In April, my wife and I returned from a few months in Mexico, to Texas. We were planning on hanging around until the end of the month before driving back up to Canada. On a particularly hot day, we thought it'd be nice to take our pooch to the beach so that she could cool off. Landlocked as we were, in Mission, we opted to drive east, to the coast. We considered South Padre Island, but seeing the traffic thicken the closer we got, we opted out at the last minute. Instead, on the advice of a fella we met while pulled over for a few licks of an ice cream, we set our Garmin to direct us to Boca Chica. The beach was beautiful, we were told, and no one cares if your dog plays the goof, provided she doesn't bother anyone else.
We were sold.
It wasn't a long drive, but it was a damn flat one. When we arrive in south Texas each year, I'm always thrilled to see the scrub brush, flatlands and palm trees. It's a completely alien world compared to what I grew up with in Canada. By the time we're getting ready to head north, I long for mountains. As the miles down the lone road to Boca Chica clicked by, I starting to whine that I knew what would be around the next corner... it would be flat and dry, with just a hint of dust, just as with the last corner we'd whipped around. Read the rest
I've been back in Canada since May and I am certain I am losing my mind. It's a certainty that takes hold of me, every year.
We come home because we have to. As Canadians, we can only stay in the Untied States for a maximum of six months at a time. This past year, we stayed just shy of five months in the United States and, another two, down in Mexico. We drove back across the Canadian border with a few days left to spare. This dates-in-da-States wiggle room is important as I sometimes have to head south for work. I'd rather not get into dutch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Being back in Canada for half the year is , a must if we want to hold on to our sweet-ass socialized medical care (which we totally do.) and for my wife to return to work. While she's a certified dive instructor, she also loves the land-locked gig she works for half of the year. We also come home because we want to. I have few friends and work remotely. Disappointment and distrust have left me happy in the small company of my partner, our pooch and a few well-chosen friends that I seldom see. My missus? Not so much. Community is important to her. Her sister's family—now my family—means the world to her. Reacquainting herself with her people, each year, brings her a happiness that I try hard to understand. I love to see her light up around her friends. Read the rest
We've been living, full-time in a 40-foot motorhome for a few years now! It's been great! But we're thinking seriously about downsizing. Read the rest
Two days of waiting in Casper, Wyoming, $1,200 and two new tires later, we were back on the road. Casper is a small city. It is one of Wyoming's most populated cities. It is a city flanked by mountains and, while we were being held captive by a blown out tire on a holiday weekend, a miserably cold, humid city.
It was a city we were happy to leave.
The man who taught me how to fight once told me that the only thing worse than getting punched is waiting to get punched. This holds true for many things in life. As my wife wheeled us back onto the Interstate, headed south, there was a tension in the air between us. We did not speak. We did little else but listen. Would the rest of our tires prove sound? Was there any indication that they might blow like one of our outer duelies had? When the next blow-out happens would it be one of our steer-tires? How fucked or dead would we be? The answer to this last question: pretty fucked and, depending on the speed we'd be traveling at when the blow-out hit, pretty dead.
Both of us were wondering these things. Neither of us talked about it until after we had stopped for the night.
Long distance trips can be full of new foods and interesting people that make for fond memories. More often, you're left to contend with hours of a ribbon of road cut through the plains mountains and dead towns that lost their vibrance years before you were born. Read the rest
Few things can fuck an RV up worse than a frozen water system. Grey, black and potable water tanks, water pumps and the delicate tubing that run through the undercarriage and into the living area of a motorhome don't do well when exposed to subzero temperatures. Some RVs, like ours, come with blowers that force warm air from the furnace into the undercarriage. Others, like our old rig, have systems that draw power from the chassis battery to keep the tanks heated and the liquid inside of them, well, liquid.
We started our first day headed south at -4° Celsius. We assumed that we'd be able to make it to Lethbridge, Alberta, a few hours south of Calgary. The overnight temperature would dip to -10° there. Fading headlights and the encroaching dark forced to a halt, short of our goal, in Claresholm. There, the overnight temperature dipped to -17°.
We knew that we could weather the weather in Lethbridge. Claresholm, cold as it was, would have been a test we weren't prepared to sit for. Fortunately, we were able to find a hotel. Even more fortunate was the fact that we'd winterized our RV well before the first cold. Our tanks were drained dry. Our lines were wetted with anti-freeze. For the first three days of our trip south, we traveled without any water, save what we brought with us in bottles. We used it to flush our toilet, brush our teeth, make coffee and wash. On the end of the third night, we felt it warm enough to risk de-winterizing the RV. Read the rest
We left Claresholm after eating a continental breakfast of terrible coffee and decent muffins. The hotel’s owner chatted lazily with us as we noshed. He had been a manager of Woolworth's department stores, from Toronto, Ontario to Terrence, British Columbia. He served the chain loyally for decades of his life, never questioning when they sent him north, east or west. They fired him after 27 years of service. He’d become redundant.
I told him that I remembered eating grilled cheese sandwiches at the Woolworth’s lunch counter where I grew up. There was pride in his voice as he told me that, before McDonald's came along, the department store’s lunch counters were the biggest restaurant chain in the world.
The sun was high for it being so early in the day. We heated the RV’s engine for a half hour before wheeling south.
It’s a strange time to write for a living. Where normally I expect to raise an eyebrow when I tell folks what I do, my vocation of late has roused opinions and suspicions. I wasn’t sure if I would stand up to questioning at the border. I needn’t have worried: the border guard was more concerned about where we were going, how long we’d be there and whether we had any contraband onboard. In her rear view mirror, my wife saw our border guard staggering through a pee-pee dance from her booth to the border patrol facility a few feet away as we drove off.
The mountains are different here than they are in Alberta. Read the rest
With my wife's gig in north central Alberta spinning down for another year and the cold charging hard at us like a bull moose in rut, it's once again time for us to head south. This year, thanks to the two weeks it took me to replace a lost passport, we started off later than we would have liked.
We left Calgary late in the day. No matter how much lead up we have, there always seems to be a few last things to do. Saying goodbye. Picking up snacks for the road. Double checking our rig's engine, air bags, air brakes, tires and all else. Even after receiving my passport last Friday, we waited until today--Wednesday. The weather was too coarse to risk in the rig.
We aimed at Lethbridge as a first night target. Not far, but out of Calgary and within reach of the border early tomorrow morning. As the dusk settled in, we noted that our headlights were not up to the task of leading us. The bulbs would need to be replaced. But not tonight. We made for Claresholm: a highway pass-through town on the road south. By the time we pulled off for the evening, it had already hit -10. We lurked through town, the size of a semi truck with our Jeep in tow, searching for a dark corner of asphalt to call ours for the night. On with the generator. On with the furnace to warm our dog and our bones. Read the rest
16 October, 2018
My wife drops me at the airport in Calgary. I'm traveling to Chicago. A fancy audio hardware company called Shure invited me to the city to check out some of the new tech that they'll be releasing in the coming months.
I pass through security with no issues. As I lace on my boots, I am certain that I have my passport. It is in my hand as I board my flight. I place my passport in a buttoned pocket in my jacket before sitting down on the plane. Standing up at the end of my flight, my passport is still there. Upon landing, I pay it no further mind. I'm on the hunt for a cab ride into Chicago's downtown core.
"They say they don't have any money but Jesus: lookit alla this construction," my cab driver says to me. "It's alla the time." I tell him that we have construction season in Calgary, too. But yeah, the traffic headed into the downtown is weaponized bullshit. My smartphone says that the trip should take 35 minutes. Curb to curb, it is a 90-minute ride.
I pay the driver his due and step out of his hack.
In the hotel's front door to the hotel's front desk. I have my luggage. I have a reservation. I have a credit card for incidentals.
I do not have a passport.
I don't have a driver's license, either. I haven't had one for years: my PTSD makes my being behind the wheel a bad idea. Read the rest
It doesn't matter what tech you opt for – composting toilets, incinerator toilets or, as we have in our rig, a john connected to a holding tank – if you live in an RV, sooner or later you're going to wind up handling your own waste.
The first time we dumped out tanks, it didn't go so well.
We hadn't quite started living in our old 1991 Triple E Empress just yet. At the time, we were busy downsizing our lives to fit into the motorhome, and my wife was enrolled in a week-long wilderness first aid course, in Canmore, Alberta. Normally, she would've had to spring for a hotel. But screw that, we were RV owners! We opted to parking-lot-surf for five days instead. Outside of a few frustrations that came from getting to know the Empress' heating and electrical systems, it was a comfortable week that made us feel like we'd made a good choice in buying the rig as our new home.
The Empress was an early example of the large class A RVs that you see on the road today. It was five feet shorter than our current rig, and has no slide outs. Despite its 35-foot length, things were a little bit more cozy at times than we would have liked. The Empress came with basement storage compartments. It was one of the reasons we chose it. Between my wife's dive gear, extras from our apartment that we weren't sure of whether we'd need or not, and the hardware I need to do my job, there wasn't much storage space to spare. Read the rest