Time fritters away funny during a pandemic. It moves faster than shit through a goose when the weather is good. The sun's warmth whispers for you to take off your mask and enjoy the spring. Pray you're upwind from death. Come the cold, it crawls with the moody pace of a dying widower.
We've been few places colder than Calgary, Alberta in the winter. That's where we found ourselves at the end of our time in Morocco.
Alberta's cold enough to drive you out of the RV you've called home for five years. Cold enough to savor shelter in a sister-in-law's spare bedroom——the house full of loud children and uncertainty. Cold enough to make you understand that, come the thaw, you might not be able to drive across the U.S./Canada border but you can sure as hell cross the mountains. You can cross mainland British Columbia. You can cross 90-minutes of water and, finally, come to a halt in Nanaimo.
There are worse places to ride out a few relentless waves of a virus than Vancouver island. The weather is fair in the winter, compared to the rest of Canada. Forests, hiking paths and rocky public beaches are never more than a short jaunt away. COVID numbers remain low as the population of the island is low: 864,000 souls, half of which huddle together on the southern tip of the Island in Capital Regional District. Most mask without mumbling. There's patios and take out a-go-go.
But even a haven starts feeling like a cage when you're used to roaming.
The past two years in Nanaimo saw unseasonably cold winters. They pushed our ability to keep our RV warm enough to find any comfort in. As soon as the Canadian and American governments decided they were fine with opening their land borders to non-essential travel once more, we opened ourselves up to the idea of traveling south, to Mexico, without the RV. Gas prices had begun to soar and enough diesel to sustain a 6,000 km drive would be enough to put us in the hole. What's more the motorhome–a 2005 Newmar Kountry Star–had been built with smooth, straight highways in mind. It has neither the ground clearance or the suspension to survive the potholes and topes that many Mexican roads are host to.
After a long jaw-wag, my partner and I decided bringing our home south with us, this time around, was a non-starter.
Instead, we arranged to put the rig into storage and packed our car with everything we'd need for at least six months on the road. A carry-on suitcase and a backpack, for each of us. Toys and food for the dog. The dog herself. 80 N95 masks to get us started. An electric cooler full of eats to keeping from having to use the masks too often on our way south. Our bicycles and, above all else, a desire to be almost uncomfortably warm, once again. That we were leaving at the same time that I was testing a Leica Q2 Monochrom for the day job made all seem, for me at least, that much better.
We left Vancouver island on Valentine's Day in a fit of self-love.
At the time, the Freedom Convoys in Canada were denying drivers the Peace Arch Point of Entry the freedom to cross the border. Having stayed abreast of their lack of movement on social media and and the news, we pushed 40 minutes east to a crossing where 'freedom' wasn't at issue. We found transport trucks, which normally would have enjoyed swift passage at the multi-lane Peace Bridge crossing, were lined up waiting, one mile deep. There was no wait for cars. We passed through American customs in under five minutes.
As dusk fell, we pulled aside to fill up on gas. Even with a shitty exchange rate and soaring petrol prices in place, it cost us $20 U.S. less to fill up than it would have back home. Driving into the night we saw Redmond by the light of a line taillights, the glow of The T-mobile complex and, Microsoft's windows. We were shooting for Snoqualmie where we'd rented an Airbnb for the night.
It'd been a long day. The dog had had enough our in-the-car-but-not-going-to-the-park bullshit. Despite having a cooler full of food, we'd noshed nothing since leaving our nation, several hours prior. Our digs for evening the were in a quiet residential area: a sprawled out ranch-style home with an attached garage. There was a private entrance to the wee suite we rented. It was cozy on a cold evening. Hot shower. A decent kitchen to cook in. Most importantly, it put us within striking distance of the Twede's Cafe in North Bend.
They've got a cherry pie there that'll kill ya.
Having not dined indoors without a mask in over two years, I felt all the anxious, just walking through the front door. The few people eating, the smell coming from the kitchen and, the fact that I was standing in the middle of a Twin Peaks shooting location made discomfort feel a whole lot more comfortable. Cherry pie and coffee were requisite. As good as Agent Cooper advertised. The real star of the sit-down, however, the the bowl of corned beef hash that I ordered. The serving size was larger than my head, which made me wonder, as rules are rules, whether I should attempt to eat the whole thing.
I used to spend a lot of time in diners. My regular breakfast joint knew me so well that they'd pour a mug of black spiked with some Irish as soon as I set foot through the door. Being back in my natural habitat made the food go down easy. I was left with a sleepy satisfied feeling that would stay with me until well into the evening. We were to make time that day. South, and to the east.
While planning our route the night before, I discovered a lot of splendid ways to waste our time on the road: A number of giant muffler men. A visit to the home of the zombie cheese sandwich. Christmas Trees made of deer antlers. Most took us too far out of the way: we had an agenda to maintain. The Teapot Dome Gas Station in Zillah, Washington, only required us to pull into a parking lot a few minutes off the interstate. Apparently, it was originally built in 1922 at the cusp of where Interstate 12 lazes today. It gave travelers a roadside oddity to glaze over at while they filled their tanks and reminded them of the Teapot Dome oil leasing scandal, uncovered the previous year. In 1975, the gas station was shifted from its original location to Zillah, with the notion of using it as a visitor's center.
It wasn't open when we dropped by. I suppose Zillah wasn't expecting company.
We stopped in Boise for the night. Another Airbnb. It was see how hard you're breathing cold out when we pulled in for the evening. The joint had a backyard for the dog. We stop for multiple walks a day when we're on the road. Off leash time, however, is always at a premium. Boudicca rolled hard and at length in the frosted grass, working the smell and feel of too many hours of car stress out of her fur and flesh. I drifted to sleep in an overheated room wondering if I'd die for the privilege of eating in a diner like everything was fine.