Northern Spirit Shakedown – Travel Day 1

Good evening, Family, Friends, and Followers! I know, it’s been a while, at least a year and a half. All I can say is: COVID-19. What with the various restrictions, lockdowns, and inherent pandemic risks, the only travel this family has done in the last two years as been for medical reasons. Not exactly what one would call fun or relaxing. But that all changes this year! While we may not be travelling overseas for a couple more years (sniff, sniff… Scotland…) and we may not yet venture into the US just yet, we are finally able to take time off from work and travel domestically.

The last non-medical trip we took was in February 2020. We went to the Edmonton RV Expo and started looking at travel trailers. You see, our retirement plan is to do a North American Road Trip. Some parts of that trip will not be with the travel trailer, but most of it will. Since we’ve never actually used a travel trailer or RV of any kind before, we thought it would be a good idea to invest in one now to get used to and figure out what we actually like, what we don’t, and what we can get used to. The original plan was to go look at the options at the 2020 Expo — which we did — and then take the year to surf and consider what we’d seen, then go to the 2021 Expo with a more focused approach and purchase the travel trailer then. Clearly that didn’t happen as planned, but we can be flexible sorts on occasion so we pushed the purchase date to the 2022 Expo.

The Mackenzie River at Big River Station near Fort Providence

That only sorta-kinda worked as planned. It would have worked exactly as planned, except that the 2022 Expo got cancelled due to a pandemic outbreak after we had purchased our airline tickets. We rolled with it, though, and decided to go to Edmonton anyway. Instead of going to one location to see multiple dealers, I did a little research on line and chose four local dealerships to make appointments with to see what they had to offer. As I said, we had already narrowed down what we were looking for to a specific type of floorplan, so now we really just needed to shop around for which make/model and compare prices.

As it turned out, we didn’t end up purchasing our travel trailer from any of the four dealerships we had pre-booked appointments with. By dumb luck, or the universe working in our favour, we had some time on our hands between appointments and decided to stop in at a fifth dealership to see if we could look at a trailer that caught my attention that had just been posted as available earlier that week. Long story short, the Manager we spoke to was fantastic and super accommodating, as were the rest of his staff that we worked with that weekend. He set up and showed us this trailer and not only did it check off the boxes for every feature we were looking for but it had the bonus of being smartly engineered to use dead space for accessible storage. It was expensive, but everything is mid-pandemic, and we were expecting that. So we purchased the 2022 Coachmen Northern Spirit 2557RB — look it up on the Coachmen website and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I even love the name, it totally suits us and where we’re from.

So now we’re driving down to Edmonton to pick up our new treasure, get oriented to it, kit it out, and figure out how it works. We’re not going to drive it very far away from the dealership, just in case we need them to talk us through something. We’ll be staying at a campground just down the highway from the dealership and staying there the entire time. I am so ridiculously excited to be doing this.

Us at Enterprise standing in front of the ravine that the Hay River flows through.

Travel Day 1 consisted of Dan driving the entire way to High Level. I say this because it is not how we usually travel. I usually do the driving. But then, we’re usually driving in my car, not Dan’s truck. Which obviously we need to tow the travel trailer. I am admittedly a control freak and prefer to be driving, but I also tend to get car sick as a passenger. But Dan’s truck, Dan drives, and I have to accept that and learn how to be a good passenger. So I did. Today I learned that as long as I stay facing forward and don’t try to read or watch anything but the scenery that I won’t get car sick. Yay me! In other words, it was a pleasant, uneventful drive.

We passed clear evidence of the recent flooding near Enterprise where the highway had been washed out, and the ditches otherwise were noticably water-logged. There were two stretches where they had single lanes only, so traffic was controlled with lights while they worked to repair the washed-out sections. At the second stretch there was a string of at least half a dozen large pumps working to drain the water from one side of the highway to the other. We were so busy observing that we didn’t think to take a picture… gonna have to work on that remembering to take pictures thing…

We stayed at the Best Western Plus Mirage in High Level, and had supper in their restaurant. The servers were really great, despite accidentally ordering the wrong meal for me. I ordered the Wild Mushroom and Chicken Fettucine, which the server did write down correctly, but she punched into the computer as the Lobster Fettucine (the two fettucine’s were right next to each other in the system, so an honest mistake). I like lobster, too, so it really wasn’t a big deal to switch, and they comped me a dessert in apology. What was the dessert? A brownie, of course. What else would I choose? The bonus was they topped it with dark chocolate ice cream. It’s like they knew what I’d like or something! I only ate half the fettucine, and the ice cream, and a little bit of the brownie; the rest was boxed to have for lunch later.

After driving all day and eating that meal we were obliged to go for a walk before settling down for the evening. Somehow my Fitbit came up with 8,200 steps today, so we walked until I got the fireworks for hitting 10,000. And no, I don’t think those numbers are accurate, I think the bouncing around on several portions of the highway probably triggered a bunch of those recorded steps, but I’m just going to accept it anyway.

Black Bears – Momma and two Cubs

I forgot my notebook in the truck, but wildlife sightings today included maybe 9 bison, 8 ducks, 3 herons, and a whopping 7 black bears, including a Momma and her two cubs.

Adelle and Dan

Travel Day Two: Leg Four

October 3, 2020 – approximately 4:30 p.m.


Leg four ends in Whitecourt where I refilled the gas tank and otherwise just stopped to stretch the legs. It is worth mentioning that the stretch between Peace River and Edmonton via Valleyview and Whitecourt is an extremely scenic drive. Most of it is on a divided highway, too, so that’s awesome. The road itself needs work, but it’s clear they’re already doing that starting on the Northbound side. Otherwise, nothing interesting other than the scenery has popped up on this leg.

Travel Day Two: Leg Three

October 3, 2020 – approximately 3:00 p.m.


All right, it’s been an hour and a half since Peace River, I’ve rolled into Valleyview, and I’m ready for my first real treat of the trip: the obligatory Peanut Buster Parfait. So yes, my stop here is at my second Dairy Queen of the day. This is the only Peanut Buster Parfait I will be having this trip, don’t worry. And as I mention in the video, I will be exercising it off when I get to my Mom’s later today.

Travel Day Two: Leg Two

October 3, 2020 – approximately 1:00 p.m.

Arrived in Peace River this afternoon. They’re doing construction on the bridge, so traffic was slow getting through town but not a big deal. Stopped for gas at the PetroCan station. The PetroCan station is the first place at the access turn off in an area populated by fast food restaurants, the grocery store, drug store, etcetera. As I was leaving the PetroCan station from the exit nearest the access road I heard a fender-bender happen in the grocery store parking lot across the way. I kept going, didn’t see the “No Entry” sign for the access road I was entering because it was placed further ahead of PetroCan driveway I left from (effectively it was behind me) so I didn’t know I was going the wrong way. That road is actually wide enough for two vehicles to easily pass each other, so it didn’t really register that I might be using it incorrectly until a vehicle that was properly using the access road gave me the two-hands-palms-up-off-the-steering-wheel-what-the-heck-are-you-doing signal. That is of course when I realized I might be going the wrong way on the access road, sheepishly ducked my head into my shoulders, and proceeded to turn back around to go looking for the correct exit road.

I drove through the aforementioned parking lot to get at the exit road on the other side, passing by the vehicles involved in the fender-bender, and proceeded to Dairy Queen for lunch. It was a lovely day, so I ate my meal in the parking lot instead of, you know, where other people were (see, social distancing). Moving on…

Travel Day Two: Leg One

October 3, 2020 – approximately 11:30 a.m.

Teacup Cafe.JPG

I hadn’t really planned on where I was going to stop (haven’t really anyway, except for gas) but when this place showed up on the near horizon I figured it was perfect. And happened to be about right for the hour-and-a-half timing I was looking for.

I’m calling it the Teacup Cafe but I don’t think that’s what it’s actually called. Their teacup sign has always been a landmark for us for as long as I can remember. The store itself isn’t open anymore, I don’t know when it closed, but we’ve never actually stopped here before. Again, one of those things where we’re always just trying to get where we’re going and not taking the time to stop and smell the roses so to speak.

It’s been a pleasant drive again so far. As mentioned in the video, I’ve scrolled my way through SiriusXM and have stopped at the Bluegrass station. It always surprises me how much I actually enjoy listening to Bluegrass.

Travel Day One and Two: Arrival and Departure

October 2, 2020 – approximately 6:00 p.m.

The end of Day One arrived at around 6:00 p.m. when I rolled into High Level. Overall a very pleasant drive, with wildlife sightings that included Bison. Many Bison. Nothing else, just Bison. And all of them before the Deh Cho Bridge. I’m staying at the Best Western Mirage, which I have always found very comfortable and affordable, and I’m confident they are following pandemic guidelines.

I contemplated going for a walk because I noticed on the way in (hard to miss, frankly) that the community has installed a new intersection meridian at the north end of the highway providing for a turning lane. It threw me off because I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t go for the walk though because by the time I settled in and did my exercise routine it was already dark out. I was ready to call it a night. I ordered supper in this evening to avoid any undue contact, and then did a little work-related emailing before reading and turning in.

October 3, 2020 – approximately 10:00 a.m.

I had a pretty good sleep last night, but still managed to move a little slower than I would have liked this morning. I was hoping to get on the road shortly after 9:00 a.m., but didn’t actually until nearly 10:00 a.m.

The High Level Esso station is one of my favourite stops on this drive. It’s a quite literally full-service station that is kept in excellent condition. Wait — not full-service in the sense of they will pump your gas; that part is entirely self-serve — I mean full-service in the sense that they provide more than just gas. They have a wonderful cafeteria, fully stocked convenience store, and pay-at-the-pump options. Plenty of room for lots of traffic to move around. They also have a draw for trips that is ongoing, I think you enter with your receipt. I’ve entered it a few times, but didn’t today. The trips are awarded often, so there are lots of winners. And you’re guaranteed to see at least one familiar face from home passing through.

Travel Day One: Leg Four

October 2, 2020 – approximately 5:00 p.m.

Forgot about the train tracks … Yes, it’s true, we do have train tracks that go up into the Northwest Territories. I don’t know how far up, but at least to Hay River, I think to Fort Smith, and maybe (???) towards Fort Simpson? Maybe? I don’t know. But I do know they go to Hay River, and I’m fairly confident there are actually trains that still use it. Not that I’ve ever actually caught a train on those tracks north of High Level or into the NWT, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Besides, for the most part there’s a buffer of trees between the highway and the tracks, so it’s not entirely unlikely that I wouldn’t have noticed when a train was there. Right? Sure. At the point where I made this stop the tracks had not crossed the highway yet, so I had managed to forget — again — that there even were any tracks there. Rest assured, later on when I did cross the tracks I lifted my feet and made the required wish.

What’s that? You haven’t heard of making a wish when you cross the tracks? When I was a child my parents told us during our drives that if we lifted our feet off the floor or ground and made a wish while going over train tracks our wish could come true. It was clearly a way to pass the time in the car back in the day, but as I like to say, you can’t win if you don’t even play. So on the off chance that there’s anything to this making wishes business, to this day I still lift my feet off the floor of the car and make a wish when I go over train tracks.

Travel Day One: Leg Three

October 2, 2020 – approximately 3:00 p.m.

I know, I know, these section titles are really boring. Sorry. Dan’s not with me to provide his unique ideas for such things…

Oh, hey, look! I just noticed I can change the border styles…cool…

This stop ended up being in Enterprise. I was not expecting that because it never really registered that Enterprise is about an hour and a half away from Big River at Fort Providence. I think even if it wasn’t I might have stopped here anyway, for the reason mentioned in the video. As I was driving by and actually paying attention to the scenery on the side of the road I realized, oh, hey, there’s a ravine with a river there, I should take a closer look! So I did. Then I noticed the time and realized it fortuitously was my time to stop anyway.

I did look it up and confirmed that the river in question is indeed the Hay River snaking it’s way past the community. Alexandra Falls are on this river further south. We normally would try to stop and see Alexandra Falls on this drive, but I will not be doing that this time around. Maybe on the way back up, if I’m allowed. Honestly, Dan and I should consider a camping trip near the Hay River to do some kayaking…not anywhere near the falls or any rapids, of course, we’re way too new at the sport for that.

Travel Day One: Leg Two

October 2, 2020 – about 1:30 p.m.


Stop number two on day one is a must-do at Big River gas station on the highway near Fort Providence. The tank in my car is not quite big enough to get me to High Level in one go, so we always stop at Big River and top up the tank. Big River is about a three-hour drive from Yellowknife, which is just about perfect timing for a bathroom break and lunch. Of course, today I did not stay for lunch and only stopped long enough for the mentioned bathroom break and gas tank top up.

I clearly have kayaking on the brain in the below video, probably because we finally actually used our kayak’s this year and still didn’t get out in them as much as I would have liked.

The above photograph was taken on a rest stop closer to the Deh Cho Bridge, which is what connects the north side of the river to the south side of the river. This bridge is still pretty exciting for me, even though it’s already several years old. Why? Well, because it arches so high and seems so narrow once you’re on it, but also because before this bridge was built we would have to take a ferry to cross the river in the summer and drive the ice road across in the winter. This also meant we would be unable to get across the river during the spring break-up and the fall freeze-up. That is all in the past now, and while the ferry/ice-road were unique experiences that I value, as a resident of Yellowknife I appreciate having the bridge now.

Travel Day One: Leg One

October 2, 2020 – about 11:30 a.m.

All right then. So, as I said in the below video, I decided to break up my driving days into hour and a half legs, just to keep from getting too bored. Also, to give me something to try using the GoPro for. At first I thought I’d just take photos, but then I thought, what the heck, why not video? So, yeah. No script, just, well, narrating or thinking out loud.

My first stop was in the middle of nowhere, between Edzo and Fort Providence. I stopped a short ways after seeing a herd of about 10 bison, including a calf, in the ditch. While I didn’t really observe anything else of interest, I did note that the condition of the highway so far had been significantly improved. I was really impressed! It’s been a great drive so far.

First stop on the Mackenzie Highway southbound