Northern Spirit Shakedown Cruise – Lots of Water, None of it Hot

We managed to get out the door, so to speak, about when I hoped to on Thursday morning. We picked up the trailer at Trailblazer RV, where they completed all the work we asked for and the only thing that wasn’t covered by warranty was the door latch ($35 installed). We hooked up without trouble, made our way to Glowing Embers RV Park to fill up the potable water tank ($5), and headed on our way.

We purchased the Garmin RV 890 GPS Navigator specifically to use when towing the trailer. It provides for us to enter the specifications of our trailer and tow vehicle and find the safest route to our destination. We set it up to avoid traffic, tunnels, highways, and unpaved roads, which is how we managed to stay off the QEII — that section passing Red Deer is a particular nightmare for RVs which we learned the hard way back in 2009 (I think it was), so we have no desire whatsoever to battle traffic there, let alone on the Deerfoot Trail through Calgary.

We left Acheson and Zoe (that’s the name of our GPS, so named because that’s the voice’s name…I know, not terribly original, but we like the name anyway and know a couple very nice people who have that name) took us south through Devon and then east to get us essentially on Highway 21. We had already decided to split the normally short trip to Calgary/Okotoks into two days, with our first night boondocking.

Mother Nature decided to kick our first mid-distance RV trip up a notch by ensuring that enough rain and wind was produced along our path to issue storm warnings. The first day it was mostly about the rain. Lots and lots of rain most of the way to our first stop and pouring all night. The wind started over night and continued at about 30 km/hr until we got settled into our campsite in Okotoks.

Max’s Diner, Bashaw

We stopped half way to our first campsite for lunch at Max’s Diner in Bashaw. They were short staffed so the food was take-out only, which we ate in the truck before getting back on the road. I had an individual pizza which I really enjoyed. Dan had a burger which he said was really good going in, but he later found it was not so good coming out, if you get my meaning.

D&A Gardens, Elnora

We took advantage of our Harvest Host/Boondockers Welcome membership and stayed at a lovely nursery/winery called DNA (D&A) Gardens. They have a fruit orchard with various fruits, including upwards of 19 different species of saskatoons. Who knew there were so many varieties of saskatoons??? We sure didn’t. They also sell various fruit trees and other types of trees. They have a wonderful cafe on site, selling foods that include their product, including scrumptious pies. We indulged in a piece of saskatoon pie and cherry pie, and they were delightful!

Hascap Berries

We chatted with the owner in the farm store, where we purchased a jar of saskatoon jam and a jar of brownie mix (yes, I’m going to try again). I think the owner may have sold Dan on purchasing a Hascap berry bush which produces a fruit that looks like a funky cross between a saskatoon, blueberry, and grape, but that apparently tastes like a cross between a blueberry and a raspberry. I may have to go back on my way home to pick up a tree… We did not get to go on either the Bat Trail Walk or the Nature Trail Walk; we figured the paths would be too wet to enjoy walking on, and we were already wet enough given it was still raining.

One of the other family member owners (I didn’t catch any of their names) lead us to the campsites. They have about six large spots lined up between two sections of the orchard. Each site has a firepit. The sites are grass and the road in is loose gravel. Everything was really soggy (did I mentioned it rained?), but the ground held up really well. We didn’t have any trouble driving around another camper (who had parked their rig on the road instead of on the grass) and backing into the spot at the furthest end of the row. We got all set up, opened the propane, confirmed the battery was full and the solar panels were working (despite the cloud cover…have I mentioned it was raining?), confirmed there was water in the water heater, and then turned the water heater gas switch on.

Then we went for supper. We ended up in a nice little community called Delburne and had supper at a cute little bistro called The Delburne Bistro. Then we stopped in at the local Co-op for milk and bread before going back to the campsite. That’s when we discovered the water heater wasn’t working. Say what? Yeah, no hot water. We tried to power it with the electric switch, but the battery doesn’t provide enough energy, so that didn’t work. We tried the propane again, but the pilot light wouldn’t light. It was fairly late in the evening at that point and pouring rain outside, so the idea of trying to figure out the problem at that point was not appealing. We agreed if we really needed hot water to do anything (you know, like dishes) we could boil water on the stove. That, and I accepted that I would have to forgo having a shower in the morning, unless I was okay with having a really cold shower, which I was not. We would call Trailblazer for their advice in the morning.

The rain poured and the wind blew all night, but we still managed to have a pretty good sleep. We were warm enough until the next morning when we learned our first actual lesson about boondocking, which is not to use the furnace on battery power unless you have a generator or more than one fully charged battery. Solar power will not supplement enough to accommodate the amount of power a furnace will use when it’s actually cool enough to need the furnace. We have now agreed and accepted that we will need to use more blankets and have warm pajamas available for those occasions when the temperature drops below 12 or 10 degrees. We will also likely get a second lithium battery, but we’ll assess for that when we go out in September with our new-found attitude towards managing temperature swings.

The water heater was still not working in the morning. We called Trailblazer and they suggested that while it could be a couple of different things it likely was the thermal cutoff fuse. They said we could try replacing it ourselves, but if we didn’t know what to look for we would have to bring it in to get it looked at. Given our location at the time we were clearly not bringing the trailer in. We decided to get settled in Okotoks and then see what Dan could figure out with the water heater. We packed things up and hit the road.

I had intended to attempt to drive with the trailer for a while on the way to Okotoks, but the wind was blowing and that made me nervous, so I didn’t say anything and just left it for Dan to be his competent self and get us where we needed to be. It turned out that half the way the wind was pushing along behind us, which was a bit of a relief given the other half it was trying to blow us crosswise off the road. It wasn’t really so strong as to be unsafe to drive in, it was just a new experience. But Dan got us there just fine.

We arrived at Riverbend Campground in Okotoks early Friday afternoon and checked into our electrical/water site. A couple of weeks ago I realized I had goofed up in making the reservations here a few months ago and instead of booking a full-service site (electricity/water/sewer) I had booked an electrical/water only site. There was no way we could go a full week without the sewer hookup, but the campsite didn’t have any full-service sites available on the weekends, so we managed to make a compromise. We’re staying in the e/w site for two nights and on Sunday we’ll transfer to a full-service site for the rest of the week. Our e/w site is comfortably large, with plenty of room for both the trailer and more than one vehicle. There’s a fire pit ring provided, as well as the picnic table, and it’s on the shore of the Sheep River. The river is flowing high and fast, and it’s wonderful! We’re really pleased with this site. The pad doesn’t look very level, but didn’t turn out to be too bad. This site is literally across the road from the bath house and laundry room, so I did get my shower that day after all.

Once we got settled, Dan did his YouTube homework (the manual was pretty useless for troubleshooting) and confirmed that the problem with the water heater could be either the motherboard or the fuse, but likely was the fuse because the water heater was working with the electrical power. But the electrical power didn’t even work until Dan removed and bypassed the fuse, so that was even stronger evidence that the fuse was the problem. The thermal cutoff fuse is necessary regardless of whether you’re using electrical power or propane power, and it shuts down the water heater when the fuse gets overheated. Usually the fuse will get overheated when there’s a flare up of the gas flame. But when you’re boondocking (i.e. not hooked up to electricity) you don’t waste your battery on the water heater, you use the propane to heat your water or you don’t get hot water. We figured replacing the fuse would be the appropriate first step. If that didn’t fix the problem, then we could look into replacing the motherboard or otherwise getting the dealer to investigate the problem.

Now that we had electricity hooked up the urgency for fixing the propane power to the water heater had lessened, so we took a break Friday night, built a fire, cooked some smokies, and enjoyed the outdoors for a bit before watching a show and calling it a night.

Saturday (today) we got up, took care of a bit of work-related business, and then went into Okotoks to purchase some replacement fuses. Yes, plural; can’t hurt to have spares on hand. We also browsed through the Buskersfest while we were there, briefly saw Antje at work at Monkey Mountain Toys and Games, and went for lunch at Heartland Cafe and Restaurant before returning to the campsite. Dan replaced the fuse and magically the propane-powered water heater was a real thing again! Woo-hoo! Major kudos to both Trailblazer for identifying the likely issue and to the Youtubers who provided visual guidance and advice.

We ended the day with venturing further into Calgary for supper at the Taj Mahal Restaurant — which was fantastic! — followed by a comedy show at The Laugh Shop headlining Mayce Galoni. It was a pretty low-key crowd, but Mayce was very entertaining.

Adelle and Dan

Northern Spirit Shakedown Cruise – Decidedly Dull Travel Days

Howdy, folks. I realize I never did do the closing post for Northern Spirit Shakedown, but frankly there really wasn’t much to report and I was tired. The only wildlife we saw between Edmonton and High Level was road kill, and the only wildlife between High Level and Yellowknife was… oh, well, actually, we did see three or four black bears, so that was interesting, but otherwise it was just a lot of bison. Bison, bison everywhere, crossing the road, changing their minds and crossing back…silly beasts.

We have now started our second venture with the Northern Spirit, which will take us actually on the road to Okotoks. Well, technically we have arrived in Spruce Grove and will begin our second venture tomorrow morning.

I would like to be able to report an exciting and eventful two days of travel from Yellowknife to Spruce Grove. I would like to, but I can’t. The title of this post says it all. Really, all we saw yesterday (again) was a whole lot of bison. Okay, I did run into Mennonite (I think) families RVing at Big River and fishing in the Mackenzie. Something you don’t see every day in the NWT. I spoke briefly with one of the women, who confirmed that they had successfully caught some small pickerel, nothing terribly large. I thought that was pretty good considering they were fishing from shore, and told her I thought they’d have to get further into the river to get anything bigger. Either way, pickerel is good eating, so I think they were doing well.

But other than that interesting little visit, nothing actually happened. We eventually saw horses today. A coyote tried to cross the road near Onoway. It rained… okay we apparently did a little bit of hydroplaning at one point, but I didn’t even notice until Dan told me. Clearly he did not lose control of the vehicle. We saw a Class A motorhome towing an Airstream. And an admittedly amusing small vehicle driving on the highway with two queen size mattresses poorly strapped to the roof. It looked like a toupee blowing in the wind.

At any rate, we arrived at our hotel after doing some running around in Edmonton. After checking in we took a short walk across the street for supper to a place called Broadway and Grand. Totally worth checking out! There’s the bright and airy cafe style restaurant and then there’s the speakeasy-styled lounge. They share the same menu, but I think the cafe also has quick cooler options. We checked out the speakeasy, which required actually entering a code into a pad hidden behind a plaque to open the locked door. Hehe. Inside was the lounge, with table seating as well as bar seating, a selection of board games in one corner and a pool table in the other corner. The menu wasn’t very large, but they are in transition after the pandemic and are hoping to expand the menu later in the season with the addition of a larger smoker they have on order. Dan had the Philly Beefsteak, which came with the cheese on the side. He said it was really good. I ordered the B&G Mac and Cheese with Bacon, and honestly I thought it was fantastic. We were really pleased with our experience, so if you get a chance to stop in Spruce Grove give this place a try.

Adelle and Dan