The Littlest Hobo

Day 5 of Vanlife

After our visit to the “edge” of Writing On Stone, we decided a calm, quiet night near a body of water was the perfect destination for our last night on the road. One of the great things about living near an enormous wide open land is it’s pretty easy to find a parking space tucked into a crop of bushes or trees near a water source.

We settled in and brought out the propane fireplace. With the vans set in caravan style facing front to back we had ourselves a cozy shelter. I looked down on the ground near the van and had to smile. There was this little plastic dog. I was just asking my brother if he had seen the coyote on the side of the road as we drove on what seemed like endless gravel roads that day. He had. I picked up the “Littlest Hobo” and posed him in different positions to play with the lighting features against the sunset on my phone. The contrast of the light as the world settles down to sleep has always fascinated me. The energy conversion from day to night is seamless, automatic and yet, no two sunsets are exactly the same. Every night we get the chance to make subtle changes to our perspective.

Littlest Hobo

What am I supposed to change here? How can any of us know what the right thing to do in our lives is? I have made the best and well thought out plans before only to have it pulled out from under me and turned upside down. Here I am still. I am here. I am alive and I am aware of myself and others around me.

I sat thinking about this for some time that night. The older I get the more I realize decisions made in crisis mode are usually not the best decisions. It took years to get me here, there is no rush to move me over there. Does that make sense?

The morning dawned crisp and clear. The sun was out and we still had fried bologna and pancakes to make for breakfast. Do you remember as a kid fried bologna sandwiches? They were delicious in my childhood. They are not so delightful now. Somehow someone has gone out of their way to make bologna taste and smell like wet cardboard. The pancakes were good though with a little bit of peanut butter and cinnamon honey.

We packed up and brought our new found vanmate on the road with us spending the rest of the day slowly making it back towards homebase.

We drove into the carport of my mom’s old home and both sat in our separate vans for a bit soaking in the last moments before coming down from the roaming high. I went to move my car and saw that it had a flat tire. Sigh, of course it does. I just laughed. My brother looked at me again puzzled by my responses. What could I say? It happens to me all the time. A series of obstacles appear and I set about sorting them out, walking around them, through them or fixing them. We got the spare tire on and put the van to rest for a bit.

So how was vanlife? There are definitely some kinks to work out and lots to fix or change. The bed is a little short, the electrical needs some overhaul, I need an inspection done for sure. Despite all that? I love it! I have always liked to explore. I like the freedom of going only as far as you feel like in a day then seeing what the place you land has to offer up. I am usually not disappointed to find something to spark some joy in my soul even if it’s just a plastic dog randomly lost in a farmers field.

A fellow adventurer waiting to join me on my journey.

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.

We Are Family

I got my brother and sisters with me…

I decide to pull out the old rotten carpet out of the cab of the van only to discover that the floor has some serious looking rust spots. It’s been a couple of weeks since I came upon the damage and it’s been a cause for concern. My whole career has been based on solving problems. Taking complex learning and translating it into easy to follow steps for others to understand and use. This situation is no different. I got a hole and it needs to be fixed.

My sister and brother in law just happened to be down for the weekend. They are a handy pair. I have always admired my sister’s choice of professions. She had spent many years in the Canadian Air Force as a metal fabricator working on airplanes. I found out my brother in law has some experience with welding. My brother, well he is a jack of all trades and has been helping me with the project since day 1. So, in true project management fashion, I assembled the very competent team of experts who are up for the challenge and we get to work. 

With resources and know-how in place we decide a change of clothes is necessary to tackle the potentially dirty job. My sister bought my mom’s old house and some of the contents are still there. My mom’s coat still hangs in the closet next to the kitchen door. It’s coming up on the two year anniversary of my mom’s death in September. As I stand in her bedroom looking for something to wear in the closet I am overwhelmed with her presence. I take a couple of shirts off the hangers and smell them. Oh mom, they still smell like you. You are still here. Tears well up as I close my eyes for a moment. This is a pretty big hole we are trying to fix. Not just on the van floor but my heart. I hear my mom talking to me from other rooms as I walk through the house. She would call from the living room when you entered from the kitchen door to welcome you. Sometimes I can hear her voice echo through the space.

The family has had its share of challenges over the last few years and yet here we are coming together to problem solve and rebuild this van. I have heard you can’t choose your family. I am glad for that because you never know what you might need at any given moment. The universe is a way better judge on future needs than I am.

It takes some discussion and a few brainstorming sessions but finally we get to work patching the worn floor. Grinding away the rust where we can and applying new support when needed. I can’t help but make the comparison between the work on the van and work being done to heal our family relationships. You have to clear away the toxins that eat at your dynamics. Find new ways to communicate and come together. Mom would be ecstatic to see us all collaborating and getting along.

The van has helped us to find ways to connect again. It’s been a new beginning for me too. I am using tools I never thought I would have the confidence to even try. A little patience from my brother and determination to continue the work has made me excited about the possibilities for future projects and work.

We are family, I got my brother and sisters with me. I am truly blessed.

Time For Fessing Up

I have a confession to make. I have a phobia about asking for help, for things or even directions when I might be lost. Where does it stem from? Well, I can probably spout many options to answer that question but I won’t. What, for me, is important is what to do about it.

The van purchase has motivated me to get past my fears and tackle speaking and asking for help as much as I need to. I think it’s going to be good for me. Part of me really wants to try my hand at doing some of the work on the van. As a woman who grew up in the era that girls didn’t “fix things”, girls didn’t sign up for automotive classes or wood working in high school. I got the option of home-ec and/or band. I won’t tell you how bad of a sewer I am and the tragic nightgown that I threw away right after class was done. I think the flannel beast weighed close to a 100 pounds. I can cook but we didn’t really cook that much in class. I always walked past the shop and peeked in. Envying the opportunity to learn a skill that would be very useful right now in my fifties ambitions.

My husband is very handy but not really thrilled that I bought an old campervan. He has basically stated I am on my own. I am ok with that. The anxiety level is through the roof with getting it right or at least making sure any thing I do doesn’t fall apart around me as I travel. I have watched tons of restoration videos so far and those people don’t fool me. I know the art of editing and angles to make the most of making it seem simple while hiding the big flaws.

What a trip though if I can pull it off no? Renovating a piece of classic Americana that has remained functional and desirable. So, for the big stuff, like appliances, electrical and vehicle repairs I will leave it to the experts. What about the things I can learn to do like making a slide out bed or building cupboards or trying my hand at sewing again? What is life without a challenge?

It would be so much easier to pry my wallet open and dole out the cash to someone else to do it for me but my spirit tells me I at least have to try. I do have a handy crew of relatives who I might be able to bribe to help me. My brother use to work in a trailer factory. I have a niece who is partnered with a heavy duty mechanic. A sister who used to fabricate fixing airplane bodies for a living. So expertise is there. We are not without resources for sure. This winter could be an interesting time where I could gain huge confidence in my abilities and finally learn how to use power tools.

Stay tuned to see who wins the argument my spirit, my sanity or my husband (scenario where I just resell the beast and call it a day).

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