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
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
I've always felt a spiritual connection with grizzly bears. They're slow, chunky and have an overwhelming affection for peanut butter--just like I do. From time to time, I'm fortunate enough to spot one, or at least the signs of one's passing, while we're in Alberta. But, as they generally don't want anything to do with people, being able to spend a prolonged amount of time with one is an incredible treat.
It's a treat that I had the opportunity to partake in earlier today.
Around 30 minutes outside of Bozeman, Montana, we saw the first sign for it: Montana Grizzly Encounter. I wasn't into it at first: captive bears aren't cool. I checked out their website as we drove. Rescue bears. Rescue bears are very cool. Five minutes later we were pulling into the Montana Grizzly Encounter. Sixteen bucks for two adults and a score of steps later, we were in.
MGE was founded in 2004 and has been giving homes to bears rescued from cruel captivity ever since. Five of the six bears that MGE shelters were rescued from inhumane situations from all across the United States. Their sixth bear, Bella, was an orphan discovered in Alaska. On her own, she wouldn't have stood a chance. At the sanctuary, she's living the best life that she possibly can. You won't find any bars or cages at MGE. The bears have a temperature controlled enclosure that they can enter or exit as they please. There's a large area for the bears to do bear things in outside of the public eye. 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
One of the big problems I've had with taking long drives, anywhere, has been that I'm forced into unproductive time when I should be working. This isn't a problem when I'm going on vacation. But here's the thing: I seldom take a vacation. As I'm self-employed, there's no such thing as vacation pay in my world. When I stop writing, the money stops coming in. Working on the road is possible--all I have to do is tether my laptop to my iPhone and I'm in business.
So long as I can keep my laptop, you know, in my lap.
Maintaining a stable platform to work on while my wife wheels us across the continent has proven difficult. I've tried lap desks, balancing my computer on a backpack, you name it. My computer always slides around, making it damn near impossible to type. What's more, a neck injury that I sustained eons ago makes it painful for me to tilt my head down for any length of time. This combination of poor conditions has forced me, up until now, to twiddle my thumbs for hours at a time, working only once we've come to a stop for the day.
However, I think that I may finally have figured it out.
RAM Mounts makes a wide variety of mobile work solutions to keep nerd stuff in one place while you're driving along. Cops use RAM Mount gear in their cruisers to keep their laptop secure. Their in-vehicle smartphone and tablet stands are, arguably, among the best out there. Read the rest
I've mentioned it online before, but here we go: Two years ago, my wife and I decided to leave our rented home behind and move into a 40-foot RV. We spend our spring and summer in Alberta, Canada where she has a job for six months of the year working as an addictions counselor. The other half of the year, we head south to Mexico and beyond so that she can work as a dive Instructor.
This might be an excellent time to point out that my partner is far more interesting than I'll ever be.
We love this life, but it's not without its difficulties. We have all the repairs that come along with home ownership and owning a semi-truck, rolled into one. Our paychecks can sometimes take weeks to catch up to us, leaving us eating rice and beans. Again. But perhaps the worst thing about living in a motorhome, for us, is that we had to get rid of our book collection. Between us, we owned hundreds of books. We looked upon them as shelves of old friends who we could turn to, no matter what life brought us. But, sometimes, you have to leave old friends behind in order to grow. A motorhome can only carry so much weight, not to mention the limited amount of space that you'll find inside of one. We packed them up and took them to our favorite used bookstore where they'll, hopefully, find new homes.
When I'm not guest blogging here, part of my job is to review e-readers. Read the rest