Summer Travel Map

Sunday, May 31, 2009

On the way to Calgary

May 31, 2009
Banff National Park, AB

Today was a travel day. We started by topping off the fuel tank at the Petro-Canada card-lock station right next to the RV Park, where we pumped 330+ litres. We'll find out how much it cost later when the charge comes through. Before we left AZ, I subscribed to a card-lock filling program called "Pacific Pride", which has locations all over the western US, and a reciprocity agreement with Petro-Canada. Card-lock sites are generally unattended fueling locations. You get a membership card to activate the pump, and the billing is handled centrally and posted to your credit card monthly. It might not always be the best price in town, but the convenience is good, as the locations are designed for commercial trucking account-holders. It's a pretty good option for when we're traveling "off the Interstates".

Click here for some pictures from today's travel.

We followed PH-97 north out of Kelowna, PH-97A to Armstrong, and PH-97B to Salmon Arm, where we took TC-1 (Trans-Canada 1) east toward Calgary. This route took us toward the Rockies, and we climbed for much of the day. We stopped for lunch at a rest area, and found by accident that it was the site of driving of the "last spike" connecting the Canadian Pacific Railroad east-to-west. I've always had a soft spot for railroad things, since my grandfather (mother's side) was an engineer for most of his career. Unfortunately, he passed when I was about 9, so I didn't get to explore this much, but I do remember riding with him from Waterbury to Bridgeport and back - when trains actually ran this route instead of busses. One grandfather was on the trains, the other was a sailor, and Dad was a bus driver. No wonder I can't stay still...

We crossed Rogers Pass in Canada's Glacier National Park (not the same as the US one of the same name) after stopping for a rest and some pictures, and followed TC-1 all the way to Banff, which is ensconced in another National Park. I started looking for a place to stop for the night around 5 PM, and we shortly came upon an exit for the Tunnel Mountain campground, which I'd read about in preparation for our trip. A quick exit and a short drive later, and we were parked at a satellite-friendly electric-only site for the night. We'll probably stop here again later in the week, since we'll be returning this way on the trek north.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A fine visit to BC Wine Country

May 30, 2009
Kelowna/Westbank, BC

We're wrapping up a nice visit to BC wine country, and we'll be heading out for Calgary tomorrow morning. Once we got the Range Rover back, things really picked up.

On Wednesday evening, we had a nice visit with many of the folks staying in the park over pasta dinner. We met several of the people working on the long-term roads project; they're hard-working people, to be sure. Mary, the park owner, and Gerri (sp?), one of the long term residents, put out a nice spread of salad, pasta, and dessert, and we hung out until after dark. A nice time...

On Thursday, we got ready for a trip to some of the local wineries. Unfortunately, before we left Geri noticed that we had some water leaking under the kitchen sink. It turns out that it was coming from the instant hot water heater that we've been using (sans heat) to fill water bottles and the coffee maker. I installed an under-sink filter for this faucet before we left Arizona. For some reason, it involves a complicated water flow system (cold to the faucet, then to the heater, then from the heater, plus a vent of some kind). I made a quick trip to the plumbing shop across the street and put in a valve (which should have been in the line to begin with!), and we were good to go wining after sticking a fan under the sink to dry things out.

We went to two wineries that are relatively close to the RV park. Our first stop was Quail's Gate, where we tasted several varieties, preferring the Pinot Noir. Then, we were off to Mission Hill, which sports more stunning architecture but slightly lesser wines. We bought a few bottles at each, and we'll report on them as we go along.

Friday, we caught up on repairs: Geri had a manicure and I finished the bypass for the water leak. we were able to accomplish both within a few minutes of the park, since there was a plaza with a nail salon and a Home Depot across the street. I found a great deal on a small pressure washer at the local Wal-Mart, and gave the Rover and the coach a quick rinse. Since the grill was still out, we had steaks and baked potatoes, and Geri made a nice side dish with cauliflower in a Mornay sauce.

Today was another nice day, and we took advantage of it to make another winery run. Geri had made an appointment for the pups to have a "tubbie" at the local PetsMart, and while they were getting pretty we drove about 20km north to the Gray Monk Winery. We had a nice lunch in their restaurant overlooking the lake, and made it back to Kelowna just in time to pick up the pups.

Click here to see some pictures from the winery visits.

Back home, we did our normal pre-travel packing and dumping, so we're ready to roll in the morning. The park we're at is close to a Petro-Canada card-lock filling station, with nice high-volume diesel pumps. We subscribe to a service in the US ("Pacific Pride") that has a reciprocal agreement with Petro-Canada, so we'll be able to fill up there tomorrow morning before we head out. We'll probably overnight somewhere between Golden, BC, and Banff, AB, and plan to arrive in Calgary on Monday.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's about time

May 27, 2009
Kelowna, BC

How to not enjoy wine country

May 27, 2009
Kelowna, BC

Stay stuck in the RV park (no matter how nice the park), that's how. Even though it was repaired last Friday, we're still waiting for the Range Rover to be returned to us. Since we've been getting the runaround from the dealer and the Roadside Assistance people, we're sort of caught in a trap. With each round of calls, it sounds like it'll be taken care of so we avoid grabbing a rental car, only to find out that the return hasn't been arranged. Add in a holiday in the US (I know, we're in Canada and the Memorial Day holiday shouldn't make a difference - but it did), and here we sit. I can't wait to get the customer satisfaction survey on this one.

So, we're making the most of our time here. I spent some time yesterday (it was cloudy and showery until late in the day anyway) working on a new map for the blog, and today I'll take care of finances for the next few weeks while the internet connection is working. We relaxed and recharged, and took the pups for some longer walks between the rain showers. The weather cleared late yesterday and it's supposed to be nice for the rest of the week, so we need to get out and about. It looks like I'll be heading for the car rental agency later this morning if Land Rover doesn't deliver (pun intended).

We're in a small park (only 24 spaces) and it's nicely laid out. There are a couple of perma-rigs, and several that house to a crew working on a road improvement project in the area. They all work for a company that "recycles roads" - they strip up the old asphalt, grind it up, mix in some additives, and lay it back down as "new" all in one project. It's part of the whole "green" thing - takes less material and energy to recycle than to remove and lay new asphalt. Good approach, if you ask me.

We may be the only "short-term" folks staying here right now. We met a couple at Fairmont who knew of this park and were planning to stay here later in the summer, and they recommended it. It's quite different from the park at Fairmont, since we're close to the main drag (PH-97) and there's a lot more "stuff" around. But we're here, we're safe, we have a spot where we could get satellite access, and we're happy. The owner, Mary, is quite nice and is always puttering around the place. The sites are large back-ins and she's planted flowers and a string of grapevines between each site. She said that last year they harvested about a hundred pounds of Gewurztraminer and had a local vintner make wine from it. The daffodils are out/coming out this week, so I've been out with the camera and will do so again.

Of course, in addition to the flowers, there's a lot of pollen in the air. There's a tree pollen (pine?) that spreads this yellow dust all over everything - yep, we're covered with the stuff. We'll have to allocate part of a day for a thorough dusting of the inside of the coach before we head out next Sunday. We're probably overdue for that anyway...

Last night, we got out the grill and I made a pork tenderloin while Geri made a nice saute of potatoes and carrots with a demi-glace glaze made with broth and apple jelly that was excellent. Tonight, Mary's invited us to a pasta (pass'-ta in these parts) dinner with all the park residents, so that should be fun.

OK, enough of this. Time to start the morning's round of calls to find out where the Rover is...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Closing thoughts on Fairmont Hot Springs

May 23, 2009
Fairmont Hot Springs, BC

We've had a nice visit here and will be moving on tomorrow morning. The weather's cleared up and we've had several fabulous days in a row with cool mornings, light breezes, sunny skies, and don't-need-the-air-conditioning afternoons. My sunburn is almost over its painful stage. The Rover is fixed and should be returned to us early next week. Life is indeed good.

The RV park was almost empty when we arrived last Monday after having been full to overflowing over the Victoria Day holiday weekend. I'd say it's about 30% full now; as people started arriving Thursday evening, I expected it to fill up more over the weekend but it didn't pan out. The only reason we had to move when we extended our stay is that they have a convoluted process of assigning a site when reservations are made as opposed to at check-in, and if someone's scheduled for that space and you want to stay longer, you've gotta move. I've got to imagine that they'd cause themselves and their customers a lot less work if they did it like almost every other RV park in North America, but what do I know.

Today was a relaxing day. Geri did a couple of loads of laundry, taking half (bedding) to the park's machines and ding the rest on board. She decided to take the waters one last time and headed out from the coach just as a couple of park staff were out exercising some of their horses, so she sweet-talked them into giving her a lift. I grabbed a picture, but Picasa's not talking nice with our satellite connection right now, so I'll post images later.

Tonight, we'll grill some steaks, quaff a nice Cabernet, and ready the rig for travel. Tomorrow, the adventure continues...

Friday, May 22, 2009

How to save fuel without even trying

May 22, 2009
Fairmont Hot Springs, BC

You just don't drive anywhere, right?

We were getting ready to head to the grocery store to stock up again, when I noticed that the Range Rover was "marking its territory" again, with a small spot of oil on the ground under the left front headlight area. I'd noticed that this happened once before about a week ago. It lost about ¼ cup, just enough to make a bit of a mess under the hood and make a spot about 6" around on the ground.

So, being a clever guy, I called the Land Rover Centre in Calgary to make an appointment for when we'll be there in early-June. I figured that we could live with it spitting out a few drops of oil once a week in the meantime. I checked the oil and it was right on the full mark, so I knew it wasn't leaking beyond what I'd already discovered.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to check under the hood once we had the pups in the car and were ready to head to the store. Much to my surprise, there was quite a bit of oil seeping out of the oil filter housing! On this model, the oil filter is mounted remotely, with easy access right behind the left headlight assembly, and the cartridge-style filter drops in and is covered with a screw-on cap. I got out the rags and wrenches and pulled the cap off to see if I had some debris around the cap's o-ring. I cleaned the cap and housing and replaced the cap. Well, I managed to make it worse, with a heavier flow of oil now coming out of the filter housing. No amount of loosening and tightening was fixing it.

So, we're having our semi-annual "thank goodness for roadside assistance" event. I called Roadside and they coordinated with their Canadian counterparts. Ivan the tow guy was on site to haul it away to Calgary within 45 minutes late yesterday afternoon. I called the Centre this morning to verify that they had it, and they just called back a few minutes ago to say it was fixed (new filter housing). Now all we have to do it coordinate its return, called a "reunite" in Land Rover parlance. It'll be interesting to see how the US call center, the Canadian call centre, and the dealer will be able to coordinate this. If they can't return it tomorrow (Saturday), they'll have to haul it to where we'll be next week (Kelowna, BC) or pay for a rental so we can do the BC wine country. I'm not sure I care either way, although I'd prefer to have it back so I can make sure it's all OK. We'll be able to make a follow up appointment when we're in Calgary the week after.

But, all is still well. We don't let little bumps in the road get in our way. When we decided to extend our stay here, we knew we needed to change sites within the park. So, we took advantage of the need to pack up to use the coach for a grocery run (I knew I should have bought more stuff when we shopped earlier last week). We got everything we need for the next week+ at the Sobeys in Invermere, and picked up a selection of wine at the provincial licensee here near the resort. We were able to get a satellite signal at the new site (it's a 30 amp site instead of 50 amp, but we don't need the air conditioning) so all is well with the world. We were basically just planning to relax for a couple of days anyway.

In other news, Geri made a great dinner tonight with sauteed bay scallops and shrimp finished with a tomato-enhanced Alfredo sauce over linguine - tasty! My sunburn is still pretty painful and I'm not quite as likely to take the waters again, but I think Geri will partake again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Lobster Boil

May 21, 2009
Fairmont Hot Springs, BC

No, we didn't have lobster for dinner, although I have been a little surprised at how available they are in stores here (although pricey at C$12-14/kg - well over $20/pound). We did "take the waters" at the pools here at the resort. It was quite nice, with two different temperatures available. The "cool" pool was about 86°F and the "hot" was something like 104°F, so it was necessary to move back and forth, as you shouldn't stay in the hot side too long. After a while, probably two hours, I said "I'd better get out before I get a sunburn".

Ha! I ended up with one of the worst sunburns I've had in 20-30 years! After so much time avoiding a sunburn, I guess I just forgot what it's like and how to avoid it (duh - sunscreen!). I'll be OK in a few days when it peels and heals. If I do get a burn, it's usually on my head, but this time it's my shoulders that took the brunt of it.

Overall, though, it was nice and good for the aches and exfoliation. I'll probably try it again, just with a hat, sunglasses, and a thick layer of sunscreen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day trip for shopping

May 20, 2009
Fairmont Hot Springs, BC, Canada

Yesterday, we took a day trip north Along PH-95/95 to the town of Golden in search of a grocery. Today, we'll check out the hot springs and do some work on the next stop on our trip.

Yesterday was gray, showery, and at times blustery. We woke up to the sensation of being shaken, and clearly the winds had become very gusty. I actually pulled in the two slides on the windward side, since I didn't want the strong gusts to damage the canvas awnings that cover the tops. I saw other people out early, putting awnings up and chasing after scattered belongings.

The winds died down mid-morning, and we set out to find an alternative grocery. There are several small towns along PH-93/95 as we drove north, and we eventually (~125km) came to Golden, where we found a Sobeys and a provincial liquor store. We got enough food for the next four days (for the same price as one meal at the closer store), and I picked up a couple of bottles of BC wine and a six of local brew. Geri also wanted a bottle or Marsala for cooking, so I got that as well. I'm not going to do a calculation of the net difference in cost including fuel, since we would have taken the ride anyway to explore the area. I saw several spots that might make for interesting photo opps when the weather clears. We stopped in the small town of Invermere on the way back, which has a nice set of shops in the downtown area, so we'll check that out later in the week. Of course, we also found another Sobeys, so at least we'll have a closer grocery option.

We made some progress on planning our next move as well. Originally, I'd been thinking about a loop to the east, crossing southern Alberta to Saskatchewan, stopping at Regina, looping north to Saskatoon, then west to Edmonton, then south to Calgary where we'll catch up with the other couples heading north to Alaska. Since we've never explored this part of Canada, I thought this might be the time. Then I thought about trying to do all that in a week and decided to think some more. It's a good thing, since I came up with what I think is a better plan.

Since our route north will be through western Alberta and northeastern BC, and our return in the fall will take us toward the western part of BC down to Vancouver, it only makes sense to explore the south-central part of BC now. I'm pretty sure that Okanagan Valley is wine country. Hmmm. Sounds like a plan to me. I'll do some research when I can get online and find a place to stay, and I've already mapped out the driving route. We'll head over toward Kelowna on Sunday (extending our stay here by 2 more days), and spend a week there before backtracking to Calgary on May 31-June 1.

Today is starting off on the cloudy and showery side, but the TV forecast (the park has cable, and we have access to the Canadian Weather Channel) calls for clearing later today or tomorrow. I found a local coffee shop that has free Internet access, so I'll be heading there this morning to catch up on the online stuff. We'll likely have limited access for the foreseeable future, which will be OK once we get over the withdrawal symptoms. I didn't realize (OK, I probably did but didn't want to think about it) how dependent we are on the Net for travel planning. Creativity will trump technology, though. :-)

Time to get a move on...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beautiful British Columbia

May 18, 2009
Fairmont Hot Springs, BC, Canada

Beautiful British Columbia. It must be: it's printed right on their license plates. :-)

Today, we made the first of several border crossings we'll have this summer. We had a nice driving day, an easy border crossing, and found our next park with no problems. Pretty good, eh?

The morning started off with a quick stop at the tire shop in Kalispell. As predicted, it only took them 1/2 hour to jack it up, remove the two rear wheels and put them back on the right location. No charge (not that I offered to pay). We were on the road by 8:30 AM.

It was a sunny and warm day to start, probably the nicest day in the whole time we were in Montana. It figures, but we were ready to be on the road. We arrived at the border crossing at Roosville, MT/BC, in short order. We had a very pleasant border crossing, potentially aided by the Victoria Day holiday weekend. First, most of the traffic going north was from Alberta, which was a bit of a surprise since the main routes into Alberta are further east. Second, only one lane (of 3) was open at Canadian Customs (short staffed after the holiday?) and the line was about 25 vehicles and growing when we arrived.

Just as we pulled into the queue, three US CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) staff and a nice German Sheppard took up a position about 50 feet from the border and started quizzing and sniffing the vehicles as they proceeded in the line. It was pretty perfunctory, with standard questions about citizenship, destination, weapons, and cash; no papers required. I guess we passed Fido's test as well, since they didn't make us stop.

Once we got to the Canadian checkpoint, it was almost a replay, except the agent was much more friendly than the US guys. She scanned our passports and asked all the standard questions. I declared that we were over the limit on alcohol by about 9 bottles of beer, and she said she'd assume that those were for personal consumption. It's a good thing we spent the extra time in Kalispell; we might not have gotten away with that if we still had our original quantity on board. With the questions out of the way, all she wanted to do was see Geri through the window to verify her presence, and we were good to go.

The drive from the border to Fairmont Hot Springs was about 2½ hours, all along Provincial Highway PH-93. We had mostly good roads with just a few stretches of rough pavement (slowing to ~80kph/50mph). We could tell that it's a bumper year for dandelions; many fields are almost completely yellow. The places where curves required slowing down were well marked, and we got a chance to practice our metric conversion. To be honest, I'd prefer that the US just get over our own selves and go metric; who knows how many tablespoons are in a cup anyway? Accordingly, I'm a "when in Rome" kind of guy, so I'll tend to pick up on and adopt the local measurements.

The park we're staying at is nice but pricey. We're a couple of hundred metres (pretty good, eh?) up-slope from the highway, right beneath snow-capped mountains. We'd pretty much eaten up our food reserves, so we made the short trip back down to the highway to visit the local grocery store. Whoops; sticker shock! We came away with a couple of small steaks, a couple of potatoes, and two ears of corn for C$25. I pulled out the grill and it all went on the barbie (Geri got out the mandoline and made nice potato slices baked in foil with shallot and pesto) so we ate well.

Over the next couple of days we'll explore the hot springs and the Columbia Valley. The weather's supposed to be "iffy" for the short term but we can't let that stop us, now can we?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Parting thoughts on Montana

May 17, 2009
Kalispell, MT

Montana: Land of Subarus and studded snow tires. I supposed it's not really a surprise how many Subaru vehicles are on the roads here, since they're marketed to the "outdoorsy" crowd. Don't get me wrong, pickup trucks are the most prevalent, and not wimpy half-tons either. 3/4 tons. One ton duallys. And diesels, too. Vroom. Here, almost every gas station we saw sells on-road diesel and quite a few have off-road diesel (50 cents cheaper with no road tax) as well. And it was interesting to hear the clicking of the studded snow tires, many passenger cars with them on all four wheels. It brought back memories from when I was a kid and we used an air-driven tool to insert the studs (they were like rivets) into the holes in the tires. In the Northeast these days, they're either banned or regulated, and they're a foreign concept in Phoenix. Out here, anything goes.

Montana: The Ten Commandments are alive and well. And posted on big signs in people's yards and on billboards along the highway. Who knew that people needed to be reminded so much? I suppose it's some kind of backlash to efforts to remove religious items from public spaces, or maybe it's just a local custom. Either way, over the top but it's a free country.

Montana: More casinos than any place on earth. Just about every convenience store in this state is a casino. Half of the non-chain restaurants are casinos. Now, these aren't casinos like we're used to, since our frame of reference is Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Indian Casinos in Connecticut, which are huge places. Nope, these are just small operations tucked into the back rooms of regular businesses, but there are hundreds of them. It's gotta be part of the reason there's no sales tax. Good news for us!

So, we're ready to leave Montana on our way to Canada. There's still snow on the mountains and yesterday's showers brought out a short-lived rainbow, but the forecast calls for a reasonably good day for driving, sunny in the south and clouding up as we go north but no rain (or snow) predicted. We do have one last stop to make, though: a return to the tire shop to have them fix an installation problem with two of the new tires. We use automatic balancing rings on the coach instead of wheel weights. The rings have cutouts about the size of my fist for getting a pressure gauge and tire chuck to the valve stems, which face inward on the tag axle. Do you suppose they installed the tires with the valve stems in the right place? No, that would be too easy; they managed to get both of the rear tires mounted in the wrong place. Since we're going right by the shop and it's only 10 minutes away, I'll schedule our departure to coincide with their opening time. If it takes 1/2 hour, I'll be surprised.

"Life" trumps "Vacation"

May 17, 2009
Kalispell, MT

Often, it feels like we're on an endless vacation when we're on the road. People sometimes think we're "on vacation" as well. In reality, you can't be on vacation every day, since life gets in the way. That's how it's been for the last week or so.

Geri did a bunch of laundry. I got half of the tires on the coach replaced before we head north. It rained and we did a bunch of rainy-day projects. We ate down the food on board and put a nice dent in the beer/wine supply in preparation for crossing the border. We watched a couple of DVDs. Nothing exciting, but definitely enough to keep us occupied.

We did do a couple of other things related to our trip: we loaded up on huckleberry stuff (and had another milkshake in the process) and we made a trip down to Polson to "visit" a an outlet store specializing in blankets and comforters made with goose down. So, now we'll have everything from preserves to pancakes, and we'll be as snug as a bug in a rug.

So, what's up with the trip? Well, we have good news and better news. First, we hit the road tomorrow morning. After a quick stop at the tire shop (they installed two of the wheels in a way that makes it tough to air them up), we'll be heading north on US-93 to the Canadian border. From there, we'll drive a few hours north to Fairmont Hot Springs, BC, where we'll "take the waters" for a few days.

And, for a bigger change, we'll be hooking up with two other couples that we've met in our travels who are headed to Alaska. The rendezvous will be around June 1 in Calgary, so we'll have some time to poke around after we leave the Springs. (I have a couple of ideas, but I'm keeping them under wraps until we make a final decision.) This change is really a great move, since we'll be able to travel with a small group (not alone and not with a larger caravan), and will be able to move at a reasonable pace (a hundred miles or two at a time, stopping as desired). We're looking forward to catching up with the Bahnson's and Rea's at the Fraser's in a couple of weeks!

It'll be interesting to see how connectivity works during this next phase of the trip. We changed our cell phone plan to one that covers the US and Canada - supposedly. It remains to be seen how it will really work. "Unlimited long distance in the US and Canada; airtime charges apply within the coverage area". Who knows what that really means? We're reasonably sure we can call US numbers from the US, and we think we can call Canadian numbers from Canada, but who knows about US->Canada and Canada->US? We've gotten a few conflicting opinions, but we'll know for sure once we try it out. I'll be able to log on and check the usage charges to find out.

Logging on, of course, will be more of a challenge since the air card doesn't have a US + Canada plan, and we'll soon be too far north to get a satellite signal. We'll rely on free (or close to free if that's all we can get) wi-fi as we travel, and all the guides indicate that availability is fair-to-good and getting better. On the bottom line, we'll still be in touch as best we can.

OK, time to make the burgers...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Funny Things From The Road

May 9, 2009
Kalispell, MT

Sometimes we see funny signs or other things while we're traveling. Sometimes we're able to get a picture but many times it's just something we see in passing or even out of the corner of the eye. Here are a few we made note of...

Many ranches in the west have elaborate (or just plain large) entrance gates, often made of huge timbers. Some have the name of the place embossed or attached on a hanging sign. Just outside Twin Falls, Idaho, we went by one and out of the corner of my eye I saw the name. Thinking it was a Spanish phrase, my mind started a translation but came up empty. I laughed when I "got" it. The name: "El Rancho Costa Plente".

Today near Glacier National Park;s West Entrance, we passed a little bar called the "Dew Drop Inn". Suffice it to say that this isn't the first one of these we've seen in our travels.

We passed a small upholstery shop called "Sew Exciting". I didn't get it.

As we were rolling through a small town south of Kalispell, I let a pickup carrying what looked like an agricultural tank enter traffic when we were stopped at a light. I noticed his license plate was "P-U-2", and thought it might be a Public Utility truck of some sort. When he pulled off and we passed him, I could see the sign on his door indicating that he was in business pumping out port-a-potties.

At some point, we'll start stopping for pictures of these things!

A Nice Day For A Drive

May 9, 2009
Whitefish and Columbia Falls, MT

Today dawned sunny, for the first day since we arrived here on the 3rd. We decided to take advantage of the (relatively) nice weather and take a drive. We headed north to Whitefish and took a drive along Whitefish Lake, where it seemed that the farther from town we got, the bigger and more elaborate the homes became.

We then took a bit of a trip down memory lane, heading east on US-2 toward the west entrance of Glacier National Park. We didn't go into the park (it's pretty early in the season and many roads are still closed due to snow) but will probably make another day trip before we leave here next week.

We visited this area almost 15 years ago, on one of our first "RV Rental" vacations. On that particular trip, we flew to Portland and picked up the rental, then made a loop of Mount Shasta, Yellowstone, and Glacier before heading back to Portland. It was quite a bit for a 2-week vacation. I know it was almost 15 years ago because it was pre-Merlin, and he'll be 12 this year. We saw a few of the roadside stops from the prior trip, had a huckleberry shake, and made it home before it started raining again. All in all, a pretty good day!

Click here for a few pictures...

Friday, May 8, 2009


May 8, 2009
Kalispell, MT

The microwave is back! The parts arrived at the repair shop in the morning on Thursday, and the repair guy called at 5:00 PM to say that he wanted to drop it off on his way home in about 15 minutes. After a little wrangling about the parts (I ordered two of the damper motors to have a spare and he claimed that there was only one in the box), he was here with the microwave and the spare motor ("must have gotten stuck under all the packing in the box"). Together, we leveraged it back into place and fished the power cord through the cabinet to the plug. I had all the tools laid out so he didn't even need to bring any in. After a quick test run, he was on his way. I wasn't particularly pleased with the $100 repair/delivery/re-installation charge, but it was better than trying to lift the thing back in there myself.

So, we're ready to roll, right? Not so fast. Since we can't get into our next stop until after the Victoria Day holiday weekend, we decided to hang around here for another week. Geri found a salon for a hair session next Thursday, and that prompted me to do some shopping for coach tires, which I'll have installed next Wednesday.

I'd been planning to replace the four remaining "original" tires on the coach when we returned from Alaska in the fall, since we'll go right by my "favorite" tire shop in Junction City, Oregon. Of the eight tires, four were replaced in 2007 due to excess wear (when the tag axle was out of alignment) or out-of-round problems (unfortunately, a common issue with Goodyear tires). The four original tires are almost down to the wear bars, and are all dated early-2004, when the coach was built. RV tires should generally be replaced after 5-7 years (definitely no more than 10), depending on wear and sidewall condition. Ours have ~65,000 miles on them (above average for RVs), and I was hoping to have them last the 8,000-10,000 miles we'll put on this summer. Then, I got to be thinking about how "life" sometimes tries to tell you things, and you have to "listen". Hmmm, it was a good decision to have the microwave fixed now, even if it meant staying here a few more days. Hmmm, we're already planning to spend the extra time. Hmmm, no sales tax in Montana, like Oregon. In the final analysis, the value derived from pushing the tires just isn't worth it. If we were spending the summer in the "lower 48", and not traveling as much, sure. Off to Alaska, not so much. So, I've rationalized the swap now and am comfortable with that.

Otherwise, not much is new. It's been cold (cold for us; probably cool for locals) with temperatures in the upper-40s and lower-50s, windy, and showery. If we get some better weather over the weekend, we'll spend some time exploring the area, and I'll break out the grill for some steaks. The extra time we're spending here is definitely giving us the chance to whittle away at the stuff we had in the freezer, and the "wine storage drawer", which should reduce our issues at border crossing.

That's it for now...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Serendipity is a beautiful thing

May 5, 2009
Kalispell, MT

I just reviewed past blog entries and it seems that I forgot to explain a minor problem we're having with the microwave. As we started to head north, we found that the microwave would run for 59 seconds and then stop, no matter what we did. I realized that I've read about this problem before on some of the motorhome-related Internet groups. It's unique to the brand we have, and related to the "damper motor" or "stirrer motor". If it's not turning right, 59 seconds is all you get.

Why do I relay this useful information? Well, we've been trying to see about getting it fixed for over a week now. Calls to repair services listed under Sharp product support go unanswered, if the numbers work at all. Since it's a $6.95 part, I hate to replace the whole unit prematurely, although we did do some shopping in that vein today (no purchases). We found a shop that should be able to do the repair (we hope), but they wanted us to bring the coach to their shop so they could remove the microwave. I thought about that and looked at their parking area, and thought again. So, we headed back to the coach and Geri and I managed to remove the unit. It's not extremely heavy, but it's a challenge to disconnect it from the cabinet without having it drop on the counter/stovetop. We got it done, though, and I dropped it off this afternoon. Now all we need to do is get it back - repaired and installed.

So, what's that got to do with serendipity? Well, we were scheduled to leave here tomorrow, so I've put that off for a week. That week delay will put us into the Victoria Day holiday in Canada, so we'll probably stay somewhere closer to the border for a few days and cross over on the 18th. It was a quick job to extend here and make the changes to the reservations I'd already made. No worries...

Random thoughts on the trip north

May 5, 2009
Kalispell, MT

As we travel (and even when we're not), Geri and I often say to each other "That'll make the Blog". Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. Here are a few random thoughts from the past week.

It was a good fall for the bulls. All along our route, particularly in Nevada, cattle ranches and ranges were filled with calves. In some places where the range is "open" (no fences to keep the livestock off the road), we had to slow or even stop while they crossed.

It was a bad spring for the skunks. We saw more dead skunks on the side of the road than anything else.

We'd use this route again. We've been trying to limit our Interstate driving, and this route from Yuma to Montana worked very well (railroad crossings excepted). US-95 to Las Vegas and then US-93 all the way north brought us through some interesting country, the roads were in good shape with only two short construction zones and a limited amount of what we call "bad road", there was only one steep mountain pass, and we made good time for the most part. Since we tend to drive at 57-59 MPH anyway, we can make the same time on "back roads" as Interstates. The only real slow and mountainous area was in northern Idaho, traveling from Challis up and over Chief Joseph Pass into Montana. We took it slow and were fine. Thank goodness for the Jake brake.

We had good practice for the trip north. We know how to slow for construction zones and creep through the bumps. We saw some wildlife (some mule deer in Nevada, plus a momma white-tail with two kids and a cluster of three elk in Idaho) and were able to slow appropriately. We'll tend to travel between 9 AM and 3 PM, so that may reduce the exposure.

We're learning how to be more flexible. This is very important, especially for a "planner" like me. We're working to make our plans in smaller chunks, and to make changes when needed. More on that in the next update...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Missoula to Kalispell

May 4, 2009
Kalispell, MT

We stayed in Missoula last night, and made the short drive up to Kalispell today.

Since we knew we weren't going to make it all the way to Kalispell from Twin Falls, we pulled up short in Missoula. Since we're now the most connected motorhome in the world, with always-on internet via the Verizon Wireless card with the Wilson boost amplifier, we were able to do a quick directory search and find a park right on our route. This is the height of serendipity: call at 5:00 PM and park at 5:20 PM.

Missoula is the home of the KOA campground chain, and the people from the head office have made it their life's work to promote "no overnight parking" anywhere but in RV parks in town. I'd prefer to stay at a mom-and-pop place, in this case "Jim and Mary's RV Park".

Today, we made the 3-hour drive up to Kalispell, our last stop before crossing into Canada. We called the microwave repair guy again (no return call), and have just about given up on getting it repaired soon, although we'll a) stop by the repair place tomorrow and b) keep looking as we meander north. I hosed off the Range Rover and did a few things around the house (e.g., grease the mechanism in the read bed slideout). I put the cover on the bike (Dave, I'll let you know how it works out over the next few travel days), and tomorrow we'll find a car wash and put the cover on the front of the Rover. We've had the cover for a while but generally don't use it since it rubs and flaps while driving and this causes paint finish issues. I bought a roll of "Transit Shield" (the plastic stuff you see on new cars while they're being transported to dealers) to put under the cover, so we'll be testing that as well.

The other key project for tomorrow is to head for the Post Office to get (hopefully) our mail. This will be the last mail delivery for a while (who wants to try to get your own mail through Canadian Customs?), so I'm hoping I didn't cut it too close.

The only other thing on the agenda is to make a list of the things to declare at the border. We're over on alcohol by a bit, but have no tobacco or weapons. It's always better to declare, since I'm sure we'll be searched (we have been every other time we've crossed into Canada).

Anyway, click here for a few pictures from yesterday and today...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Onward to Montana

May 3, 2009
Missoula, MT

Today was another good driving day, even though it rained on and off. At least we were below the snow line! Well, at least the falling snow line, even if not the melting snow line.

We followed US-93 all day today. It was cool, with temperatures in the low-to-mid-50s, and we both decided that this will be good practice for the weather we'll likely encounter as we get further north. We even managed to run through our first stretch of a construction zone! It didn't last very long, only about 1/2 mile of 5 MPH driving. The front of the car is covered in mud and rocks, but that may be from later in the day.

The last section of US-93 up to the Idaho/Montana border was the most scenic, and slow going in places with lots of curves. We followed part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, and ended up climbing to well over 7,000 feet at "Chief Joseph Pass", where the winter's snows are slowly melting. As they say, "it's all down hill from here", and we had about 8 miles of switchbacks to descend. No problems, though.

We knew we wouldn't make it all the way to Kalispell tonight, so we pulled into a local RV park in Missoula. We'll be back on the road in the morning...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

You're not in Arizona any more, Merlin

May 2, 2009
Twin Falls, Idaho

We had an interesting trip north from Yuma. As mentioned previously, we stayed the first night along I-10 just east of the Arizona-California border. From there, we followed US-95 north toward Las Vegas. Since we're planning to spend a few days in Vegas on the way home in the fall, our plan was to just "pass through" on this leg. As they say, "the best laid plans"...

Did you ever hear of the comedian Sam Kinison? He's dead, you know. Well, we found out that he died right along our route, on US-95 just near where the road crosses from California into Nevada. How did we learn this? Well, there's a railroad crossing right there in the middle of nowhere. The speed limit is 65. I slowed down to 30. We hit the tracks hard even so, and I was quite surprised at the impact. When we stopped for breakfast about 40 miles up the road, we put the bedroom slides out and found that one wouldn't come back in. Oh no! Let's check the fuse in the closet. Open the closet door and find every single hanger had jumped the rod. Gee, that must have been a bigger bump than I thought. Check the fuse block and nothing there, so better check the ones in the engine compartment. Wait a minute: what's wrong with the tow bar connecting the car to the coach? Why are the arms bent at a 30 degree angle??? Wow! I wonder what else those railroad tracks threw out of kilter?

Well, we put the clothes back up in the closet, we freed up the bedroom slide and it works fine now, and we made an unscheduled stop at the Camping World in Las Vegas for a new tow bar. Fortunately, swapping a tow bar is about as quick as a NASCAR pit stop (unlock from the coach, unhook the car, slide the tow bar from the hitch receiver, slide the new one in and lock the pin, reconnect the car, adjust the safety cables, and you're done. OK, maybe a bad NASCAR stop, but not much more than 5 minutes (and $1,000) later and you're on the road. Just in time to hit traffic all along I-15 and then find out that the exit for the truck stop where you need to fuel up is closed due to construction. A few detours later, and we're through civilization and heading north on US-93, our route from Vegas all the way to Montana.

Since we're trying to play things more by ear this trip, and to stay off the Interstates when possible, US-93 was a good choice. On the other hand, when you encounter a road called the Extraterrestrial Highway, you have to take it. This road runs by the location of the infamous "Area 51" - so they say. We stopped for dinner right near this site, at a small bar where the specialty is the "saucer burger" and the gene pool is pretty shallow. While we ate, we were entertained by the staff and locals mixing strange new cocktails with whatever they had behind the bar. We were thinking they'd been at it all day. But, they were friendly enough and told us we were welcome to park overnight in the field over yonder, where we slept like logs. Good deal.

From Area 51, we cut back to US-93 via US-6, and made it to Twin Falls, Idaho, as planned. We had a nice view of snow-covered mountains all around, and we ran into some light rain in several spots, with temperatures dropping into the 60s. With out blood being thinned from Arizona's spring, this was quite a shock to the system. Bring out the rain gear!

We're staying two nights here to break things up - we haven't stayed two nights in the same place since we left home on the 27th. It's a nice, older park, but the sites are generally level, we fit in the pull-thru, and the power works fine. That's all we need these days. Today, we hit a few stores to pick up essentials and puttered around the coach; nothing strenuous. Tomorrow, we're heading to Kalispell, Montana, where we'll spend a few days getting ready to cross into Canada. We're over our limit on booze, so I'll do an inventory and declare what we have and hope for the best.

Here's a link to some pictures from this part of the trip...