Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kilometers to Miles We've Got But Liters, Meters, and Kilograms - Not So Much!

Sunday, May 31, 2009 – We left Hinton about 8:30 AM on Highway 40N toward Grande Cache and Grande Prairie. The scenery was pretty but not as beautiful as we have been seeing the past few days. We stopped in Grande Cache to top off our fuel and continued on to Grande Prairie arriving just before 1:00 PM. We had planned to go to a rodeo this evening but it was cold and windy and it started raining shortly after we arrived so we all agreed to skip the rodeo. I had a pot roast cooking in the crock pot so while it finished up we drove over to Costco and did a little shopping and then had dinner together. After dinner Bill decided he would go take a long, hot shower at the campground’s washroom. This should have been a non-event but turned into a comedy that should have been recorded for television. He gathered everything together and walked over to the washroom only to find out he needed a dollar. He came back and got a “loonie” and returned to the showers. He put in his dollar, got in the shower, and soaped up his hair and his body. Even though he turned off the water to save time on his dollar, just about the time he got everything all soaped up his time ran out and the water turned off! Now what? He peeked around to see if anyone was looking and then dripping wet and covered in soap he ran back and forth from the shower to the sink gathering everything he had brought with him. He had to make three sinks full of water to get all the soap off. All of this was so he could take a longer, more leisurely shower than in the motorhome. I guess that will teach him!

We have been on the road now for 12 days and we are 2, 139 miles from home. In the morning we will arrive in Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway. Now that we have been in Canada for about a week we are pretty proficient in converting kilometers to miles but we’re still working on the meters to feet, liters to gallons and kilograms to pounds. Figuring out our mileage is a real trick – at this point I wouldn’t want to bet the ranch that it’s accurate but it’s probably pretty close. As for the exchange rate between U.S. currency and Canadian who knows? Apparently it changes every day and it is somewhere between 8.5% and 10.0% depending on where you exchange and how much they charge for the privilege of changing your money. Our best rate so far was today at Costco where I got $110 Canadian for $100 U.S. Just about the time we get it figured out we’ll be in Alaska and not have to worry about it for awhile.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Beautiful Canadian Rockies - Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper

Thursday, May 28, 2009 – As we were leaving Calgary this morning by way of the Trans-Canada Highway there was a young man hitchhiking right at the on-ramp. He was young and clean-cut looking so we picked him up. His name was Zoe and he was an 18 year old college student traveling across Canada for a summer adventure. He was very sweet and appreciative of the ride and we found him to be interesting. He had left Ontario on Saturday and had taken rides from a college professor, a man and wife, and a trucker that he rode with for two days. He is going to school to study motion picture and television production and was keeping a video record of his adventure. He traveled with us as far as Lake Louise which was our destination for the day. We let him out at the off-ramp and he continued on his way toward Vancouver. We pulled into the Lake Louise Campground which is a very peaceful and beautiful park surrounding by pine trees and mountains. After we got set up we rode with Bill and Pam about 30 miles back to Banff and walked around the town, had some lunch, and visited the magnificent Banff Springs Hotel. It is an enormous grey stone building that is unlike anything we have seen before not only in its size but also the beauty of its surroundings. We returned to the campground where we met some very nice people. Across from us was a young family from Holland traveling around Canada for 19 days. They have two young children, Ellen and Devin, who came across the street to visit which was quite brave of them considering they were from another country and spoke very limited English. Shortly after, their parents came over and were in awe of our motorhome since apparently they never see bus type RVs in Europe and ours is quite a bit larger than the one they have rented for their “holiday.” A little later we met a great couple from Ontario, Canada who are traveling across the country to deliver a small older model motorhome to their son who plans to live in it. Their names were Di and Keith Thomson and it turns out that he is a firefighter from the London Ontario Fire Department so he and Bill really hit it off. We exchanged phone numbers and contact information with them and hopefully we can keep in touch.

On the subject of nice people – while we were pulled over at a gas station waiting for Bill and Pam to fill up a couple in a truck and pulling a horse trailer pulled into the parking lot and saw that we were from California. They came to the door of our coach, introduced themselves and asked if we would like to join them for breakfast. We told them we were with friends and just waiting for them to get gas so we couldn’t join them but it was such a nice gesture on their part and came as a very pleasant surprise to us. It is really too bad that the worst element of society gets so much attention in the news and press because we always meet the nicest people on our travels across the country. Whether it is helping us buy subway tokens in Boston, directing us to discounted show tickets in New York City, helping us get into a broken door lock on the motorhome or just sitting around a campground and visiting one of the great benefits of traveling the way we do is meeting so many fantastic people from all walks of life.

Friday, May 29, 2009 – We drove the short distance from the campground over to Chateau Lake Louise. The Chateau is a large elegant hotel set within the most exquisitely beautiful surroundings I have ever seen. The Canadian Rockies really defy description and as beautiful as our Rocky Mountains are these are more so. Lake Louise is still largely frozen over so we could not even see the crystal clear water and the reflection of the mountains that is shown in photographs and postcards but it was beautiful nevertheless. After we left the Chateau we drove up to the Mountain Lodge and got our tickets to ride the gondola up to the top of the mountain. At the top there was a wild life interpretive center with a film and very informative displays about the animals found in the area. On the way back down in the gondola we saw two grizzly bears on the hillside just to the right of our path. We returned to the campground and while we were sitting outside talking the Dutch family across from us returned from their day’s activities and they came over and visited for a short time. Around 6 PM Bill and I took the Dickey’s truck and went back to the Lake Louise Village Grill to have some dinner and watch the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA Western Division Championship.

Saturday, May 30, 2009 – We left Lake Louise and traveled on the Icefields Parkway toward Jasper. We passed through some of the most beautiful mountains and glaciers we have ever seen. The Canadian Rockies are truly breathtaking in their beauty. About half way between Lake Louise and Jasper we stopped at the Columbia Icefield. We took an excursion on a large snowmobile type vehicle out onto the Athabasca Glacier. It was cold but not unbearable and the sights were spectacular. The guide gave us a lot of interesting facts about the glacier and the icefield including: the depth of the ice where we stopped is approximately 1000 feet, the glacier grows about 45’ in the winter and shrinks about 75’ during the summer, the icefield gets about 21 to 30 feet of snow every year, and the Columbia Icefield is 95 times larger than Central Park in New York City. Along the way we saw three bears, one of them right at the edge of the road; a mountain goat right at the side of the road; a moose and her very young baby grazing on the banks of the Athabasca River, and an eagle. We pulled in for the night in Hinton at the Hinton/Jasper KOA. It is a nice park with good facilities. I went into town and did some grocery shopping then came home and did the laundry while Bill made dinner. After dinner we sat down with Bill and Pam and planned out our route for the next couple of days. We decided to skip going to Edmonton to see the World’s Largest Mall because it would add several hundred miles and at least a couple of days to the trip. Instead we are going to take a more direct and scenic route to Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Entering Canada - Fort MacLeod and Calgary

Monday, May 25, 2009 – Today was just a travel day. We left West Yellowstone at 8:40 AM and intended to stop in Great Falls, Montana. When we got there it was only about 1:30 so we decided to continue on to Shelby, MT which is only about 30 miles from the US/Canadian border. We arrived at the Lewis and Clark Campground just after 3:00 PM. The campground is nothing special but the setting is pretty and it is right off the highway. We made dinner and then took a short walk around the campground where we met two other families heading to Alaska. In the morning we will top off the fuel tank and cross the border by mid-morning.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 – We topped off our fuel tanks in Shelby and continued north on Interstate 15 to the US/Canadian border. The first stop was the United States customs where they checked our passports asked a couple of questions and came on board the motorhome briefly. They cleared us and sent us forward about 100 yards to the Canadian customs checkpoint. Once again they looked at our passports; asked if we had any guns, tobacco, or alcohol; asked how long we would be in Canada and when we were there last and sent us on our way. For all the horror stories we had heard about crossing the border it was absolutely no problem and took maybe three minutes total. We stopped just across the border at the Visitors’ Welcome Center where we got maps, brochures, and information on what to see and do while in Alberta, Canada. As soon as we crossed the border we had to give ourselves a crash course in converting to kilometers and meters instead of miles as well as other little differences in Canadian signage. We traveled through Lethbridge and continued on to Fort MacLeod, the home of the North West Mounted Police (later known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). We looked at the displays throughout the fort and then watched a film about the arrival of police into the area to deal with whiskey dealing and a general lack of law and order. The film was somewhat interesting but a little too long. Immediately after the film a small troupe of actors presented a play. The actors, for the most part, were very amateurish and the play went on and on and on! We were literally a captive audience and had to stay until the bitter end. We finally left Fort MacLeod about 3:30 PM and since it was only 90 miles to Calgary we decided to go there for the night. It turned out to be the longest most exhausting 90 mile drive ever. We hit Calgary during rush hour traffic that rivals anything they have in Los Angeles. We arrived at the Calgary West RV Park about 6:00 and got set up. Today is Bill Dickey’s 69th birthday so Pam invited us over for chili. We had dinner and enjoyed visiting with them over dessert. We can certainly tell we are moving north – as I write this it is almost 10:30 PM and it is just now getting dark outside.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 – We left the campground at about 10:00 AM to go into Calgary. Our first stop was The Calgary Tower in the city center. We rode the elevator up to the observation deck and spent some time enjoying the 360 degree views. There was a glass floored bay window that you could walk out onto and look straight down to the street. I reluctantly walked out but could not bring myself to look down. I am a big wimp when it comes to looking down through a glass floor, open slats or spaces to the point that my stomach actually gets queasy. However, if I am on solid ground I can look down and it is no problem. After we left the Calgary Tower we walked over to the bank and exchanged some of our money for Canadian money. I exchanged $200 US and got $217.22 in Canadian. Our next stop for the day was Heritage Park. The park has numerous historic buildings and homes from the late 1800 and early 1900s that have been moved and restored. Another part of the park is called Gasoline Alley which is a museum of antique gas pumps and cars. The cars were beautiful and very valuable. We spent a good part of the day at Heritage Park and decided we wanted some pizza for lunch. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to find a place to go in and sit down and have a pizza but we completely struck out. We finally gave up and returned to the campground. Bill and Pam wanted to stay home so Bill and I dropped them off and went to the Canadian Olympic Park which is the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The first building we saw was the Ice House which was the first fully refrigerated building with indoor runs for training in the luge and bobsleds. We rode the chair lift up to the top of the mountain and saw the bobsled run and then hiked over to see the ski jumps. The 90m jump is no longer used for ski jumping and has been transformed into a zip-line run. The smaller ski jumps are used year around for training. The jumps are covered with an artificial turf and when it is wet down with water it becomes slippery and they can ski down the slope just as if it were snowy. We watched several kids ski down the jump. At the same location there was a freestyle bicycle course where people could pay $45 for unlimited use for four hours. They load their bicycles onto a specially designed chair lift and then they catch the next chair to the top of the mountain. Once at the top they mount their bikes and ride them down the mountain. It’s not my cup of tea but they seemed to be having a good time. When we got back to camp Bill and Pam had spoken to the office staff and got directions to a good pizza place. We drove over and had pizza for dinner and then came back and had some of Bill’s birthday pie for dessert. Tomorrow we will leave Calgary and head to Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yellowstone National Park - Our 6th Visit to One of Our Favorite Places!

Saturday, May 23, 2009 – We seemed to all be in slow motion today but finally got on the road to go into Yellowstone National Park a little after 10:00 (Montana time). We drove the lower loop of the park and made stops at several geyser basins as well as the most famous of all, Old Faithful. When we arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge there was about 40 minutes before the next eruption so we decided to have some lunch. We ended up paying way too much for way too little food but I guess that is to be expected considering the location. We finished eating just in time to see Old Faithful erupt. After the eruption we walked the short loop through the geyser basin and made a stop at the beautiful Yellowstone Lodge. Although it is Memorial Day weekend there is still a lot of snow on the ground and most of the lakes are still largely frozen over. Even with all the snow on the ground it was a warm beautiful day with the exception of a very short period of rain in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone area. The buffalo were out in full force with their new calves and every buffalo sighting was accompanied by a line of cars looking and taking photographs. We returned to the RV Park at about 6:00 and Bill washed the car while I made dinner. As Bill was washing the car a man came up and asked about his fire department sticker and it turns out he not only retired from LA County Fire Department but also from the exact same station as Bill. They know many of the same guys who work at that station and battalion.

Sunday, May 24, 2009 – None of us wanted to make the entire upper loop of Yellowstone so we left the RV Park at about 9:30 with the intention of making the 50 mile drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs and then coming back to town. When we got to Norris Junction the road to Mammoth was blocked. We could not continue on to Mammoth and we did not want to take the whole loop so we turned onto a small side road to turn around. By the time we turned around all traffic was blocked in all directions and we were stuck in a line of cars for over two hours. We were told that there was a bad accident where a couple on a motorcycle ran into the back of a van. The victims were transported by ambulance from the scene of the accident to the Norris intersection and then helicopters arrived to air lift them to a trauma center. The entire incident was handled badly with hundreds of cars held up in traffic for no apparent reason. Several different people asked the ranger why we couldn’t go since the helicopters and ambulances were not moving but it seemed as if the ranger in charge didn’t like being questioned and dug in his heels and decided that no one was going anywhere until HE said so. They finally opened the intersection and we came back to town irritated but otherwise none the worse for wear. Once we got back to West Yellowstone we visited the town museum. It was small but interesting and had films about the big earthquake in Yellowstone and the devastating fires of 1988. We were very aware of the fires because we were in Yellowstone with our kids during that summer and witnessed the fires first hand. After the museum we had lunch at a local diner and then walked through some of the shops. Just as we finished lunch a storm moved in and it rained off and on the rest of the day and evening. Bill and Pam came over and we plotted out our itinerary for the next couple of days. We will leave West Yellowstone in the morning heading toward Canada. If all goes according to plan we will cross the border on Tuesday morning.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Three Days and 1,000 Miles from Home

Friday, May 22, 2009 – We left the RV Park at 8:45 and headed north on Interstate 15 through Salt Lake City and into Idaho. At Idaho Falls we turned off onto State Route 20 to West Yellowstone, MT. We arrived at the Grizzly RV Park at about 3:30 PDT this afternoon. We stayed at this park last summer when we were here and it is a very nice park. We got set up, Bill cleaned the windows on both the motorhome and the car, and I set out some snacks for all of us. After three long days on the road it was really nice to just relax and visit. I made some salmon fillets and Bill and Pam joined us for dinner. After dinner Bill and I walked around the RV Park and visited with some of the other campers. We will be here for three nights and make some day trips into Yellowstone while we are here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

We're Off - Alaska Here We Come!

We are finally taking our long awaited RV trip to Alaska. Our travelling companions for this trip are our friends Bill and Pam Dickey who we met through our Country Coach owners club. After reading everything we can get our hands on including the latest edition of the Mile Post, numerous tour books, and several online web logs we are ready!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - The start of our trip today was a fiasco unlike anything we have experienced in any of our previous trips. We loaded the last of the groceries into the motorhome, connected the car, locked up the house and drove out of our driveway at 8:30 AM. As we pulled out of the gate it dawned on me that we had failed to get the GPS out of our truck. Bill pulled over and I walked back to the house and got the GPS. Since we had forgotten the GPS I rechecked my packing list and discovered we had also forgotten our binoculars and with all of the spectacular scenery and wildlife in Alaska we definitely want them for this trip. Bill decided that rather than drive the motorhome back to our house we would pull into the parking lot of the grocery store and disconnect the car so I could drive back to the house and get the binoculars. He disconnected the car and I drove home and got the binoculars. As I was driving back down to the store I noticed a hitch pin in the street and pulled over to pick it up. At the time I was thinking to myself “that looks like the ones we use and it will be good to have it as a spare.” When I arrived at the parking lot and pulled in behind the motorhome Bill got out to connect the car to the hitch. It was at that point he discovered that when he had unhitched the car he had placed the hitch pins on the front bumper and left them there. Somewhere along the ten mile drive from the parking lot to home the pins had fallen off of the bumper and the one I found in the street was in fact of ours. We retraced my route to see if we could find the other pin to no avail so we went to our local RV Repair shop and bought a new pair of hitch pins. We went back to the store, hitched up the car and FINALLY got on the freeway at 11:00 AM. Once we got on our way I called Bill and Pam Dickey to let them know we were finally on our way and would meet them at the Oasis RV Park in Las Vegas as planned. They told me that they also had gotten a later start than expected but they were ahead of us and would reserve a space next to them when they registered. We pulled into the RV Park at 3:30 PM and surprisingly they were pulling in right in front of us. We got set up and drove down to the Strip to show them all the new construction and then had dinner at the Excalibur Buffet. We returned to the coach and watched the season finale of American Idol on television. Tomorrow we will continue on Interstate 15 and probably stop somewhere in Utah.

Thursday, May 21, 2009 – We left Las Vegas around 9 AM and headed north on Interstate 15 with the destination being the East Bay RV Park in Springville, UT which is just south of Provo. The drive was uneventful and other than a couple of detours due to road construction and changes in off-ramp numbering we had no problems. We checked in around 4 PM and settled in for the evening.