Full Throttle

Day 4 of Vanlife

I was drawn out of the van early in the morning on day 4 of our adventure. It was dead calm. Overcast with an expectation in the air. We have been lucky so far with the weather. A few raindrops overnight but no snow…yet. The air felt different today. I was restless and wanted to get out of the forestry area. Many of the signs along the mountain road had warned of conditions changing if wet. I didn’t want to test my ability to stay on a muddy, slimy steep mountain road. At least not on this trip. Reesor lake is small and very remote. 

We broke camp and decided it was time to head towards home. We were chasing sunshine and knew our days to enjoy the last dregs of warmth were coming to an end. You can feel winter coming. If you watch the animals, the plants and the energy around you, it all is shifting down. Mother nature is taking her foot off the gas pedal and tucking in her offspring in a bed of leaves and debris. Those of us less likely to feel comfortable on the ground choose to go inward to find our shelter from the cold. The border between the US and Canada will be opening soon and I am contemplating going South for the coldest months.

My battery power still hasn’t charged up since the “electric kettle” incident on day 2. I couldn’t find a stove top kettle, even though I have at least 3 in the house somewhere, so I brought the electric one thinking we could test some of that inverter power conversion. Let’s just say that electric kettles(non 12 volt kind) and lithium battery packs are not compatible. The battery drained in seconds. I did get hot water but at a cost. Good to know for future appliances in the van. 

The secondary roads back through Cypress Hills are mostly gravel. I am not the best driver in the world. I get a heightened level of anxiety on uneven, rocky routes. It’s based on many experiences of being stuck, stranded, tipped sideways, flooded and broke down. I found myself singing some mantras to keep calm and telling myself that it was OK to drive at my own speed. That speed was about 70km/hr. It was slow going but I was gaining confidence with my ability to handle the van on this kind of terrain. It was a bit ironic when we hit the pavement. The wind picked up and started to blow the van back and forth. I had to laugh. I was bare knuckle driving on loose gravel. Now, I was bare knuckle driving on pavement. There is a lesson here right?

The lesson was far from over for me. We decided to make our way towards Writing On Stone park. It’s a favorite spot of mine and I thought it would be a great place to camp for our last night.

I was gaining a feel for how the van handled. How the engine revved and the shifts up and down the hills. It was doing way better than I had expected. I was driving ahead of my brother and made the turn at the top of the park entrance. The van was idling high. Acting like I had my foot pressed down firmly on the throttle. As I approached the parking lot I found myself having to ride the brake to get the van to slow down. It kept revving. The only thing keeping me from flying off into the canyon was my foot on the brake. My brother tells me my back tires were spitting gravel. He pulled up beside me and was looking at me like I was crazy.

I did what I thought was the only thing I could. I put the van in park with the engine still wanting to surge ahead and turned off the key. Once I was sure that the van had actually turned off and I could gain enough control over my shaking body, I jumped out.

Holy F!@#@!

My brother got out of his van and looked at me. I didn’t know what to say. He jumped in the van and turned it on. It started to accelerate again. He got out and opened the hood. He reached down inside and pulled out the casement for the battery charger. We had thought it had been lost a couple of days ago when he had placed it on the top of the battery. It had rode on top of the battery since yesterday and then made its way down to land perfectly on the throttle. What are the odds? At any time it could have just fallen off and landed on the road somewhere between there and the Saskatchewan backcountry. The timing of it was a curious thing too. On the highway or flat road it would have been less dramatic. Overlooking the cliffs at the top of the hoodoos of Writing On Stone had a certain feeling of that movie “Thelma and Louise”. 

I was trying to process what had happened. I laid down on a rock and hugged it for a few minutes. I knew it could have been the end of me right then and there. My brother was shaken and praised me for not panicking. I laughed and said that the incident was quite normal in my life. These things happen to me often. I am always grateful to the universe for helping me to survive. My life lessons come in dramatic ways. Most often, my experiences aren’t that subtle but more in my face kind of scenarios. 

In a previous blog I wrote about one of my dreams that described my experience with a snake charmer and a cobra. Facing my fears head on. The trip has tested my abilities to do just that.

I am quick to put my foot on the gas. I believe you can’t go through life waiting for everything to be perfect before you venture out there into the unknown. It is smart though to have enough sense to power down or put yourself in park sometimes. It can be the difference between whether you survive and thrive or end it all. To stop, learn from the experience and incorporate the change into the next journey.

We have already accumulated tons of information about the van and how van life would feel. We still have one more day though on the open prairies so our adventure continues…just not with such a heavy foot on the pedal.

Result & Battery

Day 3- Vanlife trip Alberta and Saskatchewan

We have two pretty good sleeps under our belts now. I am getting used to the van and its quirks. I know its far from perfect but that’s what I love about it.

Saskatchewan doesn’t boast having the largest piece of sky for nothing. As my brother says ” you can see your dog running away for three days.” Now I am not sure that is the direct quote…so don’t quote me and I am not going to look it up to correct myself. At least not right now…lol. We leave Leader behind and decide to wander over to the South Saskatchewan River.

Anyone who has random camped knows what to look for in a perfect spot. I am not going to give a way the secrets here so let’s just say that we find a stealth spot close to the river to make our home for the night. The locals knew we were there. Don’t let the barreness fool you. These hills have plenty of eyes for strangers driving around in camper vans. We had a few drivebys to make sure we weren’t going to cause any trouble during the hours before nightfall. We tested out my old fashioned BBQ with some prime burgers with all the fixings.

The next day had us heading west again towards Alberta. Our destination was Reesor Lake. My brother had explored the Alberta side of Cypress Hills but was curious about what the Saskatchewan had to offer. We noticed on the map a place called The Highest Point In Saskatchewan. Oh boy, how can you not go see that?

The van was running pretty good. I was gaining confidence with how it handled which was perfect considering our next challenge was literally just around the corner. The turn off to Reesor Lake warned of steep climbs and narrow roads. It was gravel and dirt with some ruts thrown in for good measure.Every time we climbed another hill I asked myself…is this the highest point? Then we would climb another higher point. I started to wonder if Saskatchewan was really as flat as they say then remberered we were now close to the Alberta border if not over it. We made a pit stop to see Fort Walsh. The reviews were mixed at best but we were here so why not?

We parked in the parking lot and got out to have a look around. The van has a quirk with the ignition that I haven’t got around to getting fixed yet. If you turn the key off you have to make sure the position of the key doesn’t go to far to the left. If this happens the tendency is for the battery to die. I thought I had it right and confidently got out to explore the fort.

We couldn’t see the fort from the top of the visitor centre which was closed. There wasn’t a soul in sight anywhere. We walked to the point of the hills and down below was some white building we assumed was the fort. Meh. The really story is why it was there. A massacre of native americans happened close by and expedited the formation of the Royal Mounted Police at Fort Walsh.

When we got back to the vans I went to start mine and nothing, nada not even a click, click. Sigh. We thought for sure it was the ignition and the key position. My brother gave me a boost but nothing happened. The weird thing was that the headlights worked and you could see some of the dash dials worked. We thought maybe the battery completely drained so gave it a while to charged. After an hour of tossing different options around…stay at the parking lot over night and go to the nearest town for a new battery in the morning or call for a tow on a Sunday we decided to wait a bit longer. I was reading on the internet to check the wires to see if any were soft or broken. My brother is a handy guy. He headed under the van to have a look. What we found had both of shaking our heads.

The wires to the ignition connection were held together with electrical tape. They fell apart in his hands. I love good old fashion ingenuity but not at my own expense. We knew this was going to be a test run and had loaded up some tools and parts just in case. The splitters and pliers came in handy now. Within 30 minutes my brother had the ignition reconnected. We didn’t have to spend the night in the parking lot after all. The van started up and we got out of there. We didn’t get to the highest point but we made it to Reesor Lake.

It was not the result of the battery afterall.

Ignition handy work

All we are is dust in the wind…

Day 2 of Vanlife Series

There is something about sand that soothes the soul. A tropical beach with the soft, warming particles beneath your bare toes is wonderful. Unfortunately, there are not any warm tropical beaches in my neighborhood but…there are sand dunes…who knew??

Welcome to the Great Sand Hills of Saskatchewan.

Exhibit A

North of Burstall Saskatchewan

We made a pitstop in Burstall to gas up and explore the local gift/antique store. I would recommend hanging out there for a bit. They sell delicious local honey, homemade soups, smoked meats and of course, antiques. The fuel pumps are from the 1950s era. The owner has charm and an extensive knowledge of the area and everyone who lives there.

After getting some directions to the abandoned, must see old church, farm yard and cemetery, the location of a neighbors tractor and other such important tibbits, we were directed to the fastest route to the dunes.

We missed the turn off that was written on the bottom of a church bulletin board on a sign at a t-intersection in the middle of nowhere. I did happen to read it but was following my brother and had to flag him down to turn around. We corrected our compass and started down the dirt packed road.

After a drive that seemed to last forever and a few guesses on where to turn we could see the sandhills off in the distance. The sign states that the land is privatish and open mostly to local cattle farmers. You are welcome to drive on the path as long as you stay on the 6km road through the main part of the mounds.

We parked and eagerly got out to explore.

At the top of one trail there hangs numerous cowboy boots as a memorial to one of the caretakers John Booth. He was a local rancher and had dedicated his life to taking care of the local ranchers association and the hills. It’s a fitting monument to plant your feet at a high vantage point. You can see for miles in all directions and you can’t help but gain a better perspective on life and its ability to point out that nothing is impossible.

Memorial to John Booth local rancher at Great Sandhills

The fact that there are powdery white sandhills on a bald headed prairie seems like a far stretched fantasy and yet…here they are. They reminded me, on a smaller scale, about my trek through the Atlas Mountains and North West edge of the the Sahara in Morocco. They are just as serene and inviting.

We had fun laying down and taking pictures and video of the wind blowing the sand across the landscape in swirls and dust devil patterns.

We decided to keep going from there to Leader to discover another local curiosity. The larger than life Leader Wildlife sculptures are a clever way to get folks off the highway and into a little self guided tour of the town and all it has to offer. We took the bait and stopped at a few of them to take some selfies and learn more about their origin. I love the ingenuity of these little towns!

We left Saskatchewan and its big open spaces to head back towards Cypress Hills and the Alberta border.

Stay tuned for day 3 as our adventure continues…

Day One of Van Life-Series of Interesting Events

Sometimes we are going through life like a deer in the headlights…

I have been struggling lately. Do I stay put, run away, travel or go back to work or a combination of any?

I decided an adventure was needed to help me work through what I want. My brother and I have been working hard on the van. Getting it in roadworthy condition. The time had come to it test out.

It took a few false starts to get out of the driveway. My brothers van wouldn’t start, then we drove just outside of town and I realized I forgot my braces and had to go back. I couldn’t find my keys for my car where my retainers were. I started to laugh and take a breath. Then retrace my steps to find my keys. It took awhile but we got going again.

I am fortunate to live in an area that offers lots of options close by to explore. We decided to venture into the Badlands Southeast of us then work our way Eastward into Saskatchewan.

Dinosaur Park, Northeast of Brookes was our first destination. On the way there it started getting dark. I realized that my cockpit lights weren’t working. I couldn’t see my speed or blinker indicators. It was challenging to drive. The road down into the valley was dirt and narrow. I saw deer off in the distance and as I came closer some crossed the road in front of me. I knew there were more on the other side in the field still so I slowed down quite a bit but didn’t want to slam on the brakes on the uneven surface. I clipped one and stopped to see if it was ok. I couldn’t find it as they had ran off into the meadow. The damage to the grill was a few new cracks. I was lucky. I hope the deer was lucky too. Spotting deer have always given me a sense of feeling safe and of being home. Hitting the deer made me think of what that could mean for me in relation to home?

We found a place to camp and settle in for the night. I put the diesel heater to work and was pleased to be quite comfortable and warm. The improvements we had made like internal lights, fridge and heater all seemed to work as we expected. Good news for our first night!

We woke up to a beautiful and crisp fall day. I got up early and went for a walk up into the hoodoos that surrounded us. The sunrise was breathtaking. The Badlands are alive and vibrant with energy. I sat down on the rocks, closed my eyes for a few minutes and contemplated what I want. I was surprised to come to the realization, for now, I just wanted to soak in the sun. As I get older my expectations have changed dramatically. These days what I want is to be present. To be aware of how I am feeling and to feel whatever that is. I have spent my whole life trying to suppress or deny how I really feel. That can get tiring and exhausting.

Going off in the van has shown me that I have an out. I have a way to explore and enjoy what the landscape has to show me.

Join me over the next few days in my recount of my journey and discovery through the Badlands.

My brother standing at the top of Dinosaur Park.

It’s So Quiet

It’s the first day I’ve been at the condo completely on my own – no dog, and my boyfriend is back at work for 10 days. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. Would this be the time I find I miss Keo? Would it be too quiet?

You know what? I like it.

The energy is different. There’s nothing “frenetic” anymore. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that there’s a walking path behind the condo. Keo would bark at any dog that came by – whether he was outside on the deck, or inside with me. If he wasn’t barking, he’d be sleeping. Have you heard rottweilers sleep? They snore! They also groan, sigh, and fart. When awake, he would compulsively licked his paws. The ‘slurping’ noises drove me nuts. I didn’t realize just how much noise he made until today, when there is none.

I don’t think we realize just how much background noise we have in our lives until it’s removed. We also don’t realize how much it wears us down.

I’ve gone from living in house with 5 people and 4 dogs to being on my own. I no longer have two TVs playing in the house or a kid stomping up and down the stairs (how is it teenage boys can be light of foot on an athletic field yet can’t walk through the house without sounding like elephants? We nicknamed our son, “Stompy the Ninja”). I don’t have to listen to my son constantly sniffle because of his allergies or the “click” in someone’s ankle when they walk. There are no doors slamming as kids come and go from the house. No basketballs being bounced in the neighbourhood.

It’s so peaceful. I don’t even have music playing. I’m revelling in the quiet.

My life is coming into balance. I get time to myself the weeks Martin is at work. The only obligations and responsibilities I have are those I take on myself. There’s no longer anything or anyone making demands of my time or energy.

I get companionship on Martin’s days off. In so many ways, he makes my life easier/better and it’s a pleasure to have him home. In nearly two years, I’ve never felt depleted after spending time with him. The only thing he ever asks of me is for me to discover my authentic self. When I drop him off at the airport every week, I’m tasked with, “Do something that makes you happy.”

A supportive partner, a quiet home, and fewer responsibilities. The quiet is not only what comes through my ears, but also in the stillness around me.

Time to Get Moving

For the past four years, I have been a crossfit enthusiast. My gym was a COVID casualty and had to close in the spring. I haven’t done anything physical since then and I miss it.

Now that I’m on my own and actively saving more for retirement (and travel!), I can’t bring myself to pay $200/month for crossfit anymore. So, where does that leave me?

I’m going to do a “10 weeks to a 5K” running program – heaven help me. I’m not a runner. I don’t particularly enjoy running. My build is better suited to shot put – or maybe wrestling.

So, why am I doing it? Firstly, because it’s free. All it took was an investment in a good pair of runners. Secondly, I need a challenge. I’ve been told by friends there will come a point where I learn to love it. I want to see if that happens. Thirdly, my partner is a former marathon runner who wants to train for an Ironman competition. I said I’d join him in training for the running and biking portion of it. I have no intention of doing an Ironman myself, but I’ll support him with his goal.

We’re having a beautiful fall in Alberta. The temperature is perfect for getting outside and exercising. For the first few weeks, it’s a lot more walking than running as I slowly build up endurance. By the time it gets to more running than walking, I’ll join the local gym for $50/month and use the treadmills. The gym is only a 10 minute walk from my home, so I can use getting there and back as part of the warm-up and cool down.

Sounds good in theory, right? 🙂

So far, so good. Martin and I started the program a few days ago. I’ve done the first week. He’s already doing 5 min run/1 min walk intervals. I’ll be starting 4 min walk/1 min run intervals tomorrow. Cardio has never been my strength. I much prefer lifting weights. This will be good for me.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

And Then There Is One

If you’ve been reading this blog, or listening to our podcasts, you know the past year has been one of many changes. It was a year ago that I was let go from a job I’d had for five years. At the time, I was living with my husband and son, two dogs, and my dad. Over the course of the year, my dad went into long-term care, and I moved to a condo with my dog.

Yesterday, I rehomed my dog. Keo has been part of my life for the past three years. I knew when I bought him that he’d be my last dog; I had no idea it would happen so soon.

I have had at least one dog, and as many as nine dogs, in my life since I was 23. My first husband bought me a dog to keep me company and is the reason I got into the dog fancy – obedience, conformation, agility, hunt tests, flyball, tracking and even breeding. “Sharon” and “dogs” were synonymous. It seems rather fitting to have my last dog happen with my last marriage.

As much as I love Keo, I knew he needed more than I can now give him. The “honeymoon period” we went through when we first moved here didn’t last long. He barked at every dog who walked past our yard. It didn’t matter if he was inside or outside, so he had to stay in his crate during the day while I worked. I don’t have a yard. He didn’t have the room to play with his favourite toys. I was having to walk him three times a day to give him the exercise he needed, and he wanted to greet Every. Dog. He. Saw. Walks became a struggle to control him. He’s not aggressive at all; just very eager to say “hi”. I started to resent all the time he was taking out of my day. Instead of having a dog be part of my life, he was becoming my life. His needs took priority over mine.

I tried working with trainers. We quickly learned that, while my dog loved me, he had absolutely no respect for me. He is obedience trained, but only listened when it suited him. In the house, he was perfect. Outside – with any distraction – I didn’t exist. The day he wanted to go say “hi” to a dog and, literally, pulled me off my feet and dragged me, I knew he needed more attention and consistency than I’m prepared or able to give him. I’ve come a long way in the past year, but I still have moments of not being strong enough – mentally or physically – to be the leader he needs.

So, we are both getting a reset. He is in a home with new people where rules will be set from the start and enforced. I’m getting to experience life without dependents on of any kind. As someone who has spent the majority of my adult life as a wife, dog-mom, child-mom, and caregiver – I’m charting new territory.

The condo seems quiet tonight. It was strange getting up this morning and not taking Keo for walk before I had coffee. It was weird to be gone out for several hours, come home, and be able to relax. Usually, it would have been a long walk or a trip to a field for an off-leash walk. Tonight, I can go to bed when I’m tired and not have to decide whether I want to stay up later so I can sleep in tomorrow.

There will be a period of adjustment for both of us. I’m confident he will do well with his new family. With the support of my partner, I know I’m going to be just fine, too.

%d bloggers like this: