Where did 2020 and 2021 go?

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27,000 kilometres later we arrived back in Canada on February 21, 2020. On the way through Washington State we noticed a newspaper headline at a gas station that read “Covid 19 Virus reported at Seattle Hospital” and we continued on our way. Our life on the road was about to become dramatically different. Our plan was to pick up our hound at my sister Marnie’s home in Calgary and make it to the island to celebrate our niece’s wedding with all our Manitoba and Ontario relatives on March 6. After lots of fun, kisses, hugs, dancing, partying, celebration and connection we said our goodbyes and watched closely as public health officials shut down our social and travel dominated lifestyle. Like everyone our wings were clipped.

Then March 12, 2020 hit and we were locked down. Well when the world throws you lemons you make lemonade, right? Staying put at a park like Seal Bay RV in the Comox Valley for 3 months was not a hardship. While we weren’t able to entertain and go into friends homes, we were able to play in the valley. The Comox Valley is a recreational paradise and camped beside many kilometres of trails and a beach we biked, jogged, walked and had outdoor campsite visits by the fire.

We Zoomed Alberts 60th year in virtually with our friends. We were grateful for a way to have a dinner party “together” during a pandemic.

Our kayak was always at the ready and Comox lake and the Spit had some beautiful warm calm weather to be outdoors.

Summer 2020 brought island travel to destinations we had not visited before. Port Hardy, Port MacNeill, San Josef Bay, Telegraph Cove, Sayward, Nimpkish, Woss, Macktush at Alberni Inlet, and Wokas Lake were just a glimpse of the beautiful paradise that we were “stuck” in. Bonus highlights were hiking to a WW2 DC3 plane crash site near Port Hardy, huge stands of Old Growth at Nahmint Lake, picking first of the season wild blackberries above the Alberni inlet before the bears got them, the view from the Chinese mountains on Quadra Island, a record breaking huckleberry harvest. No down side.

We escaped off island in September 2020 without our trailer, and took a couple of weeks tenting, to play in the BC desert of the south Okanagan. Tasting wine, swimming, and biking on the Kettle Valley Railroad multiuse trails was a highlight. Fire devastation was also evident and was a grim reminder that others had suffered terrible losses.

November we moved into a “cabin/inlaw suite” next door to our friends house in Parksville and decided that working was a good way to pass the time and pool some funds. I went back to teaching culinary at VIU and Albert worked at Mt. Washington in Rentals. Bonus! We both had seasons passes to all of the hill. So we skiied, snowshoed, and generally played in the snow on our days off together.

Food highlights were picking a ton of huckleberries and blackberries, duck 6 ways – a duck promotion with King Cole Ducks and the Canadian Culinary Federation, crabbing at Quadra and Ruxton islands, successful sourdough during a yeast shortage, picking chanterelles in December, zoom dinner parties where we all dined on the same menu but in different cities, tiny little sips of a combination of icy tequila and limoncello by the fire, Okanagan wines.

2021 – anything is better than 2020 – right?

With proximity to parents and friends, we weren’t really feeling terribly isolated. Where as our daughter in Montreal had spent a crazy stressful time in the theatre biz in Quebec where deaths in seniors homes were rampant, anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers made the news, and curfews were the new normal. A police state in Canada was not what she, or anyone, had signed up for and her age group was blamed for much of the spread while getting up and being at minimum wage jobs in grocery stores and gas stations!!

April with teaching done and ski season over, we packed up and headed into the trailer again with camping in Comox and Nanaimo then off to Sooke Potholes for a couple of weeks in May. We found great camping throughout the south island. During the “heat dome” in June we found higher altitude was a bit cooler in the parking lot at Mount Washington. Trail heads to many beautiful Strathcona walks were right across the road. That said, it was dusty and hot so we descended the mountain almost daily to dip into the Puntledge, Brown and Tsolem rivers. The roads were so hot, our poor dog, Fani, burnt her feet on a wood plank bridge over one of the rivers.

We decided we needed to camp near water, so we headed to the BC Hydro campground at Upper Campbell Lake. This is a hidden gem. We don’t want you to know about it so we are not telling you. First come first serve means no guarantee of a site but we lucked in and stayed two weeks overlooking the lake and snowy peaks of Strathcona Park. Large sites so Marn and Jim joined us from Calgary. Mum and Don came up for Don’s 85th birthday celebration. It was so hot we swam at least 7 times a day and even Fani, who hated the water, went in on her own a few times. WOW!

We have generous friends with extra accommodation in Victoria, Comox and Ruxton island so we often spent time visiting these friends. My parents driveway was always a stopping off point as well so we could visit, help and just be “home” with them. We were also grateful that Vancouver Island had low Covid numbers so our bubble, while small, stayed healthy. As vaccines became available we signed up as soon as we could.

We finished up a coastal summer camping at Quadra Island with tons of paddling, biking and hiking.

Fall upon us, Albert was off to his 25th annual boys weekend, and I drove the dog and rig to Osoyoos with friends for the second annual wine and fun week at Swiws Campground. Swiws Provincial Park is a narrow peninsula that juts out into Osoyoos lake. This was my inaugural solo drive on to the ferry, through the lower mainland and mountain passes of Highway 3 (Hope-Princelton) to the south Okanagan. I had no troubel apart from missing a turn in Tsawwassen then rerouting through the River Road during rush hour with Fani whining and tons of traffic and trucks but we lived!!! Later that day I was perfectly parked and friends Luba and Bill arrived to our double site. Friends, Jill and Cam, parked their Sprinter in a site across the way ready for us to embark on some wine touring. A relatively new vineyard way up on the slope above Black Sage Vineyard that we enjoyed was Phantom Creek. The attention to detail and well designed architecture did not ignore the natural influence of the surrounding hills and valley. The wines did not disappoint either, with some of their offerings grown using biodynamic methods. We will be back. Another day we rode our bikes to and through the desert sands at Nk’Mip Vineyard.

Albert flew in to Penticton and joined us at the end of the week. This gave us the beginning of our desert fix that we missed when we decided on this nomadic lifestyle. Out of Osoyoos and off to Southern Alberta.

We took a few days to get to the Rockies staying at Kokanee Creek and Kikomun Creek Provincial Parks. They were practically empty but for the wildlife. Rattlesnakes, coyotes, turtles, Kokanee salmon, grizzly and blackbear were all evident but elusive. We brushed past too many places that are calling us back for a longer stay. The histories of first nations, Doukhobor migration, wartime internment camps, mining and miners, as well as the outdoor playgrounds, hotsprings, The Great Trail over Gray Creek pass, calling us back for a lengthy visit.

In Alberta, our first stop was Beauvais Lake Provincial Park. Mid September in the Rocky Mountain foothills is cold and we were below freezing most nights. In the park we joined Marnie, and brother in law Jim, and their dog Frances., all from Calgary. @faniandfrank (Instagram) has our two dogs just hanging out.

In camp we were serenaded by bugling elk in rut and we kept our distance when hiking on the trails around the park. Three resident moose, a cow and two calves, wandered through our site one morning unfazed by us or our two dogs, surprisingly. Plus the coyotes howling in the distance let us know we were near the wilderness.

Beauvais Lake PP was a central location to visit Sparwood, The Frank Slide, Pincher Creek, Waterton National Park and Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. At Waterton we did a short hike up Bear’s Hump Trail. A massive forest fire cleared the trees in 2017 and their white skeletons allowed the views to the lake and town. The viewpoint at the top is spectacular. Waterton is windy 86% of the year. Really windy.

Diving into deeper learning about the Blackfoot nation began at Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. The Blackfoot nation would drive the bison over a “jump”. A camp was set up to process the whole animal into food, clothing, tools, and housing. While the bison heads may have been smashed in, the elders tell the story of a young brave who went to watch but was too close below when they tumbled over and he was killed when his head was “smashed in”.

Next stop was Milk River and the Writing on Stone Provincial Park. Again, if you have never been, this is another hidden gem. It is nestled below the wide open and very flat prairie among the hoodoos that line the river. Ten kilometres south of the Alberta border rise the Sweetgrass Mountains, old volcanos that failed to erupt but protrude from the flat arid grassland.

This park is known for its petroglyphs and pictographs that date from before contact to the present. The present day Petroglyphs are also known as graffiti and are illegally carved. We were immersed amongst the human-esque hoodoos in a desert that featured coyotes, rattlesnakes, scorpions and cacti. The river was low so no paddling but it is on a very popular paddle route so we put that idea in the “another time” files in our heads. With temperatures of 30 C we felt like we had extended summer well into October.

Next stop was Dinosaur Provincial park near Medicine Hat. This park drops down into the valley of the Red Deer River and yet another possible paddle route down the road. While WOSPP was educational with archeologists feeding us with information, DPP was all about palaeontology. The park has interpretive trails with skeletal remains explained. Marnie and Jim joined us for a night hoping the near empty campground would have some space on the weekend. No luck. They left and it filled. Steep towering hoodoos above the campground filled with children running around and being busy little palaeontologists or just daredevils. So fun to see families let their kids be independent and curious!! At points we wished we had little kids to set free.

With time to kill before going to Calgary, we headed back to Writing on Stone and friends, Lori (58 year friendship!!) and hubby Mike, from Calgary met us there to replay our first visit. This was their first time there and they caught the magic too.

On the drive back to Writing on Stone we stopped at Red Rock Coulee. Here huge red boulder concretions are sprinkled over the land randomly.

Off to Calgary for a week, helping our son move in to his new digs and some long awaited visits then we started back to the coast before the winter blew in. We had to take a picture at Vulcan

Another erratic at Okotoks just outside of Calgary. Okatok is the Blackfoot word for rock. This one floated here from near Jasper during the last ice age. I had been wanting to come see this erratic for years as Big Rock Brewing had made it famous

Lori and Mike joined us staying at Red Streak Campground in Radium for its final 6 nights of the season. Hiking around the trails at Red Streak and Kootenay National Park before the snow came was a bonus. A hike up to Dog Lake was spectacular with the calm reflection of the new snow promising winter to come.

On Thanksgiving with a fresh dusting of snow on the ground, we we decided on a touristy road trip to Kimberley. Stuffed Cornish hens ready to roast and appy plated in the fridge, we headed out. Seeing the enormous scrape of the Columbia River and Kootenay Rivers dividing the same valley was geographically fascinating. Covered bridges and a mapped historical interpretive walk around town brought locals telling us of other places to see.

On the last night, October 11, we were the only ones in the campground so we took all the firewood the surrounding evacuees had left, cranked the tunes and sat under the stars singing along.

Lori and Mike headed back to Calgary and we headed to the north Okanagan/Shuswap area and visited family along the way. Snow in Rogers Pass reminded us that we were heading into winter in the mountains.

Rogers Pass

A night at the little Shuswap then a few nights in Cherryville gave us a chance to see some of the devastation the forest fires left. Black hills and burned out buildings and vehicles strewn along the highway by Monte Lake, was so sad.

Monte Lake and its blackened hillsides

We spent time at my brother and sister in laws farm and found some nice hikes, walks and drives along the Shuswap river, above Kalamalka Lake and Sugar Lake. More stuff to put in the return vault!!

Our route home was via Merritt, Highway 8 to Spences Bridge, then Highway 1 back to the coast. A wonderful little rec site called N’Kwala was a welcome place to overnight along the Nicola River. More fire devastation was evident as we saw remnants of the fire that burned down Lytton on the other side of the mountain along Highway 8 in the Nicola valley. This fire was raging in late June during the heat dome. Only one month later flooding at Merritt with the whole town evacuated and Highway 8 was swept away.

2021 was full of wondering what we would be doing in the fall.

Back to the wet coast

I applied to relief instruct at VIU again. Daughter Elly asked if we could have Christmas in Parksville but we were going to be south. We organized accommodation for family in Palm Springs and were all set but the American government would not open the borders to non essential travel. So we decided to remain on the island and spend Christmas here. Elly and Taylor,(fiancé) plus our son Eric all made it home for Christmas. This was our first time seeing Elly since we left Montreal in October 2019! When we met them at YVR we had that run across the airport in tears arms open event that finished in a very long teary hug and 26-month long exhale.

The border has subsequently opened and we have itchy feet.

We have been very lucky in that we house-sat in Nanaimo during the atmospheric river event in November and again near my Mums house in Parksville over a snowy, cold and wintery Christmas. Our trailer is warm and cozy at a lovely campground along Haslam Creek near Nanaimo Airport. We have heat tape wrapped around the water line and a small TV hanging above the table with the fireplace channel running. The outdoor room in our market tent was flattened under the weight of the first snow fall so now we are really motivated to get the hell out of here.

Santa brought map books of California, scenic byways and a map of northern Baja. So guess where we are headed? The plan is to leave February 1 and meet friends in Anza Borrego at the beginning of March. But if Omicron changes my work schedule it could be earlier…or later if it closes us down again…. All good… Make Lemonade… Stay tuned… life is good. 2022 here we come!!!

Ups and Downs

Our journey from Santa Fe to Snoqualmie pass was mostly high altitude, windy and cold enough to warrant layers. Our next overnight leaving Santa Fe was not far away but took us through some elevation that we didn’t expect. We decided to take highway 84 north through Colorado as we had heard “you have to see Pagosa Springs”. It is twice the elevation of Calgary at a whopping 7126 feet. What a slice. Snow in the surrounding San Juan mountains of the Colorado Rockies melts into the river and is met by boiling, hot steamy, mineral spring water and that hint of sulfur.

We took a stroll along the paved river path and could see people peeling their clothes off and dipping into hand-made rock walled pools at river level. The hot water was pouring out of both sides of the river and on the other bank was a huge resort with white cascading formations through a century or so of filling the numerous cement pools in the resort. We were not prepared for a night of swimming in the pools, so a mental note taken for another time when we return. 

Next day we were heading for Moab. Mountain biking, paddling, hiking but no climbing for us. Iconic rock temples and sunshine beauty. Here we come! Lori and Mike headed out to get propane, we headed (in advance of them) on to Highway 160 West. The plan was to meet at Monticello in Utah. At one point as we climbed a long steep road, we thought, “hmmm, I hope they have enough fuel” as the climb would burn much more fuel than a long flat road. We texted them and they said they almost missed a turn off at Durango to continue west. Had they missed the turnoff they would be on highway 220, the road to an old mining town called Silverton. Not thinking much of our brief text chat with them, we passed by a ski hill admiring the chi-chi Whistler-like lodges and accommodations surrounding the resort. The scenic road climbed to the 10,640 ft. summit, providing awesome, scenic vistas that kept us enthralled with the beauty of the place. We parked at the top of Coal Pass and took pictures. The rest stop pit toilets were covered by impassable walls of snow but they would be enough to keep us discreetly out of sight from the road while we relieved ourselves of morning coffee.

We kept going until we saw a sign that said the distance to Silverton… WHAT???  We had missed the turn that Lori spoke of. And the road was narrow with nowhere to turn around. We kept going until we found an old road with less snow on it and barely enough space to make a dangerous U turn on a busy mountain highway. Heading down that mountain pass was humbling, especially when we saw the ski resort below us!!

Once back in Durango we found the correct highway and we were on our way to Utah again after replacing the gas wasted getting to the top of the 10,640’ mountain road. We passed Mesa Verde and again thought, must stop there one day. Too much to see. 

Lori and Mike stopped at the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office in Monticello to find out where the good camping was. The recommendation was to go towards Moab then turn left on highway 211 where there is lots of dispersed camping along that road. We were only about 30 minutes behind them as a result of our unscheduled, scenic meanderings. We followed along but about 5 miles down the road we discovered there was no cell service. We hadn’t heard from Lori and Mike for quite a while. Damn, that “No cell service” thing can be annoying! As we descended through a jaw droppingly beautiful, multi-coloured canyon and completely lost any cell signal we discovered the striking beauty that is the Canyonlands National Park. With the stunning beauty of bucolic ranch lands framed by impossibly vertical, monumental pillar shaped rock formations, painted with orange, red, tan and green under vivid blue sky. Where the hell are we?!!

We were gobsmacked but also nearly out of fuel again. We had to turn around. We had no idea where Lori and Mike were. Hell, we hardly knew where we were! We had the dinner fixings, for the four of us, in our fridge, it was approaching late afternoon and we had no idea where we would camp in this desolate countryside. Frantically texting them, concerned for their reliance on our commitment to prepare dinner, we drove out of the canyon and found a remote BLM campsite on a rough ranchlands road. The surrounding hillside was barren, miles from anywhere and we hoped that companions would come back to a service area soon. We dropped the trailer and headed for Monticello to refuel. We were almost there when my phone pinged. An hour later, we guided them into the site we had found and had a well earned happy hour watching the sunset over the canyon that lead us to the Canyonlands beauty.

We stayed for 10 nights. It was high altitude so one night brought us some snow. It was away from the Moab “Jeep Week” mosh pit, and central to Arches, Bridges, Canyon Reef, and Canyonlands National Parks and Monuments. 

Below are some photos of some of the highlights through that time. 

Canyonlands NP – We came back to this park a few times and found some beautiful hikes. The Colorado River winds through the park and is the Green River confluence. The enormous park has 3 defined areas , Needles, Island in the Sky and the Maze, but we only managed to get to the spectacular Needles . We will need to return and find that Dead Horse overlook one day. 

Moab – busy with a young vibe, no chain stores and plenty of craft beer made us feel we were not in the LDS (Latter Day Saints) church hotbed of the USA. Jeep Week brings thousands of people and their expensive fat tire Jeeps. We avoided the crowds. Moab is the mountain biking hub of Utah. Al and I found some trails near the turnoff to Canyon Reef and Deadhorse park. From the trails we could see silhouettes of the rock formations at Arches National Park.  However every time we went for a ride, a wind would rile up the dust and throw it at us. We tucked our tails and found the solace of our trusty truck. Another day Albert took Mike on my E bike and found some of the famous slickrock trails. No shortage of hard slopes in that very old river bottom. 

The Priest and the Nuns, Castle valley and the La Sal loop Scenic drive. Caution, steep drops!!

The Priest and the Nuns

Arches NP  – ok , so it is pretty. But we had to book a time to visit and there were so many people. So the been-there-done-that-CHECK was about all we could stomach.  Across the road from the years-long uranium cleanup effort. We wondered if the wind blowing that dust was of radioactive consequence. 

Natural Bridges National Monument– not to be confused with Arches National Park had a few spectacular bridges that were along a riverside hike. We passed centuries old pueblos hidden under rock overhangs above the valley floor. 

At some point we figured out we had to start making our way home. We still had more of Utah to see, let alone Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Washington. We will definitely return to experience more of what Moab has to offer on our next trip south. 

Sometimes it was too cold to eat outside

Utah highlights after Moab–Capital Reef National Park, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra, Organ and camping at a BLM  in the mountains near Provo

Idaho –Boise and the Snake River canyon and nearby wine region. Who knew Idaho had a wine region!!

Oregon – quick stop at a lovely Harvest host Snow Road Winery in Echo Oregon

Washington – wine and the tri-cities and L’Ecole 41. 

We arrived home in May. It seemed winter was with us until July.

Summer on Vancouver Island –Telegraph Cove, Cluxewe, Alert Bay, San Josef Bay, Upper Campbell Lake and pedalling to Horne Lake from our home base at Qualicum First Nation Campground

Screeeeeeech!! That was April to August (2022), and now we are off to a big adventure for the winter in Southern Europe. We’ve visited Winnipeg last week, we are sitting at the airport in Calgary as I write (September 23, 2022), heading to Montreal for 5 days to see our daughter, Elly, and her fiancé Taylor. My sister Marnie,  and brother in law Jim, are coming with us!! On the 28th we are flying to Lisbon and Portugal for a month with Marn and Jim,  with plans for Albert and I to play near the Mediterranean until March 31, 2023.  Stay tuned… I promise we will be much more proactive with sharing our stories!!