Local Treats

Gull Lake is a very small and peaceful town in the middle of nowhere, Saskatchewan, Canada. Settled comfortably in a small RV park, we set to explore the surrounding area. The RV park owner advised us to drive to Maple Creek, another small town about an hour down the road, and have ice cream at the local Grotto Gardens Country Market. We loaded up the dogs in Jane (our CR-V) and cruised down Hwy 21 toward sweet treats.

The ranch greeted us with goats on roofs and beautiful purple, pink, and white flowers overflowing from hanging baskets. We settled in with the dogs at a table on the welcoming front porch and David went in to get us some treats. The blueberry pie and soft-served pistachio ice cream were good, and we enjoyed relaxing outdoors for a while.

Back in town, we found a grocery store and I hunted for local produce or at least made in Canada. We found a most wonderful pancake mix that produced fluffy and yummy breakfast, topped it off with real maple syrup. We also picked up apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, and Canadian bacon.

The resort’s facilities were good and clean, with no frills. Living the RV life now, I have come to appreciate a good shower.

David went looking for a truck service station to top off the air in one of the tires. This simple task proved to be not so simple after all. Most gas stations didn’t have the right do-da (an air hose for an inside valve stem) to easily inflate the RV’s tires. We tried Maple Creek up the road, but had no luck. So, we went back to the campground, and hoped for better luck the next day.

On our way to Banff, we found a Pilot Flying J station and finally found the right air connection. We also found “the world’s largest teepee,” and the town of Medicine Hat, which looked like a happening place. Farther down the road, we stopped a fresh fruit stand right off the highway where we picked up plump cherries and juicy apricots – yum!

After so many days of driving through flat land – and trying to stay awake through it – we finally saw mountains! We left Saskatchewan, the Land of Living Skies and entered Wild Rose Country, Alberta. Banff suddenly materialized and welcomed us with beautiful vistas and fresh mountain air. As we drove in, a heard of elk was resting in the forest just to the left of the road.

Tunnel Mountain Trail Court RV Park was excellent. Once we parked Lexi, we walked up and down the paved ways, admiring the massive mountains jutting up at the end of each road. We found proof of the province’s slogan: blooming delicate pink wild rose bushes covered the side of the mountain, in the good company of white Daisies, yellow Great Blanket flowers and Shrubby Cinquefoil, Smooth Blue Asters, and purple Harebells and Bergamots. We also found more proof of elk passing through and were warned of bear sightings in the camp, but luckily didn’t run into any.

Packing Up House

No one tells you just how much work packing up house to go full time RVing really is. I got the chance to find out for myself; I share my experience with you so that perhaps it can be of use to you, or at least give you an idea of what to expect.

The prep work started early but there was no real sense of urgency. The feeling of being overwhelmed, even if I am a good planner, didn’t really go away throughout the process. Reparations and beautification projects on the RV were fun and rewarding, mostly, and got done here and there, weather permitting starting as early as February. The packing, selling, donating, giving, lending, throwing away process was a totally different (and ugly) animal (a beast, really).

It took us roughly four months – and they were rough months – of working hard dawn to dusk. The good news was that we FINALLY got rid of much clutter, we FINALLY cleaned the garage, and eliminated a lot of unwanted furniture. The bad news was that it truly felt like a never ending task. My limbs were swollen and sore to the point of waking me up from my sleep. Thankfully, a friend recommended a great massage therapist and she was gracious enough to take me in for a couple of sessions. I had days when I couldn’t do any more and pretty much I lay down on the couch binge-watching Gilmore Girls. As the furniture disappeared, we ended up improvising seating and sleeping arrangements, at one point using camping chairs and only a foam mattress topper.

There was a sense of loss but also of liberation as the process unfolded. There was perseverance that carried us through and luck that made all things align eventually, permitting us to finally pursue our RV living dream beginning in July of 2019.

We listed our house for rent while we were still feverishly packing, painting, and fixing it. We sold two of our three cars, and listed a third one, our truck – but had to time it just right as we still needed it to take loads of stuff to the storage nearby. Luckily, a friend of ours bought it and was willing to wait a few days for delivery. Friends once again came through when it came to finding a tow vehicle. Although common, Honda CR-Vs are not easy to find second hand for a good price…. David, my husband, had noticed our friends driving a Honda CR-V and thought to ask them if they’d sell it. It turned out that they were thinking about it, so that’s how we purchased Jane Doe (named so because she’s a common car, not easy to identify in a parking lot). Later on, after we installed the towing system on it, my husband renamed her Jane Tow, because she got hitched.

We hired a professional lawn care company to help us clean up our yard (keeping up with weeds in Knoxville is next to impossible, and I absolutely HATE being outdoors in the summer heat, which this year has been particularly bad). Two guys came for the job and not even a few minutes passed until I saw one of them drop his hedge trimmer, run to the front of the yard, and roll on the ground grabbing his ankles. I went outside to see if he cut himself and found out that the poor guy had disturbed a nest of yellow jackets (aka a**holes with wings). They called in for help and after a while, one of the owners showed up with reinforcements: wasp spray. The spray only managed to tick them off, so the guy eventually poured gasoline into the ground nests and set them on fire. He only got stung a few times but seemed to be pretty cool about it. Wasp crisis averted, they guys went back to work. Their boss showed up with reinforcements and a giant trailer which they skillfully backed up our steep driveway. The best part of the job was them removing a trailer load of debris left over from cutting down some trees and cleaning up others. I didn’t like the price tag but all in all it was worth it for us not having to deal with either the mess or the mean wasps….

In the spirit of speeding things up, I contacted a cleaning company that my neighbor recommended. The bad news was that they were booked through the month of July. I contacted a second company and scheduled for someone to come give me an estimate. She never showed up. So, that lovely task of deep cleaning my house became mine.
Even if we got rid of most of our stuff – including most of the bulky items, like furniture, we ended up getting a second storage unit, be it that it was small, just for the overflow and last minute, “we cannot possibly fit this into the RV” items. Friends of ours were priceless – from hosting my beloved kitty for a year to hosting some of our gadgets and household items, we couldn’t have done it without them!

Shortly after we listed the house, we got renters, which gave us two weeks to finalize our exit. Things really had to go into high gear (turbo charge, perhaps?). Things got prioritized, there was a yard sale, numerous Facebook and Marketplace online transactions, quick bites of food in between tasks. When we finally sold our mattress and box springs, and our only remaining couch, things really felt real…. Exhausted but seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we asked our property manager if we could have a couple of more days to really finalize a few projects. We knew that, with the July 4th holiday, the renters’ pod of stuff wouldn’t arrive until July 6, so we hoped to have a few more days. The property manager thought the renters were away for a couple of days anyway, so he gave us the OK.

On July 1, as we were fueling up with some coffee, we heard a knock on the door. When we opened the front door, our renters greeted us and asked us when they could come in that day…. Oops. We explained that we were moving as fast as humanly possible but that we still had to finish up. We frantically packed and cleaned – with a moment of exasperation when the sink wouldn’t drain! I thought to myself: this is really not the time for anything to break down…. Luckily, David found and eliminated the culprit: a measuring cup was stuck in the sink, covering up the drain. Crisis averted, and we just had to laugh.

Even with our superhuman efforts, we couldn’t finish packing it all by the evening, so we ended up paying for a hotel room for our renters. At 3 am on July 2, we were out of the house. Bright and early in the morning (with only about two hours of sleep under our belts), we came to the house to get the last of the junk out of the garage. I had been in touch with the renters via text, keeping them apprised of the status and giving them useful information about the neighborhood, and the city. The renters turned out to be a lovely couple with a cute and astute little two-year old girl. They met our neighbors and were warmly welcomed. We finally got out of their hair feeling much better about the whole situation, and knowing that our home was as welcoming as we wanted it to be.

Fully living in our RV now, we found our spot in the Raccoon Valley RV Park, just north of Knoxville. Our poor RV, Lexi was still packed to the gills with things that we thought could fit but completely overestimated its capacity…. So, we carved our way through boxes, and over the following few days continued to dump things into storage. With the RV finally being in order, we could take Lexi out to get her prepped for the road trip. We had Jane Doe (our CR-V) scheduled to have the Blue OX towing system installed on Wednesday. On Thursday, we were to drive Lexi (our RV) to get Jane hitched to it (thus becoming Jane Tow). All was well, until the final plug, when we discovered that the socket in Lexi was bent and irreparable. So, in the heat and humidity of the day, poor David proceeded to replace the socket. Luckily, a mechanic freed up and came to our aid. Almost all of the contraption worked well, except for having a short somewhere in Lexi between the left blinker and the towing outlet. The good news is that David is good at fixing things and later on rewired the faulty thing to make the blinker work. Phew.

That being done, we headed into town to get propane. We tried U-Haul on Alcoa Hwy but they were fresh out (it was July 3rd…). We headed to a place on Kingston Pike, and as we were cruising down Pellissippi Parkway, we smelled something burning. We pulled over and looked around but couldn’t see anything. We hoped it would have been a truck that passed us. Alas, it was not. When we pulled into the propane place and I walked around the other side of the car (we couldn’t see it on the interstate because we would have had to step onto the road), I noticed smoke coming out of the middle tire area. The propane guy told us to move away from the giant explosive tank immediately. We tried to call Good Sam for help but they told us to drive to the car repair place down the street. This didn’t please me – car is on fire; it’s OK, just go ahead and drive it. Ugh.

But we did just that. Since it was getting late and the following day was a holiday, we decided to unhitch Jane and drive slowly toward our RV park. On Friday, we took Lexi to the car doctor, feeling guilty that we had done something wrong, like forgetting to push the tow mode button when towing Jane. It turned out that it wasn’t our fault; The brakes were old and locked up. We had replaced the breaks on the back tires and now, another thousand dollars later, we had brand new ones on the front, too. At least all this happened while we were still in town and not on the road…. The other good news was that we found a pet-friendly hotel right across the street from the ballroom dance studio where we used to teach, so we got to dance one more time at a Friday night party, and say “bye” to more friends before leaving.

We continued the cleaning and packing process from our RV, dumping more things into storage. We laughed when at some point we had an Instant Pot in our potty room…. Or when we parked at Target next to an identical CR-V. I loved that my hard work at least built up my arm muscles.

Slowly, but surely, things came together, and the closets in the RV started looking good. We took small breaks, rewarding ourselves with delicious sandwiches from the French Market, Good Golly Tamale, and even enjoyed our first “home-cooked” RV meal.

We visited with family one more time before heading out of town, but felt bad that couldn’t really have time to spend with many of our friends, as we had hoped. FINALLY, on July 8, we had lift off!!! Our next task at hand: drive 2,325 miles in 6ish days (about 6 hours/day) in order to make our only reservations in Banff and Jasper starting July 14.

RV-trip-travel-tour-USA

Some lessons learned:

  • Start packing early – way early!
  • Only keep what’s irreplaceable or that you use a lot.
  • Always consider if you are doing the work yourself, can you physically do it and is it worth it?
  • Consider hiring pros but know that they might not do a good job even if you pay them.
  • Post things to sell or give away free on Facebook’s local marketplace groups and on its official wider-reach Marketplace; be firm about accepting cash only and meeting in a public place.
  • If using a storage space and packing it yourself, use same-size packing boxes (U-Haul) so you can stack them, and maximize your use of vertical space.
  • Order packing tape in bulk (Amazon rocks!).
  • Start living with only the items you think we’ll take with you into the RV a few months before the actual departure day.
  • RV life is not super dressy, so pack up comfortable attire (t-shirts, walking shoes). If you find that you absolutely need something, you can always go shopping (right?)
  • If you are renting your house, consider hiring a property manager so that you don’t have to worry about things when you’re thousands or hundreds of miles away.
  • Do a test camping first to rule out potential glitches.

Fields of Gold

Day 4 – Leaving North Dakota

North Dakota seemed like the loooongest state to cross ever, with vast sunny-yellow fields of canola flanked by sometimes shiny, sometimes imposing silos. The flat road deceived us into thinking we had an easy drive, but we didn’t account for the gusts of wind throwing us off and keeping us with both hands on the wheel at all times.

Our much needed overnight rest stop was the Roughrider Campground, in Minot, ND. The map provided was incorrect or at least very confusing, and it took us a few passes through the gravel campground trails to find our spot. I found the layout to be a bit odd, with large trees blocking or too close for comfort to open slides. We had no trees around us, so we had plenty of space, with the outside area being large pebbles/small rocks.

Roughrider-Campground-North-Dakota

It was surprising to have plenty of daylight until late at night – the sun set at 9:55 pm local hour, which was 10:55 pm in Knoxville. However, this gave us the chance to enjoy the cooler part of the evening outdoors, only interrupted by a gaggle of ladies jogging by a few times, and a man who decided to fly his drone over our heads to take photos

After catching up on some work, and David victoriously fixing our TV display connection, we enjoyed a restful sleep throughout a comfortably cool night (cool enough for our A/C not to kick in).

Day 5 – Canada

The excitement level went up as we finally reach the day when we crossed into Canada!

The last part of our drive through North Dakota brought views of water among gentle hills – or so we thought. On a closer look, the pretty blue lakes flanking the road turned out to be blue flax flowers. The blue fields, alternated with more yellow canola fields, and green meadows, dotted with seemingly content cows.

In just a couple of hours, we reached Portal, ND. The border experience was great. We first got into the car line and then realized that we needed to be in the line where the big trucks were. We put our blinker on and mentally flipped off the guy who ignored it and blocked our way. Luckily, the guy behind him was nice enough to let us in. I found that most truckers are good about playing nice on the road. We first got into the car line and then realized that we needed to be in the line where the big trucks were. We put our blinker on and mentally flipped off the guy who ignored it and blocked our way. Luckily, the guy behind him was nice enough to let us in. I found that most truckers are good about playing nice on the road.

When we reached the agent’s booth, a jovial man greeted us and asked us about our visit. Although, as many had told us, we were asked about dog vaccinations papers, we didn’t have to show them (I had them in my hand). The process only lasted a few minutes and then we crossed over into Canada, with the agent’s good wishes.

We pulled over to figure out our phone and WiFi situation. David patiently got a hold of AT&T (repeatedly) to inquire about our connectivity. We finally figured out that we’d pay $10/day to include phone, text, and the data we have in our regular plan, without getting charged extra for roaming. The bad news was that our WiFi would not work while we are in Canada :-(.

I don’t know why we were expecting the landscape to change drastically and immediately…. What we found was a LOT more of the same lovely yellow fields and long straight ongoing roads – for many hours!! We passed towns with interesting names such as Moose Jaw, Drinkwater (which we did!), and Yellow Grass. We passed even smaller towns with a sign indicating a point of interest, the arrow pointing toward a cemetery – I guess people are dying to get in there!

At some point, we noticed some really beautiful clouds and I delighted in take photos of them. However, behind the fluffy clouds I saw a disturbing background of their dark and menacing relatives. I asked David to pull over at a gas station in the town of Weyburn, which just happened to be on our way and nearby. As soon as we fueled, we parked on a side street and waited out the downpour, thunder, and lightning. In minutes, waves of water almost reached the bottom or our towed (aka tow vehicle, also known as Jane Tow).

We hit the gas and left as the rain was moving out and proceeded on Saskatchewan Highway 39 towards our day’s destination, Gull Lake RV Park. The park was small but accommodating, and we gladly settled inside with a local chicken burger and salad from the only place open nearby. Even if the weather was pleasant enough, we chose the indoors as soon as the waves of mosquitoes started greeting us.

Today I realized that 2,325 miles (3742 km) of driving is a lot of driving. However, everyone who’s been to Banff promised it would be well worth it. One more day, and we’ll finally meet our reward!

A Breath of Fresh Air

Who would have thought that west Wisconsin and Minnesota would be so lush and pretty? Some parts really reminded me of home (Transylvania, Romania), minus the tall mountains in the background.

After another long day of driving, we settled at the small, no bells-n-whistles campsite Prairie Cove Campground and RV in Ashby, Minnesota. Although small and just off the highway, the campground was surprisingly quiet and the view of the water was absolutely lovely. A cool breeze rustled the poplar leaves, making beautiful music, and we took in the fresh air, grateful for a cool day. For the first time, we didn’t need to use the A/C at night, and had a restful sleep with all the vents open and the fans on.

The Middle

Day 2 of our trip started with a refreshing breath of cool-ish air and a good cup of coffee. I drove about six hours, taking our little family along peaceful and flat lands of lush corn fields, and navigating through the aggressive traffic of the Chicago outskirts, with dishes rattling, and cabinets spilling their guts in the process. While I loved the green pastures of Indiana, and although I love downtown Chicago, I didn’t love the roads around the Windy City, nor did I like the tolls….

After crossing into Wisconsin, David took over the driving for another two hours. Road-wise, things got better and the sailing was easier again, en route to our overnight destination: Country Roads Motorhome and RV Park. A light breeze and the smell of rain were a lovely welcome to our newly found life of freedom.

I still can’t believe this is our reality. It hasn’t hit us yet, because we’re in a hurry to reach Canada for our one and only reservation: Banff. Many delays (a story for another time) pushed our departure date to a lot later than we had anticipated, so the relaxation aspect of the trip hasn’t happened fully yet.

The plan is to slow down and spend a comfortable amount of time in the Pacific Northwest, then head east toward Chicago, up to Canada again to Montreal and Quebec area, see the Niagara Falls. Fall should be spent visiting the NE corner of the US and going down the coast towards good ol’ Ktown for Thanksgiving. And since winters are no good in Tennessee, we plan on finding our way out of there shortly thereafter, exploring Louisiana, Texas, and then the desert and southwest corner of the US.