Team VA's Wonderings

Monday, September 04, 2023

Looking for WiFi

Been out in the woods a bit, and not able to connect to pick up messages or upload ramblings, so here's a  bumper edition.

Day 9

OK, so this Lake Superior is pretty massive.

According to the film we saw in the visitor centre, it is in fact an inland sea-although when I asked a few questions, no one could confirm what that actually meant (we’re above sea level, the water is fresh)-feels like that was a way of saying it is large. We connected a couple of hikes this morning and wandered through woods and round the coast. You can tell from the dogs’ reactions that there are lots of wonderful smells. 

We are travelling; we are not on holiday. I know that, but am less sure how you define the difference-is it like an inland sea and the result of the amount of time, or more of a mindset, or both? One of things that definitely is part of travelling is the need to do a lot of organising and admin while on the road. Often getting some wifi/a laundry room provokes an avalanche of such activity. During the walk we were talking about the distance we have already travelled and the plan for the next 2 and a half weeks to get us to Grasslands in Saskatchewan: this is another 3,000 km of towing, which would leave us having done over 20% of the towing in less than a month of an 8/9 month trip. So we decided to shave a few hours off the travel for next few days. Sadly, this means we have cut Riding Mountain: from what we can tell it would have broadly similar to the Ontario parks, but I’m sad as it’s got such a great name (and it would have been our first full hook up site-all 3 services). We haven’t ditched Manitoba altogether, which was an option, but instead we will go to Spruce Woods, which is much nearer the US border to facilitate our Dakota detour for Badlands/Rushmore/Wind Cave.

Those who know me (well) will recall that I do like to be proved right, on this occasion perhaps less so. I have always maintained that tumble dryers wreck your clothes. We barely ever used the one in our house, but on the road there isn’t much of a choice-even if the weather is up to drying clothes, we don’t have enough washing lines for everything. When I picked my clothes for the trip I included a number of tatty t-shirts that I knew wouldn’t last the journey and would have to be retired and replaced by t-shirts I’d find on the way (always a bittersweet moment). Buying t-shirts when travelling is the closest I get to buying souvenirs. All my other clothes, bar a hoodie, were in decent shape. Not anymore. 4 pairs of boxers have become too airy and are now in the bin. At this rate I’ll be turning them inside out before we get to Vancouver and the chance to buy new ones. I am now convinced that tumble dryers are manufactured by a cartel of clothing companies determined to destroy the clothes they sell you so you’ll buy more. If I did hash tags, WARONWASTE.

Day 10

Our last day at Pukaskwa already. We reckon this is favourite park to date, not that there was anything wrong with the other two. The facilities were really good; the visitor centre welcoming with a beautiful spot by the lake; the trails beautiful and all accessible by foot; our camp spot was secluded. Could have stayed longer……

Day 11

I’ve been earworming Thunder Road reworked as Thunder Bay for about a week. This is the big city until Banff I reckon. Population 125,000, we’re here Friday and Saturday night-Andrea isn’t convinced by my suggestion that Thunder Bay is a big night out.

One of the (few/several/many) things that were concerning me before we left was the battering Casita would get from the roads. People say driving an RV is like submitting your house to a three point something earthquake. Before leaving we had to put additional catches on the fridge and a couple of drawers which had opened en route more than once. Each time we pack up to leave I click the TV in place (it’s on one of the things that a lot of people use to put a TV on the wall so you can adjust the angle). Without fail before this trip, the TV was no longer clicked in placed upon arrival.

The fact that the TV has remained clicked in place for each leg we’ve travelled in Ontario is proof enough for me how much better the roads have been in Ontario as opposed to Quebec, where Casita was regularly subjected to sickening jolts. {Naturally since I wrote this the roads have detoriated and th TV is coming loose again}

Big day on the road, which was pretty tiring and had some intense spells. We had very low visibility going through some clouds, but the good thing in Ontario is that they paint lines on the road, which is optional in Quebec, so it was really no drama. Trickier was the absolute monsoon that had some people pulling to the side of the road; I reasoned that as we were ascending the visibility was the issue and there were plenty of vehicles hazards to keep us on the straight and narrow.

 We’d been invited by Diane, the mother of a friend of Andrea’s to stop over en route, but the weather forecast big winds so we’d decided to get to the camping straight away. We figured that once in the campsite we’d be tired and that’s be that. In the end, we were persuaded to visit Diane’s wonderful house a little way from Thunder Bay and meet her and Brian. It is an incredible place: we watched an eagle catch a fish so big it took the eagle about 200m to start ascending; pelicans passed by pretty regularly and there were a couple of rainbows. We also saw photos and videos of the bear and Lynx that have visited their garden. A truly magical spot. Oh, and there was pizza.

Day 12

Ribfest. More Sabio’s choice than mine. Brian’s nephew plays drums for a covers band. I’m supposed to write this each evening so I don’t forget stuff, but I am days behind, so I don’t have the setlist, but there was Creedence, the Canadian National anthem

 {Imagine garage band playing Summer of '69, file was too big to upload}

And they finished with Paradise City, which was nice.


We had a bunch of stuff we wanted to look at in Thunder Bay in the morning, but unfortunately that was taken up by fixing a leak-the connector between the hot tap in the kitchen and the pipe had come loose. Fixing it wasn’t much of a problem, but trying to find all the water and mop it up took some time. I’ve been tightening things ever since.

We’d planned Thunder Bay as a practical stopover-we were covering a lot of distance, with a population of over 100 thousand it’s the biggest place in over 1500km. We’d thought supplies, washing and internet. It was way better than that and we wished we could have stayed longer (I know, every place: I was talking about that with Diane, no matter how much time you have you can seemingly spend longer everywhere-everywhere expect Surfer’s Paradise as far as I recall from my last big trip).

Day 13

An almost perfect travel day. OK, we had a decent stretch with very low visibility as we went through clouds again. I’m also considering getting a massive sticker for the back of Casita ‘It’s a speed limit, not a suggested starting point’: we seemed to have a lot of people pushing hard to get past us.

However all of that is easily overwhelmed by the fact the driving itself went very well, we gained an hour by driving across a time zone, we’d decided to ditch Walmart and book a campground in lovely Kenora, we were set up early afternoon and in the brewery with the dogs welcome before 3. Then the brewery had the best playlist I’ve heard since getting to Canada-Bowie (with Queen, Heroes and Nirvana’s Man who Sold the World) and the VU and nothing rubbish. Plus the glasses told you when you needed to order another.


Day 14

We have crossed Ontario. We’re like proper explorers. In the first hour today the KM markers on Ontario’s section of the Tran Canada Highway finally hit zero. We did something around 2,300km across Ontario; Manitoba is less then 500km to cross, but we’ll be skipping even some of that on our Badlands detour.

I’m still very disappointed to have cut Riding Mountain and the Wasagaming campground we’d reserved, as that’s a couple of great names and a real chance for a first t-shirt of the trip. Instead we’re at Spruce Woods where one of the major things to see is….sand dunes.

Another 1500 km week, meaning we’ve done an eighth of the towing in the first 2 weeks and a 1/3 of the total distance to Vancouver.

Today’s arrival maintenance was to screw a load of screws back in that had come out due to the tremors on Manitoba’s Highway 2-there was a section where you felt they’d splashed all the cash on Highway 1 (Trans Canada, dual carriageway, very nice).


Day 15

I feel another replan coming on, we’re supposed to be here for two days before the two day trip to Badlands, there are some strong winds forecast for Thursday, however. We’ll look again tomorrow and decide what to do-forecasts change. Our overnight stops app suggests plenty of options for North Dakota, so if we get on the road and don’t like it we have options, but maybe we’ll stay another day in Spruce Woods.

I belatedly managed to do some important work last night. Every leg of the journey so far starts with Go West (frequently followed by Go Your Own Way, or the rest of the Pet Shop Boy’s Very album). I’d been meaning to make a West playlist, so we don’t have to search every time. En route yesterday, we realised we’d need a South song soon to head to the US and possibly North as well as the route from Badlands to Saskatchewan might be more North than West.

The South list lacks a standout track to kick off the Southern legs, so there will need to be an audition. Driving South has the title, but probably isn’t one of the best 30 Stone Roses songs, so I think it might end up being one of Dire Straits, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Moby or Florence. Dire Straits love a bit of compass oriented songwriting-they show up twice on the West playlist, by far the strongest.

The decision on the North playlist is just down to which version of ‘It’s Grim up North’ to use. When we get to that it’ll be first time I’ll have heard Black Grape’s ‘A Big Day in the North’ for a very, very long time-I have no memory of that song. Likewise North Star (Faithless).

The East list is a real problem. In fact we need your help. Fortunately we won’t need it till November (California to Utah). Currently we have

            East at Easter-Simple Minds

            Clint EASTwood-Gorillaz

            East Bound and Down-Jerry Reed (John Adams, I have you to ‘thank’ for this trucking ode)

            La Bamba (from the album ‘Just Another Band from East L.A.’)

Suggestions are most welcome. Could be our music collection, but it seem the West and North are much more fertile compass points for songs.

Poodled round some dunes with the dogs today. We didn’t see the Hognose snake, which as a bit of a shame. They’ve no desire to see us (and probably even less to see the dogs). According to the information board, they are harmless-I take that to mean harmless to humans, they need to eat something. Anyway, if you do come across one it is likely to try to scare you off with an impression of a rattlesnake and if that fails (and if you’re really lucky) may roll on its back and play dead. I’m not sure how that is supposed to scare off a predator, but you can’t ask information board questions.


Day 16

We toured the interpretative trail in the park for a walk with the dogs. Sabio decided to lean over the boardwalk for a drink, fell in and then emerged with his top half as normal and bottom transformed into a chocolate lab. Fortunately there’s a dog beach, so he went for a swim to get clean.

We spent some time pouring over routes for tomorrow and the forecasts on the wind apps. We’ll make an early start and see how it goes, but with the weather worsening during the day it looks likely we’ll stop early. We have a couple of apps that help us find somewhere to stay if we decide not to make it to Bismarck. That would be a shame as Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota and an essential stop for supplies. Essentially we can’t take food across the US border, so we need to stock up, plus there is a Costco to get the dogs’ food.

Day 17

The first few hours driving were fine: we crossed the border at a very quiet post. It took as long as a major crossing since the time we saved not sitting in the queue were spent talking to the 2 border officials and one of them looking round Casita for contraband (note-hide anything in the car, they don’t look there). Both were very friendly and wished us safe travels and a happy retirement to Andrea, for today is the last official day of her being a lawyer.

Further into the US we made a breakfast stop. At Rugby. When we got out of the car the wind was fairly strong and the forecast looked like it would get worse. So we spent some time cross referencing our route to places where we could stay. Turns out there are camping spots in a lot of towns’ parks. So we identified the next 3 en route and decided to stop at the 3rd world and plan again (if we got that far). In the end we decided the third town would be enough for the day. Unfortunate as we were an hour and half shy of Bismarck and realised this would put nearly 4 hours onto tomorrow as we wouldn’t be able to do the shopping today.

Butte seemed a little representative of North Dakota-it felt a bit quiet and forgotten. En route we’d been pronouncing Butte with a silent ‘e’, but on meeting friendly locals we found out that one of the ‘t’s is silent. Despite being very small, it took us a while to find where to put Casita and then we headed off for a late lunch and some supplies to get us through the night. Someone had told us that the population was 70-the school was big enough that they could all have attended and taken a friend of 2. However, it looked defunct as did two of the churches and quite a few of the houses-the town must have had a much bigger population before. Much of it was very well cared for and loved, but the level of activity seemed low for 70 people. It was a little eerie, especially when the trains blasted through in the night.

The Lonely Planet section for North Dakota runs across 4 pages, but only one page is all North Dakota-the first and last have a column for another state and 2/3 of another page is about a drive in Ohio. The book noted it is one of the least visited states and only 3 states have smaller populations (with South Dakota just above). I hope the Dakotans are all happy there, but it’s pretty isolated and sparsely populated.

Day 18

Yeah, long day. Off before 7, waiting for Costco to open in Bismarck, couple of fuel stops, another time zone. 13 hours from waking up to being setup. But we’re here for 5 nights, which seems like luxury. We found some great local brew, beautiful sunset and got a taste of the Badlands park as we drove through a corner of it to get to our campsite.

Tired, back to back travel days take it out of you.

A thank you to Walmart, although we didn’t sleep there AGAIN, I was beginning to despair when doing the shopping. Struggled to find pasta-there was loads of Mac and Cheese and basically other premade dinners, but actual pasta was hidden away elsewhere and there was way, way less of it. Then there was no margarine. Halloumi was always ambitious. Then I was looking for veggie stuff and nearly gave up without looking, but there was loads of it, so I filled the freezer.

Day 19

Tactical error today. We were up early and saw the sun rise (a bit before 6 I think). That was the moment to head into the park, as it was still only warm. Instead we did the washing and some admin, then headed into the park when it was damn hot. We followed the Badlands loop road, where you basically drive, then stop at a lookout, then stop at boardwalk/short walk etc. Not long into the drive, the temperature was turned up to furnace. Now back in Casita with the AC on, the outside thermometer maxed out at 45 degrees. We didn’t do any of the walks as the dogs aren’t allowed on them, it was too hot to leave them in the car for any time and it was too hot for us too. There’s hardly any shelter here, brutal for the cows and bison. Fortunately, we have time on our side here, so another day we’ll get up early and go walking. Tonight we might go to the evening ranger talk and some star gazing.

 The landscape is extraordinary and somewhat unreal feeling. I lack the energy to look up the geographical/geological explanation and am struggling to find my own words, bit of a drawback really. Anyway, well worth the detour, hopefully some photos will fill the gaps in the prose.


Tomorrow-Rushmore and Wind Cave.


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