to "promised land" of Quartzite, Arizona. This time, we were armed with extra tools for the journey: a bright yellow Champion 2000 generator with a built-in inverter, perfect for emergency power needs during boondocking; a plastic hanging solar shower, with bag and hook to hang out in the sun to heat up water in the powerless desert; and, upgraded golf cart batteries more suited for charging from solar panels.

This time, we truly felt like rugged frontiersmen, bold adventurers eager to conquer the wild west, ready for whatever lay ahead. Our route would take us through Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, before reaching Tulsa, Oklahoma, at which point our dry camping experiences would begin. After that, Amarillo, Texas, awaited us, followed by various stops in New Mexico, Arizona, and, of course, California. In these various terrains we planned on discovering the rocky and dusty wildernesses of the desert landscapes in our path.

Michigan: the Great Lake State awaited us, but we almost didn't make it across the border. The officer asked us funny questions and clearly didn't like our answers, pulling us over to Agriculture for inspection. They took away a few pieces of wood with bark, but didn't care about our apples or potatoes or frozen broccoli. After close to an hour, they let us go. We drove through Detroit on Interstate 94 to I-75 South to Monroe, not far from the Ohio border, where we stayed at Harbortown RV Park, a well run marine-themed campground complete with all the amenities. But it didn't stop raining even once while we were in the state, so we stayed indoors and listened to the trains going by and contented ourselves with the movie Real Genius, a classic eighties comedy with Val Kilmer, and enjoyed the best version of Mexican Rice ever for dinner (thanks Mike and Sandy for the recipe!). We also visited my Aunt Irene in Dearborn, where she treated us to lunch and dinner the same day, while we chatted at length about travelling across America.

Indiana, the Hoosier State, was our next stop, where we camped at Mounds State Park, northeast of Indianapolis, just off of Interstate 69. Along the way, were were reunited with the things we love to see on American highways: billboards with lawyers' ads, beautifully spaced homes with wooden porches and screen doors; and lots of tempting roadside restaurants. We passed the small town of Casey, Indiana, home of the world's largest wind chime, the world's largest mailbox, and the world's largest golf tee and rocking chair, to name a few. The leaves had already fallen at our park, and were being pushed aside by staff with wind blowers.

The park office was fitted like a nature museum, complete with bird sanctuary and speakers in the observation room to listen to all the squawking near the feeders outside. There were many other RV campers already on our loop, and the locals here loved to decorate for Halloween a week early, their rigs decked out with cardboard cemeteries and hanging ghosts. There were trains nearby, and even a small airport and flying school next to us. We picked up some gas for the truck and were finally reunited with our favorite beer: Yeungling draft, from Pennsylvania (it had been a long six months). The trails were winding and fitted with boardwalks snaking through quiet forests, and we rested well here, our first quiet campground since Lawson back in Ontario.

Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, was next, as we took I-70 through St Louis, taking pictures along the way of the Gateway Arch, the famed entry point of the American West. We drove past a few quaint small towns, including Effingham and Vandalia, further reminding us that there were so many places to visit, yet so little time. We stayed at a place called Timber Trails Campground, just outside the very small, almost ghost town of Mulberry Grove, population 700. The park was almost forty years old, and the main office was covered floor to ceiling with family photos. We stayed two nights as the weather became cold enough to freeze the water pedestals. We consoled ourselves with hot chocolate and smores over a campfire. On really cold days it sometimes takes all day to maintain a good campfire, as we watched our neighbors go through a tall pile of wood in a matter of hours, huddled around their ring with coffee and jackets. Staying indoors at night, we watched another movie: E.T. (1982), a classic for Halloween week, and enjoyed slow cooker meatloaf, the world's best comfort food, along with cappuccino.

Missouri, the Show Me State, was next, and we had to keep going. Along the way, we found a fun radio station called KXMO Oldies, but were shocked to find out that Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was now considered an oldie. We drove along I-44 and, again, we passed through many interesting towns, including Cuba, Leasburg, and Springfield (there must be a Springfield in every state, I think). We also saw a very interesting road sign for a candy store and gift shop outside of the town of Uranus: "The Best Fudge Comes From Uranus." By this time we were on Historic Route 66, which goes from Chicago to Los Angeles, and Route 66 is well known for amazing little shops just like that.

Our first campground was called Onondaga State Park, which was once a giant amusement park one hundred years ago and hosted dance competitions back in the flapper days. Our camping host was a lady named Judy, who lived in a tiny trailer easily half the size of ours, yet seemed cozy with the custom painting on the exterior and the loyal dog waiting outside with its tail wagging. The park was filled with trails, and the sun came out just long enough to keep us warm while we walked through the forests. That night we had burgers and watched Mystery Men, a comedy about fake super heroes saving the day. There were no trains here, and state parks have very little night lights, so our campfire was extra dark and quiet and a bit spookier as Halloween approached, with a half moon above us, hiding behind passing grey clouds.

Along the way through Missouri, the Route 66 kept presenting itself, even at an interstate rest stop dedicated to the vintage shops and businesses of the era:

For Halloween we stayed at a KOA campground, further along I-44, eighty miles from the state line to Oklahoma. There were no kids to trick or treat us here on this cold night, so we enjoyed our own treats of chocolates and salted caramel lattes. The RV park here was all Route 66 themed, complete with a video history of the historic highway, and a laundry room decorated to the hilt with trinkets from the era. On this strange Halloween night, there were no decorations (few RVers use them), no handing out candy (too cold for most), just one more campfire with smores and settling down with the ultimate scary movie: Jaws (1975), although Chantal disagrees on that one.

Oklahoma now lies in our path, along with Amarillo, Albuquerque, and all the other stops awaiting on Route 66 and all the roads we have yet to discover. Every stop we have made has offered a little adventure to enjoy and remember, and we have never been more sure that getting there is just as special as being there. Chantal and I hope that your roads are just as exciting and fulfilling.

Thanks for reading, and happy travels!
Rob & Chantal

Friday, September 29, 2017

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Do you remember those long ago days as a kid when summer was winding down and school was right around the corner? The days seemed to get shorter and the weather seemed to get nicer, and it was all a cruel reminder that time marched on. One of the things I dreaded most back then was that inevitable essay waiting for me on that first day back in the classroom, where each one of us had to sweat out an adventure worth sharing with the others: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."

What was there to share in a small town with one general store and one main street and one muddy lake for swimming? I could have made up something really good, and hoped that the others simply for it: kidnapped by aliens, discovered by a Hollywood director, found a secret tunnel to a hidden civilization, that sort of thing. Instead, I just wrote about the quiet simple pleasures: riding a bike down narrow forgotten roads along the Rideau River; playing frisbee golf between all the old twisted oak trees in town; serving as altar boy to Father Manning at St Ann's Parish at the end of the street. And, of course, our annual August drive to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

This was the place my mother grew up loving herself. She told me over and over again that getting there was just half the fun. At first, I didn't believe her; but, later on, I began to appreciate the drive for all that it offered. As we drove through the Green Mountains of Vermont, she told me the count all the dark shadowy hillsides that rose up to scare her (I think she was just pretending). My dad told me to count all the American flags we passed (I lost count just before my first nap). I remember reading and drawing pictures and occasionally looking up to see if my parents had taken a wrong turn somewhere, because that was also part of the fun of getting there: getting lost. There was no GPS or Google apps to guide us back then, only outdated faded maps folded over and frayed one too many times and the differing memories of my parents disputing a right turn here and a left turn there. There were, of course, the usual stops: the gas station and McDonalds just past the Canadian border, along the way to Rouses Point, New York; the lunch break at White River Junction, near the Vermont/New Hamsphire border; and the grocery store near Exeter to pick up our food for the week. Staying at a cottage near the beach was our well earned reward for an arduous twelve hour journey in our run down 1975 Ford Torino with its loud engine and ugly rooftop rack that look like antlers holding my bike for the trip. All in all, it mattered that I remembered getting there as much as being there.

Thirty five years later, I have discovered that this is the life motto for the RV traveler, even though I had no idea such a life lesson way back then would prove so beneficial. And now, on this day, Chantal and I have completed our first year of "getting there", and are already working hard on our next year, which should prove more challenging and more ambitious. But, no matter where we go from here, we cannot forget where we have been, as our first year as taken us through two provinces and twenty states, before finally returning to Ontario to reboot and regroup.

Ontario, while still our home, held a different perspective for us as "mobile visitors". We came back to rest and to work and to reunite with loved ones, but we also came back to camp. For the first six weeks, we stayed in a variety of provincial parks and private RV campgrounds, from outside Windsor to just outside Toronto. We focused on earning money and visiting friends and playing a little tennis where and when we could. For the bulk of the summer we camped at a quiet secluded place called Lawson Family Campground, just outside the small town of Carlisle, north of Waterdown. It was there that we were able to settle and wait for the rain to pass (it finally did months later). We explored as we did in the United States, discovering small towns such as Kilbride, Flamborough and Leamington; we did the tourist thing, too, by visiting key places such as the Montrose Covered Bridge and the Crawford Lake Native Conservation Area; and we renewed our passion for great food, as Chantal finally got her sushi fix back, and I reunited with my favorite pub burger at our local hangout the Pump just outside Port Credit.

Aside from all the extras, the camping experience remained the same. Campfires were still campfires, with or without smores (mosty with); RV maintenance was still RV maintenance, forcing us to break camp and replace our batteries at our local dealer; and the peace and quiet was still very much that, providing an undisturbed stillness that is impossible not to embrace. We slept under a tree every night, and the birds woke us up each morning, and the mid morning rain gave us a soundtrack while we drank coffee under awning. We met other RVers, too, all with their own stories; many thanks to Don and his wife for all the magazines he left at our door. We did all the things we'd wanted to do: hike, take pictures, cook outside, enjoy a swim or two, and, of course, plan our next adventure.

Route planning is key to the success of any RV travel experience, an absolute must not only to ensure seeing what you want to see, but also knowing what you're willing to give up because it's too far or too expensive or simply not feasible. The RV adventure, like anything else in life, is about selection, and committing to those choices. It is also about the willingness to share space and to work through problems and to communicate at all times. The reward for all that? Being planted firmly and confidently in that driver's seat, ready to follow that road in search of simple pleasures.

Many thanks to all those who follow us down all the roads we have taken and have yet to take. We hope you enjoy the attached small video compilation of our camping stops so far.

Rob & Chantal

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Testing Our Boondocking Capabilities... at the Campground

Hey folks!

One thing is certain: we don't care for appearances! Up till recently, we were at a full hookups campground (water, electric and sewage) and... we unplugged, filled up our fresh water tank, took out the solar panel, turned on the water pump, the propane water heater and installed our solar shower bag out in the sun. No, don't worry, we weren't showering outside in the nude. I mean, really.... We're not *that* crazy! 😌

You see, we are testing our systems to make sure everything works. Our CaRavan is still under warranty until May 2018 and we'd be crazy not to use it to its full potential! During our first leg of our trip down the southeast, we were able to have warranty work done for free on 2 occasions. Can't beat that!

I am happy to report that the 2 new golf cart batteries are charging with solar but most importantly, are capable of holding their charge for much longer than the original 12V battery! Also, we kept the original battery and we have plans for that little guy. We charged it via solar and it works. So we are keeping an eye out for a deal on a 1000 watts pure sine inverter. Plugging this to the 12V battery will allow us to run the TV or the coffee maker. That way, we don't use our RV (house) batteries for non-critical stuff.

Wait.... am I saying that coffee is non-critical? Of course not. 😃 Those who know us know about our coffee addiction!! We have many ways to make coffee in the wild - including this Aeropress that we love. There's no way I am going without coffee. 😏

Also, we are happy that our water pump is working great (gotta love the water pressure of a water pump vs the campground water pressure!). Also working great is our propane water heater and our fridge on propane.

We are good to go off the grid whenever we find the occasion for it!

Friday, September 1, 2017

We Simplified Our Blog!

Welcome to our other blog platform. After a few months of working on the other blog, I (Chantal) grew a bit disappointed with the lack of customization with Wix.

We want our followers to be able to comment directly in a post. Here, you can. 😊

We want to be able to insert emoticons and images easily. Here, we can. 😊

We also want to be able to change our background, or the look of the blog, whenever we want. Here, we can. 😊

These simple tasks should be easy, right? Well, they were anything but easy in Wix. So from now on, you will be able to follow us here. I started this blog prior to our departure and somehow thought that Wix would look more "professional" *insert eye roll*.  The few posts that I wrote are grouped together on one page ( You can read them if you have a few hours to kill!

We encourage you to comment at the bottom of our posts. Everyone can do so! We are looking forward to more interaction with you. You don't need to create an account and it's very simple.

Also, please enter your email address up above, on the right side, so you can receive our new posts directly into your mailbox!  ↗↗↗

Thank you for reading,

Chantal & Rob

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Lazy Days of Summer

This post was written by Robert Williams

It is hard to believe we are near the end of July. We are not sure what to make of this summer here in Ontario... not the best one for sure. But then again, who are we to complain when Leg #1 sheltered us from snow and ice?  However, it is true that the weather has been topsy turvy in this part of the country; even the season of summer itself is lazy to show its warm and fun self to us.

We have settled in at our current location for the summer and will be extending our stay until mid-September. It is so quiet here and this suits us just fine. The pool is nice to use when it is too hot,  it's a good perk to have. We found out, during our travels, that RV "resorts" are not really our thing. We don't care much for pool and spa, cable hookups, rec room and activities. We prefer woods, trees, fire rings, hiking trails and being away from too much activity. We splurged on a tennis membership 10 minutes away, because the "tennis court" here just won't do (it is in terrible shape).

We have commented many times to each other over the past two months that it has been difficult to stay in the same place. This is not what RVers do. Is it? Our campground here is filled with many types of dwellings: pre fab homes, restored mini cottages, converted trailers sitting on bricks, class B vans fitted with gazebos outside, and seasonal fifth wheel vehicles planted at sites with decks and sheds and rock gardens built around them. They are beautiful, unique and cozy, most with creative name posts with custom carved welcome messages at their driveways. The park is fitted with narrow, winding gravel lanes that snake leisurely from one neighborhood to the next, with quaint street names of birds to guide slow moving vehicles back and forth. Some of the residents here have told us that they have driven and explored enough; now it is time to rest and stay put. But for us, the feeling is different. As much as we may have missed familiar back yards, we are anxious to move on. And see more. Lots more.

We have been pretty quiet, both on Facebook and here. There isn't much happening, other than day-to-day living and working. But there is still the gentle, familiar habits of camping that keep us going. If not RVing, then why not camp? Cook outside, start a fire, walk a trail, take pictures, listen to the breeze tickle the leaves of trees above us... these are not just tools of comfort, these are the signposts of simple pleasures, accessible to everyone, but closer to those - such as RVers and campers - who thoroughly enjoy nature, whether in motion or not.

We have been planning our route for Leg #2 and it will be the total opposite to what we have experienced in Leg #1!  The SouthEast was compact, full of attractions and distractions. The SouthWest should be - although I reserve the right to be totally wrong - more spread out and isolated. The next ten states we visit will be almost three times the size and scope of the previous twenty. The roads will be long and lonely at times; the landscape and scenery will be breathtaking; and the camping options will be often too many to choose from. We hope to feel more like pioneers this time around, and less like wide eyed tourists.

We also have a few other plans in mind. To start with, we will be ditching this blog platform here, before the domain is up for renewal in January. My biggest complaint is that you - our followers - are unable to leave a comment directly on a post. We have an alternate solution and that means a bit of work for me, but soon, I will be launching the new blog. Stay tuned. 

Also, we plan on spending only 5 months in the SouthWest, instead of the 6 months we are allowed. Why is that? Alaska! Yes, once we reach British Columbia, Canada, we will consider driving up to Alaska. It is difficult to plan for a long trip that promises many impulsive and unexpected twists and turns; does every RVer out there gamble when they cross the US border? Do they wonder how long they will be permitted to stay? In our case, we are sacrificing a month in the South in the hopes of being allowed into Alaska for a sixth month, although we have been told to stay in British Columbia for at least 30 days before making the attempt; not because of the cold weather in spring, but rather because of border crossing regulations. Wherever we decide to go, there will always be a pair of dice rolling along with us.

But we are getting way ahead of ourselves at the moment. Let's just savour the rest of this summer, recharge our batteries and live in the moment! 

Hope you all are having a great summer.  Thank you for reading!

Chantal & Robert

Monday, May 15, 2017

Point Pelee: Where Snowbirds Meet Songbirds

This post was written by Robert Williams

Welcome to the southernmost point in Canada! Point Pelee is one of the smallest national parks in the country, but is the perfect place - for both snowbirds and songbirds - to return home after a long winter of travel in America. Spring is not just about the return of green, but also the appearance of many beautiful colors - red, yellow, blue and orange - as more than 300 species of birds make their way across the Ohio River and Lake Erie to come back to their summer stomping grounds in Ontario and beyond. April and May of each year finds the annual bird migration festival at Pelee Park and other nearby venues for hundreds of thousands of nature enthusiasts eager to catch the arrival of their favorite species.

Bird watching - more commonly known as "birding" - is an underrated global pastime enjoyed by millions of people year round, and in Canada, wildlife is the country's middle name. Birders come from all over the world to see the migration of birds here at Point Pelee, which is nearing its one hundredth anniversary as a national park, and this year entry is free to all as part of Canada's 150th birthday celebration. The first three weeks of May are a complete frenzy as visitors arrive with their high powered binoculars and incredibly long camera lenses to capture many birds in flight as they land - exhausted - on this tiny lower triangle of southern Ontario. Many of the favorite species sought out by experts - the magnolia warbler, the Baltimore Oriole, and the scarlet tanager, to name just a few - are shy and demand patience from anxious onlookers, much like paparazzi. And, when they do appear, you have to act quickly to see them and get a shot. Collecting birds for your album is no easy task.

Point Pelee Park features a long peninsula that narrows to a tip at the 42nd parallel, further south than parts of northern California. The parks include miles of hiking trails, campgrounds for tenters, a wildlife visitor center, organized birding tours, a visually stunning boardwalk marsh, the DeLaurier pioneer homestead exhibit, and ferry trips to nearby Pelee Island. While it didn't quite feel like the most southern part of Canada during an unusually  cold spring, this was still an incredible first peek at our home country - as tourists - for the first time in seven months.

As for me, Chantal, I discovered bird watching after photography, so I am naturally attracted to the photo aspect of birding. Walking around with binoculars is not enough for me, I need pictures to learn which bird I saw. At Point Pelee, you have both birders and photographers sharing the same space, and that can lead to some eye rolling at times! Overall, I enjoy the walking and relaxed atmosphere all around. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Small Towns in America

This post was written by Robert Williams

When I was a kid, I grew up in a small town in eastern Ontario, just outside of Ottawa, called Merrickville, one of the oldest known communities in pre Confederation Canada. Merrickville is filled with distinct character and rich in history, with its National Historic markers, including the Blockhouse Museum, Rideau Canal Locks and Merrick's Mills Ruins. I wanted our RV trip to include the similar sense of nostalgia I experienced back then while living in a unique village.

They say that half the fun of any trip is just getting there. That was certainly true for us as we made our way from Montreal to the southern tip of Florida to the edge of Mexico at San Antonio and finally to Lake Erie in Ohio and Michigan. Over that span,we had a chance to visit many beautiful cities and destinations, but I also wanted to remember the little towns and hamlets we passed through or stayed in briefly. These were anything but "bumps in the road", as they gave our journey that much more meaning, excitement, and fond memories. Listed below are our top ten communities that we'd like to share with you, we hope you enjoy!

1. Bardstown, Kentucky:
Population 12,933

An incredible town with so much character, history and activities that the local courthouse, founded in 1892, was transformed into a tourist visitor center. Bardstown is locally dubbed as the bourbon capital of the United States, and for good reason, featuring over a dozen breweries and distilleries and festivals to cover all of them. The calendar of events for this community lasts all year long. Our most amazing stops here included: the Abraham Lincoln birthplace monument; the Jailhouse Inn, which features one of the oldest jails left in America open to visitors; the Hurst Soda Fountain, an old fashioned pharmacy and soda shop right out of Back to the Future or It's A Wonderful Life; and, of course, the old Talbott Tavern, in business since 1797, once visited by Jesse James and the Lincoln family. A wonderful treasure of a stop for any type of traveller.

2. Jefferson, Texas:
Population 2055

Jefferson is a hidden gem with many surprises. On a busy Saturday afternoon, you can still park anywhere you like and walk along the very few main streets here, each with many stories to tell. Our first stop was the local General Store, a true fantasy land for all lovers of candy, souvenirs, snacks and nostalgia. Down the street we found the famous Gould Railway Car, a hotel like sanctuary once owned by a rich railroad baron who was the Donald Trump of his day. Next was the Jefferson Public Library, built with Corinthian pillars to honor its sponsor, Andrew Carnegie. After that, we passed by the Excelsior House, one of the oldest hotels in Texas still standing; one of the last wooden railway bridges left intact; and, just outside of town, we found the old Civil War cemetery plot for the long gone town of Coffeeville. An amazing little town to visit.

3. Franklin, Tennessee:
Population 68,886

No visit to Franklin is complete without checking out the Loveless Café, which begins the legendary Natchez Trace Parkway and offers the best country biscuits you can taste. In the historic part of town, we found a slew of Civil War plaques and monuments, too many to count. Franklin is known as the town where the Civil War "ended", but they pay commendable homage to their Confederacy soldiers. The main street features many tempting shopping spots, including Kilwin's Chocolates, where they make the best shakes. Also of interest was the old Frankin Theatre, built in 1937 and still showing movies to this day. If you're looking for coffee in a unique joint, try the Frothy Monkey!

4. Key West, Florida:
Population 25,500

Key West is the last stop in Florida and the end of Route 1 and is certainly one of the most interesting island towns you can find.  A blend of American, Mexican and Spanish culture, you can find anything here and it's no wonder Ernest Hemingway spent ten years writing in his house near the water's edge. Watch out for all the resident roosters and cats as you sample Cuban coffee, visit Mallory Square for the infamous sunset, and head over to Better Than Sex for a decadent dessert that claims to be. It's a hundred mile stretch to get to Mile Zero, but it's worth the drive.

5. Canton, Mississippi:
Population 13,263

On a Sunday afternoon, Canton is both movie town and ghost town all rolled together, and its makes for a fun walk. The main square makes for a perfect film set, as shown in movies like Mississippi Burning (1988) and A Time to Kill (1996), and with a self guided tablet tour online you are shown over a dozen other vintage locations with breathtaking homes from yesteryear surrounded by old oak trees. The central courthouse, old barber shop, and preserved churches are a delight to visit, and for more adventure check out the Petrified Forest or the Cypress Swamp a few miles outside of town. Once back in town, shop a bit and grab a bite, but don't miss the old saloon still standing on the corner.

6. Woodstock, Vermont:
Population 3048

A photographer's dream in any season, Woodstock features the Taftsville Covered Bridge and Country General Store, the breathtaking Quechee Gorge, and the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park, for starters. But the town seems to have been born for fall colors, and walking along its quaint, relaxed streets during Labor Day through Halloween while the leaves fall is truly spectacular. Filled with neat little shops and boutiques and bed and breakfast inns on every corner, this wonderfully hidden New England gem is not to be missed. Watch out for hot air balloon rides flying overhead.

7. Smithfield, Virginia:
 Population 8089

One of the oldest pre-colony towns in America, Smithfield is home to the world's largest ham and peanut, preserved in a beautiful museum that also holds a full exhibit of a fallout shelter! The historic trail through main street brings you through a gauntlet of beautiful houses and ends at a lovely pier pavilion, where visitors are reminded that Smithfield remains the only town never to surrender to Union troops during the Civil War. We had a chance to stop by one of the oldest churches in the country, where the guide showed us the oldest working organ in the world. A proud, storied little town filled with something for everyone, one of our most interesting stops along the east coast.

8. Lafayette, Louisiana:
Population 127,657

Just outside of Lafayette is a little village called Vermilionville, once a Cajun village that has been preserved as a living historical monument that embraces its Acadian roots. You can walk through the little town and hear a Cajun fiddler, attend a schoolhouse, cross a hand ferry, watch wooden carvings being made, even dance at a Cajun band concert. The village is well represented by informative signs everywhere and you can learn the roots of North American French and the secrets of quilt making. To visit this place is to lose oneself in a time machine.

9. Logan, Ohio:
Population 7152

Logan is home to Hocking Hills State Park, an unforgettable hiking and camping paradise that brings visitors all year long from all over the world. The park region includes the famous Old Man's Cave, the Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, Ash Cave and Cedar Falls, all surrounded by over two hundred campgrounds and overnight rest stops. Along the way, don't forget to check out Grandma Faye's shop for lunch and souvenirs. Caution: lots of memory needed for picture taking.

10. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Population 7620

The town is a walking history text and a marvel of nostalgic architecture, but the real draw is the unforgettable driving tour through the Civil War battlefields, littered with hundreds of cannons, monuments and historical markers, not to mention the two observation towers available to visitors. Outside of Gettysburg and closer to Lancaster lie the peaceful hills of Amish country, where you can explore the joys of simple life with fresh eyes. Don't forget to stop by the Hersey Factory on your way out of the state. Your sweet tooth will thank you, just as mine did.