Travel Day One

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Without knowing what the fire season was going to permit us to do as far as actually getting past Fort Providence, we decided to leave a day earlier than planned. We didn’t make any hotel reservations because we didn’t know which day we would be getting where.

The day started out questionable, with unexplainable insomnia and a brief bought of empty-stomach vomiting on my part. Don’t worry, everything was fine once I actually got food into my stomach and we got on the road. The rain that started the previous night followed us constantly all the way to Enterprise, and sporadically the rest of the way. There were no visible active fires near the road, although a couple of smouldering, smoking parts north of Providence. There was smoke being blown in from elsewhere, but visibility wasn’t drastically impaired so our progress remained good.

My first drive on our new Deh Cho Bridge over the Mackenzie River was a moment for me. It’s not as steep as I’ve been led to believe, but ask me again what I think after crossing it in the winter. It was thrilling nonetheless.

We stopped briefly at Big River and the 60th Parallel Visitors Centre before going to High Level for supper. It was only 6:00, so we decided to continue the remaining three hours to Peace River. Our decision not to book a hotel seemed to bite us in the ass as all the hotels in Peace River were booked solid. The Pomeroy in Grimshaw was recommended, which was only half an hour away. Unfortunately they were booked, too, but the helpful front desk clerk directed us to DeeJay Motel, just down the block. She told us it looks old, but the rooms are really clean. She was not wrong on either count. This is actually a perfectly fine little motel. The front desk clerk at DeeJay’s was very friendly, we were able to get a non-smoking room with two beds, and the room — while certainly old school — was immaculate. No wifi, but that’s what the hotspot feature on my phone is for when necessary, right?

Overall, a relatively uneventful but enjoyable drive. Wildlife sightings for the day: one chipmunk, one raven, several crows, a herd of about eight bison, one black bear cub, and various unidentified ornithoid.

Bright Blue Barns, Road Construction, & Ice Cream

Banff, Alberta, Canada
Thursday, August 28, 2014

Actually, today was pretty uneventful. A lot of driving. We ended up having Timmie’s for breakfast again in Peace River on our way south from Grimshaw. We originally intended to drive through Jasper on Highway 16, past Robson Mountain, but when I checked the firemap for BC before leaving Yellowknife it showed a fire on the highway at Robson. I figured it would be prudent to change our route. We headed south instead to come up to Banff. We figured it would be a more scenic route without the congestion of the Jasper-Banff highway.

During the first three-hours nothing terribly interesting happened. There was road construction at Nampa that slowed us down only a little, and Jessica slept her way past what I thought was a refreshing change from the ubiquitous red barn — we passed a nice bright blue barn. Yup. Exciting, I know.

We stopped in Whitecourt for the obligatory DQ indulgence, then continued on for another four hours through Rocky Mountain House and Cochrane. Lovely, scenic drive along mostly Highway 22. Only one stretch of construction. Oh, and I was sadly forced to pass a Mustang convertible. It really was going embarrassingly slow. Honest, barely the speed limit! The line of cars behind the poor thing…

At Cochrane we had a choice of either taking the Trans-Canada or the slightly longer scenic route. As it was already getting late in the day and we wanted to be able to stroll around Banff before bed, we went the faster route. We stayed at Irwin’s Mountain Inn, which we had reserved the night before (after yesterday’s near fiasco with accommodations, we figured we’d better have something lined up this time). Nice place, no complaints; although it is weird that the bathroom sink is not actually in the bathroom…

Our stroll downtown brought us to Giorgio’s Trattoria for supper, where we decided Jessica had better take advantage of being in Alberta while she’s still 18. We both had a glass of the house red with supper. I thought it was a nice, mid-something-or-other wine…I liked it, anyway. Jess’ opinion? ‘meh, it’s fine, I don’t have anything to compare it with.’ Okay, valid point, it is her very first glass of wine. I guess now she’ll have to wait until next year to try other kinds.

Anyway, we’re settling in for the night now. I’m quite tired this evening for some reason. It might be the second 9-hour day of driving in a row. Or the altitude. Or maybe the wine…

Wildlife sightings: various ornithoid and one lonely deer. Maybe a doe. Or a fawn. It was kind of small. And didn’t have antlers that I could see.

Belated Moment of Recognition

Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada
Friday, August 29, 2014

On the road again. We had a lovely stay in Banff but got up a little later than we intended. Not a huge dent in our intended schedule. We had breakfast, got gas (for the car, silly), and hit the road at about 10:15 am Alberta time. Other than some rain throughout, the trip was relatively uneventful; which surprised the hell out of me because the last time I took the Hope highway it was a two-lane anxiety-ridden nightmare.

I had a forehead-slapping moment of recognition when we were listening to Jessica’s playlist and ‘Eastbound and Down’ came on. I’m listening to it, with pictures going through my head of scenes from the movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. (Because I always play scenes from movies in my head when a song from the soundtrack comes on. Don’t you?) I get, in my head, to a scene of the truck driver driving his rig all crazy-like and laughing, and I’ve seen the actor somewhere recently. It takes me a minute to realize I actually MET him not more than three weeks ago at the Star Trek Convention! The actor is Eric Pierpoint! What the hell! I could have brought a Smokey photo for him to autograph instead of scrambling for something appropriate when I got there. Damn it, an epic opportunity missed…

We stopped in Revelstoke for lunch at Denny’s. Jessica and I agree we have now been there, done that, don’t ever need to do that again.

We lamented as we continued on our journey at not having time to stop at Skytrek Adventures again. That would have been fun. Sigh.

We also passed right by the place we’ll be going house boating next summer with the family. So excited for that! That is another story for next year though…

Did any of y’all know that there is actually a stretch of highway in Canada with a speed limit greater than 110 kph? I did not until today. I was shocked to discover the highway between Kamloops and Hope had not only been expanded to a four-lane highway but also that the speed limit is actually 120 kph. Yes, you are reading me correctly: 120 kph! I almost didn’t believe it. I had to watch the traffic around me to confirm what the sign suggested. Man, did I make up for lost time on that stretch after getting stuck behind rigs and RVs on the two-lane stretches earlier. And, unlike certain American counterparts, everyone on that stretch of highway knew how to stay to the right except to pass. It was exhilarating!

We arrived at Auntie Lillian’s and Uncle Mike’s in Chilliwack pretty much when we expected to and had a lovely visit and supper with them, Auntie Yvonne, Uncle Bob, and my mom. Fresh corn on the cob is really to die for. We spent the rest of the evening figuring out a plan for the rest of our trip and figuring out how to get more out of my Garmin than I had been using it for to date. Tomorrow we look forward to visiting my cousin before catching the ferry to Victoria.

Wildlife sightings: a squirrel, a magpie, and various small ornithoid. We agreed cows and horses do not count as wildlife, being domesticated beasts and all.


Family, Ferry, and Funnies

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Saturday, August 30, 2014

We started our day being served breakfast by my aunt and uncle before heading out to visit my cousin Roseanne and her beau, Tim. It was, unfortunately, a too short visit but I am so glad we were able to do it before leaving for Victoria.

The GPS did not fail us and not only were we able to get to the ferry terminal early, we were able to get Booster Juice for lunch on the way, and got on the ferry an hour earlier than our reservation. And while we were waiting in line at the terminal I also managed to snag a Munzee — bonus!

Aside from learning of the unfortunate and sudden loss of an acquaintance from home, the ferry ride was lovely and uneventful. That hour and a half flew right by.

We’re staying at The Embassy Inn; once again Tripadvisor did not fail me. The hotel is right off the harbour and barely a block away from the ferry terminal Mom and I will be taking Monday to Port Angeles. The rooms are clean, comfortable, and have a small accessible balcony.

We strolled down Government Street and back up Wharf Street, stopped at The Docks for a late supper, watched the last half of Tallulah’s street performance, found the vehicle entrance for Monday’s ferry, ate some fudge and chocolate covered coconut, and are now winding down to go to sleep for the last time next to my daughter. Tomorrow she moves into her dorm room.

Wildlife sightings: yeah, right…

Move In Day

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Sunday, August 31, 2014

We were a smidgen slower getting up this morning than we planned, yet still managed to make it to the university more or less on time. Jessica was warned that registration was open from 8:00 am to, I forget, 5:00 or 6:00 or something, but that the busiest time was from 8:30 to 10:30 am. We figured arriving for 10:30 would probably be good then. We also figured our logic would probably be flawed because everyone got the same message that Jessica did; we were correct on that second assessment. It took Jess 40 minutes to get through registration and then another 10 or 15 to get her picture taken for her student ID. Then we had to maneuver through the throngs of people to find her apartment, only to learn we were parked too far away and could park a lot closer. We moved the car and managed to snag a spot pretty much right outside her apartment…except that there were no elevators and we had to shlep everything up three flights of stairs anyway. It took three trips and partially emptying her trunk. And this was before shopping for various household necessities and groceries. It took until 8:00 pm, but we got it done and got Jessica settled in. We left her to find her friend Ally and hopefully make an appearance at the building welcome party downstairs.

During the day we did meet her roommates and a couple of their parents. They all seem nice, two hailing from Whistler and one from Abbotsford. All three of them are psychology majors to Jessica’s math major. Interesting combination. Not sure if I should feel secure in Jessica’s well being or concerned for her sanity. Hehe. I’m sure they’ll all be just fine.

I wish Dan could have been there today, and not just so he could have helped with the luggage or just so he could spend more time with his daughter. I would have loved to see the neighbour boys’ faces if it had been Dan who answered the door instead of me when they came to invite the girls to the building welcome party. That would have been fun :).

Connected with Rick and Claudette today and we’re hoping to get some type of visit with them tomorrow before Mom and I leave. Also spoke briefly with my brother; don’t worry, Brother, I’m fine, but ask me again tomorrow!

Wildlife sightings: nothing but teenagers (excuse me: young adults)
In Front of Her New Home

Tea, Company, and Port Angeles

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Monday, September 1, 2014

Our last day with Jessica I treated her and Mom to tea at The Empress. It was an elegant affair where we partook of three different teas (we could have tried five), five different finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and five different dainty desserts. We ate off of the Royal China and tried to do so with as correct a posture as possible. It was all very good, and the service was excellent, and the live piano player was lovely.

I had picked up some of the Queen’s tea for Dan before lunch, and then they gave us more as ‘gifts’ after the meal. So Dan’s getting a lot of tea. Good thing he really likes that particular type of tea.

We followed tea time with a stroll, stopping at The Bay Centre before meeting up with three-quarters of the James clan. As a group we strolled some more, discovered where we parked our car, visited the Fort Street market, bought some books, exchanged new contact information, and then parted ways. I’m sure Jessica will see the Jameses throughout the year — they’ve temporarily relocated to Victoria this year as well.

We returned Jessica to the university and said our farewells. The tears came from my mother; Jessica and I held it together just fine. She’s an intelligent, responsible, resourceful young lady, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is going to do just fine. But I’ll still miss her terribly…

Mom and I stopped at The Soda Shoppe for a loaded hot dog and a drink before getting in line at the Coho ferry. The trip itself was uneventful. The ship was a little more industrial in nature than the BC Ferries ships, a little less luxurious, but still perfectly fine. While waiting in line at the dock a young family with two boys noticed my polar bear plate. They had never seen one before and had to check the front of the car to confirm it was our official plate. It took some doing to get it across to the boys just how far north we came from: “The Northwest Territories…Go straight north from here to get to Yukon, then go east…Way further north than North Dakota…Think the Arctic Circle.” That’s when the confused eyes got wide. The mom suggested they should look at a map when they get a chance. When we went through US customs in Port Angeles the officer asked where we were coming from and what we did for a living. When I answered him honestly he smiled and said I reminded him of that movie with Sandra Bullock where she goes to Alaska and there’s this one guy who seems to do just about everything in the community; I do see the similarity :).

We checked in at the Super 8, which had really good reviews. It is a nice, comfortable, and clean room, and the staff is really responsive. The only negative is our non-smoking room smelled like it had been smoked in. We complained, they apologized and brought us an air filter (no other double rooms were available to move us to), and they said we would get a discount on the room for the inconvenience. Nothing else they could have done, really. I just hope it’s not bad enough to trigger Mom’s allergies. We really wanted to make sure we weren’t dinged the $150 penalty for smoking in a non-smoking room.

Wildlife sightings: Rick James.

Chestnuts, Waterfalls, and Choo-Choo Trains

Spokane, Washington, United States
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The day started out typically and then it was a little bit of a roller coaster. Mom and I went for breakfast at Chestnut Cottage in Port Angeles. Once again, Tripadvisor did not let us down. It was a lovely little place with absolutely fantastic food, service, and prices. The pastry that was included with my crab omelet was fresh made in house and was just bursting with mixed berries. Mom’s apple walnut french toast was huge; she ended up taking all day to eat it in the car.

Once on the road we followed the GPS’s instructions and took Highway 104 south; we didn’t even get to Hood Canal Bridge when traffic came to a standstill. That’s when we saw the sign telling us to tune into an AM station for traffic reports, which subsequently warned us of the opening of Hood Canal Bridge taking place that morning and to expect delays of up to an hour. We decided to turn around, ignore the GPS, and take Highway 101 south instead. The GPS didn’t like that and kept trying to turn us around or get us to use inexplicable back roads, often implying we were not already on Highway 101 when it was blatantly clear from the road signage that we were in fact on Highway 101 southbound. This route did end up taking a little more time than originally planned for, but it was the unexplained stalling of traffic outside and going past Olympia that was annoying. Then getting around Tacoma to make required stops at Walmart and Home Depot got a little ridiculous, too, but at least we were successful at finding two-thirds of the items we were looking for.

After leaving Tacoma the driving got much better. We didn’t have any real trouble getting to Snoqualmie Falls, which were absolutely gorgeous, even in the rain. Would be nice to go back there and explore a bit more. We continued on, though, to North Bend and had supper at Twedes Diner. The significance of this diner will likely be lost on most of you, but this is the diner used in Twin Peaks which is famous for its coffee and cherry pie. We did not partake of the coffee, but I did partake of the cherry pie. Honestly, it was no better or worse than any other cherry pie I’ve ever had, but it was still fun to do. Of course, the funniest part of our visit was the giggling my mom started when she unintentionally referred to the model trains lining the walls as Choo-Choo trains. I think you have to be a Lafrance to understand.

As it was later in the day than expected, we drove non stop the rest of the way to Spokane. Aside from the occasional downpour, one short stretch of construction, a really gusty section of road, and tumbleweeds from apparently out of nowhere, the drive was quite pleasant. We even got to drive under one of the most brilliant rainbows I’ve ever seen.

We arrived at our hotel about 9:45 pm. We stayed at The Davenport Hotel and my mom thought I must have won the lottery or something when she saw the lavishness. Burst that bubble pretty quick when I told her how inexpensive it actually was. Still not sure she believes me, but I can prove it when we check out tomorrow.

Wildlife sightings: one flock of small ornithoids. Does road kill count? I saw a dead rabbit on the side of the road…

Lucky Lil’s Blue Montana Sky

Great Falls, Montana, United States
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Today started with excellent check out service at the Davenport, a yummy raspberry Danish from Starbucks, and friendly, helpful service from a gas station attendant. Things went stressfully downhill from there until we got to Montana. When we left Spokane it started raining…and raining harder…and raining harder. Driving up and down the mountains of Spokane and through Idaho would have been fun on dry pavement; on wet, pooling roads it’s somewhat less so. But we got through it and took a much needed break in Missoula, Montana.

Before anyone asks, no, I did not see Hank Green anywhere, damn it! And yes, I was looking. I guess he didn’t feel like venturing to Walmart, Buffalo Wild Wings, or Lucky Lil’s Casino to meet me. It’s okay. I understand. I’m sure my family will be greatly disappointed, though.

Lucky Lil’s did turn out to be lucky for me, though. I put $20 into a poker machine expecting nothing in return and left with $329. Yes, Noltings, you read me right — I actually won at some form of poker. It’s a bloody miracle. And just to prove I am not a gambling addict, I won the entire amount on one bet and did not continue playing.

We left Lucky Lil’s, had some fun confusing the Australian-voiced GPS as we made random turns and missed instructions trying to find our way back to the I-90, got some gas and finally headed out. We had a paper map as backup (thank you, Auntie Lillian!) and planned to take the I-90 south then Highway 12 east to Helena, then Highway 15 north to Great Falls as that looked like the most efficient route. Our Australian-voiced GPS kept insisting we take the more direct route through the mountains. We heeded Uncle Al’s warnings not to take the mountain road because it would add three hours to our trip. We stubbornly ignored the increasingly persistent GPS instructions to turn around, for the love of God, turn around, and kept going south on the I-90 until we realized we could shut her up by programming the trip to Great Falls via Helena. Happy sigh, that did the trick.

The rest of the trip was absolutely pleasant driving through truly exceptional scenery on 97 percent dry roads at a legal 120 kph. Montana is hands down the most gorgeous and relaxing state I have seen yet.

We got to Great Falls at about 8:30 pm, but when we got to our hotel — the Staybridge — we were told they had overbooked the hotel and moved our reservation to the Holiday Inn, that they would be paying for the room, and they provided us with a one-night complementary certificate to use on a future stay with Staybridge. Okay. I’ll take it. I was looking forward to staying at the Staybridge because of the really good reviews on Tripadvisor, but their level of compensation to us under the circumstances still left me with a good feeling for them. I would have been happy with them ensuring we had a good, clean room to stay in somewhere as long as they paid any difference in price and/or got us a decent discount; instead we got a good, clean room in a decent hotel at no cost to us. Awesome! And we finally arrived early enough to take a dip in the pool. All in all I’d say this was a good day.

Wildlife sightings: a hawk, finally!

Cranky Pants, Geocaching, and Helium

Okotoks, Alberta, Canada
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Woke up cranky today. My own fault though; I drank a bottle of Coca-Cola about an hour before going to bed and then couldn’t get to sleep for nearly another two hours. Sorry, Mom. Breakfast helped marginally, and by mid-day I was feeling better.

We drove on Highway 15 northbound, going through customs at Coutts, Alberta. That went relatively quickly: where are you from, how long have you been in the US, what’s the value of any purchases your transporting, $15? One-five? Do you have any tobacco or alcohol, okay, have a nice day.

Plugged along to Lethbridge, enjoying the distant view of the snow capped mountains, and decided to get a Booster Juice for lunch. Of course, that took longer than it should have again. You know, that consistent thing we’ve been doing messing with the Australian-voiced GPS’s plans for us.

Kept on plugging, passed my brother in High Prairie, picked up an early birthday ice cream cake for my nephew, and met my sister-in-law in Okotoks, where we stayed the night. My brother made an excellent meal of BBQ chicken and corn-on-the-cob, then we went for a drive around Okotoks. We picked up two geocaches and got a brief tour of their workplaces before heading home for the cake and a short dip in the hot tub. My nephew entertained us with his first experience inhaling helium from his birthday balloons. He couldn’t stop laughing long enough to say his chosen line before the helium would wear off. This was followed with a discussion about the dangers of repeated helium abuse…

Wildlife sightings: another hawk and various (and occasionally stinky) road kill…we haven’t established yet whether road kill can be counted as wildlife, have we?