Team VA's Wonderings

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Straight Outta Quebec

 I had thought that this entire post would be dedicated to Microsoft OneDrive after my document crashed and vanished when offline, taking 8 days of musings with it. However, once I was back online I was able to access the auto recover file on my PC that I couldn’t access when offline. Can’t see the sense in that, but I was pleased to get it back. I write this stuff down, so I don’t need to remember what happened 8 days ago.

Day 1

Alarm rings at 5.00. First replan of the trip-it’s a bit dark, and we don’t want to be towing Casita in the dark, so we take another 30 minutes and hit the road at 6.45. Plus the car is boy racer noisy when you start it, so it’s a neighbourly decision too.

We’re armed with just enough route planning apps to be confusing-the normal car ones are good, but run the risk of ploughing you into a low bridge and trimming off the air con, or the whole roof. I spent a lot of time the day before trying to compare routes and times. In the end we pick an RV route that looks similar to the Google maps route-main difference being it says it will take 7 hours 40 instead of 5 20. We’ve been told the truth for the driving time is roughly split the difference, but the higher number is pretty good for travel time. That turns out to be good advice.

Oh and for good measure we have the car talking to us as well, it has traffic, so that’s handy. It helps to not be worried about getting lost, we’re 12.5m long when hitched up, so three point turns are best avoided.

En route, we go to the weigh station. Now we should have done this earlier, when it was still easy to dump stuff, but they aren’t so many of them, so we found out that we’re fine, but we reckon we’ll get rid of a few things all the same. Of course, it needs a spreadsheet to be sure, as there are so many maximum weights you have to bear in mind-for each vehicle, for each axel, tongue weight (weight the camper puts onto the car).

First item for the shopping list, we need an extension for the cable to connect to the camp electricity. It takes an age to position Casita (that’s after it took me an age to find the electrical supply in a bush) so that we’re within 25 feet of plug. We’re here for 4 nights, and travel days are basically a write off, so 12 hours from out of bed to fully set up is OK.

Different campgrounds offer different services-basically there’s electricity, water and sewer. Casita hooks up to these and in theory everything runs smoothly. Ideally, you get all 3. Sometimes it’s 1 or 2 of them, and sometimes none at all. Casita has a lithium battery and solar panels, plus tanks for fresh, grey and black water. In theory we can go 5 days off grid. Water wise that’s a push if we can only use Casita’s bathroom. Battery wise, 3 days seems OK-but no air con; we can use air con on battery, but 2 or 3 hours will kill the battery; over 3 days we’re probably looking to turn the freezer off (I know, such a hardship when camping). So, full service means happy days; anything else means we need to monitor things quite closely-even down to planning what to eat so the food preparation/washing up doesn’t use too much resources. Not having water/sewer connections at Algonquin means we have to go to the water point before getting to the campground before filling up (don’t want to drag 140kg of water any further than necessary), then on the way out we’ll need to clear out the waste water. In terms of planning, this means we can’t have consecutive stays of any length at places without electricity.

I’m hoping confidence with towing Casita will grow over the trip, as it was pretty exhausting today. This is a long trip-to get to Vancouver we’re estimating 9,200km, towing for 6,700 of that. I’ve lost my numbers, which isn’t ideal, but I think we estimated 20, 000km towing and another third for travel without Casita. {obviously since I wrote this I have gone back to numbers-estimate is 22,000 towing plus 8 more without}.

Andrea’s family are also staying at Algonquin, so we ended up round the camp fire (or at least I did till I fell asleep).

Day 2

Ontario in itself is huge-we have 6 stops and about 2,500km towing. None of the trip’s big hitters are in Ontario, but I’m sure we’ll find some gems. Today we just had a very pleasant hike with the dogs, through a forest, up to some cliffs and back. Rated moderate, it seemed to be enough exercise to justify an ice cream that we forgot to take a photo of. 

Most of this trip is going to be national/provincial parks. So we think non-travelling days will usually be a hike of some sort, followed by admin/chilling in the afternoon. Particularly in the US, there are some scenic drives to add on.

Day 3

We set off for a couple of walks today and started with Beaver pond-there was an excellent booklet on beavers to accompany the walk, which I could summarise here, but suffice to say beavers are impressive and one of the ponds they created would be a lake in the UK. I’ll leave you to Google Beavers or Leslie Nielsen for more information.


We followed this up with our first real foul up. We tried to go on the Big Pines hike, we got there are saw a sign pointing to the Lookout hike on the left, so we carried on walking up the road figuring this would lead us to bug Pines. 15 minutes up the road, with no sign of a trailhead, we decide to head back down and try Lookout instead. 15 minutes after that we reach the Car Park for Lookout. At which point….we’d had enough. When we got back to the car, still wondering where the trailhead for Big Pines was, we saw it was about 20 metres from where we’d parked. Some truck had blocked our view. It was massive. Truly ginormous. Must have been. You know, so it’s not really our bad.


Day 4

Bit of a crappy day weather wise, in fact we even had a blast of heating in Casita when we went to bed, but we did manage another very pleasant hike.

One of the downers of towing is it’s really not wise to just jump in the car, hit the GPS and go, so the day before means checking routes, weather (we have 2 wind apps) and planning stops (including fuel). We think we can do just over 400km on a tank (we do not want to find out that limit, so refuelling is minimum each 300km-sounds OK, but then you see a sign ‘last gas for 150km’, and they weren’t lying).

For Past Times sake we nipped into Whitney for a few essentials.

Day 5

I’ve not been sleeping well and been having a bit of a crisis of confidence about the amount of dragging La Casita around that we need to do. Pulling a trailer is not at all like just driving a car-it’s pretty intense. The windy forecast failed to inject me with positivity: wind speeds weren’t at the level that meant we should get off the road, but they were high enough to give me a wobbler. Anyway, end of the day it was a good journey-the sway bar did its job in that you could definitely feel the wind (Casita is something like 21 feet long and 10 and a half high, so that’s a lot sail when the wind blows), but we weren’t being unduly pushed around. Plus the car handled the descents very tidily, so all good. Note to self-you can start sleeping properly.

Algonquin and Chutes have been interesting staring points: we didn’t initially plan to stay at either, but we lost out in the vicious non-contact sport that is booking camping in Ontario-there’s a Glastonbury system of hitting F5 until you get the message to say it’s sold out.

The hikes in Algonquin were varied and numerous, at Chutes there is one that we’ll tackle tomorrow, but from our arrival in the campsite, I already prefer Chutes. It’s quieter, smaller, the toilets are a lot nicer (despite being long drop Glasto style, the weather’s better/there’s less mud and there’s a dog park next to the dog beach. So after we got setup, we had a walk and the friends (Feliz and Sab) had a swim, which they haven’t been able to do for ages. Must get a video on here of them at some stage.

En route spent about $200 on a 50 foot extension cable to connect Casita to camp electricity. It did its job as we needed about 5 feet in the Chutes camping.

Day 6

Chutes, for those who might not know, is French for waterfall and we spend a couple of hours with the dogs wandering on both sides of the river, through the woods and admiring the falls. Another hike long enough to merit ice cream, so we wander into town and have lunch as an appetiser at a nice café with Wi-Fi so we can plan tomorrow’s journey.

If you get the chance, go to Chutes-camping great, the hike is lovely and you can walk into town for supplies/a meal. Magic. Also emphasised one the core truths of travelling-there’s never enough time (copyright Hugh Hill), I’d have happily stayed here for several days. 

In case I hadn’t explained, we are pushing pretty hard for the first 3 months. There are a lot of places where our only chance to visit is before winter. National parks and RVing is so popular now, that you have to book the campsites months in advance. So we have minimal flexibility, which is a great shame. Have to be content that this was a great choice, if only for a couple of nights.

Day 7

Today was supposed to be our first night camping in a Walmart. This is a strange, but (we expect) useful practice where you can spend the night in a Walmart car park. When you first hear the idea, it doesn’t sound too appealing. However, it appears to have several advantages: you need to break up the journey and there isn’t necessarily enough time or things to see to properly stop every 400km or so; odds are the Walmart is pretty much on your route as major roads skirt major towns, which is where you get a supermarket; all we need to do is park and drop the tongue jack to take the weight off the car-fully setting up at a campsite and then packing up the next day is a couple of hours extra; it’s free. Plus you can get your groceries. Cracker barrel do something similar, so we may be there in the US.

We needed to break up the 630 km between Chutes and Pukaskwa National Park and had originally seen only one town of real size with the Walmart option. However, this was only a third distance, which would have left us a LONG time in a Walmart car park. We were struggling to find an alternative, when I checked Harvest Hosts (I thought I’d already done this) and found a blueberry farm/winery in Wawa that was 2/3 of the way to Pukaskwa-split second decision to change plan. Harvest Hosts seems amazing-it cost about 80 of someone’s dollars for the year. You then get access to thousands of mostly wineries/breweries/farms where you can spend a night for free in your camper-you’re just encouraged/obliged to spend $20 on the stuff they sell. Winner. The only downer is this appears to be the last one in Ontario, so in Kenora it will be the full Walmart.

My admiration for lorry drivers has dramatically increased, as they sweep past me in the outside lane. 2 hours of towing and concentrating is about my limit and I know we’re pulling a little toy compared to those guys. I can’t imagine what those huge trailers must be like with a good gust of wind-maybe that’s why they drive so fast.

When we did our research to buy Casita, one of the things that was made abundantly clear was that we would have problems and to a certain extent would need to be handy enough to fix a lot of things. One of the main sources of weight in the trailer is the boxes of tools and various cans of stuff we have to spray on different moving parts. We’ve had a couple of majorish concerns in the past few days, but both seem to have been sorted. Firstly we had water on the bathroom floor after having showers the other day-concern was we had a leak behind the shower and water was coming out: I didn’t really fancy removing walls to find the problem. After a few more showers, it now appears that some idiot sprayed a load of water on the floor when cleaning the shower. I need to fix a bit of damage to the wood from that, but that’s a result compared to the alternative I was imagining.

Our other issue was with one of our wheels. The technology of the wheels is, I believe, somewhat old. They have wheel bearings that need greasing every 10,000 miles/a year, lug nuts that need tightening every 1,000 miles, and a bunch of other stuff. Most of this we paid someone to sort before leaving, other bits I can do. Yves gave us some great advice before departure-touch the wheels after driving, if they’re hot, then the wheel bearings are going to need repacking (grease again). So I started doing that and found one of the wheels was warm on the way to Chutes. I’d meant to check with Yves before leaving Chutes just how hot was a problem. On the way to Wawa today, the same wheel was warm and getting warmer after each stop. We were looking closely at the Tyre Pressure monitor we have on Casita’s wheels-the tyre was consistently hotter by between 2 and 5 degrees. This was a little concerning. Anyway, cutting a long story short (too late for that), within an hour of arriving in Wawa it was all sorted: our Harvest Host directed us to a tyre shop, who couldn’t help us, who directed us to a truck repair place (all within 500m of where we were staying); the guys there hoisted Casita up and adjusted the brakes, which had been rubbing and then didn’t even want paying. I gave them beer money of course. 

I’ve been in Canada too long, I’m starting to type tire rather than tyre.

So week one done, just over 1,500km behind us. (Andrea is keeping some spectacular statistics-it’s beyond me and would probably edge out John Adams in a stats nerd contest). This leg has relaxed me a lot with the driving, when we arrived it was fairly windy, but that hadn’t been a worry during the drive. I think we’re in the swing of things.

Day 8

We slept really well. Once we’d packed up our blueberries, blueberry jam and blueberry wine we felt like Violet Beauregard and headed off onto the Trans Canadian highway once more. The Lonely Planet roughly says the Trans Canadian doesn’t exist, but is a patchwork of provincial roads. I wouldn’t quite agree with that, rather I would say it is very varied. In parts of Quebec it’s 2 line motorway, I think bits of Ontario are bigger than that. It is also one lane in large parts, with regaulr extra lanes so all the people behind me can overtake. It also passes through a lot of small towns, so much so that at Chutes we were stopped at traffic lights on it, waiting to turn into the park. I’ve also seen on the map that there are ferry journey connecting Vancouver Island and Newfoundland that are also labelled Trans Canadian highway. So, it really can take you right across Canada. I didn’t realise we’d be using it so much, but then I think for the most part it is the only way. We crossed a major road at North Bay (about 800km back), which meets up with the Trans Canada again at Thunder Bay-in another 300 or so.

So, today is our first NATIONAL park after all this provincial stuff. Have to say the facilities are nicer. Pukaskwa (puk-a-saw) is pretty large, but only has about 4km of roads, so for us everything is focussed around the campsite, where there are a number of trails we’ll start on tomorrow. Nice not to need the car at all for 2 days. Backcountry camping isn’t very realistic for us with 2 bad backs and 2 Labradors. 2 Labradors that have had to stay on the leash all the time so far, as we’re in bear country. This is for the very good reason that the majority of bear attacks on humans are caused by off leash dogs. It goes something like this: dog runs to say hello to the bear; dog belatedly thinks ‘maybe not my best idea’; dog runs back to his/her hooman; bear follows…… 

The proximity of Wawa meant we arrived around 11, which was nice as this is our first ‘First Come, First Served’ campsite. You get a map when you arrive, get told to drive around and pick a site, set up camp and come back and pay. I’m not sure how many choices we had as we picked one about 2 down from the spot where we filled Casita with fresh water. It’s very nice, again.

I’m glad we’re here as we rather skipped past Lake Huron, and drove for 140km through Lake Superior Provincial park without stopping. So it seems right to be camping 5 minutes walk from the Big Lake.

Having said that, here is Lake Superior.

I thought it’d be bigger.


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