Friends, Family and Fun

After our initial “friends and family” tour of BC, we hove up back in Calgary for a few days to do some quality of life improvements to the van. As our good friend and ex-next-door neighbour, Peter, had sagely foretold, the systems test of that trip had revealed some deficiencies in the initial design that would be necessary to remedy before we struck off into the great unknown for good. It was slightly strange to be back in the ‘hood as tourists, being hosted quite graciously by our friends Lars and Rebecca and spending days parked behind what had once been our home while doing improvements to our new home with the invaluable assistance of Peter’s well-appointed shop.

It was actually difficult to get work done as we constantly ran into friends and neighbours who were all interested in how gypsy life was going so far. The highlight of the stay was a quickly-organized birthday party for me, hosted by Peter and Sabina. It was queer to be on the other side of the fence looking into our old back yard. But strangely, not a single pang of regret or nostalgia. (Those were caused by the realization that I was turning 55, and no longer as good as I once was.) We got to see a lot of our son, Bowen, and his girlfriend, Victoria, in the short time we were in Calgary which was very nice.

Happy Birthday, Remy!
Ruby, my favorite dog in the whole wide world

Finally, as we had done seven years before when leaving on our last great adventure to South East Asia, we packed our things for the final time and were waved off the driveway by Liz’ parents, Don and Carol. Thus began our journey into what, for us, is terra incognita. 

Saying goodbye to Liz’s parents

Our first stop coincided with our first “misery story” of the trip. We were traveling along a county road in southwestern Saskatchewan, which means a high quality gravel road. A speed limit of 80 kph was posted and we were serenaded by the sound of gravel being washed up by the sexy, heavily-lugged off-road tires with which our van is equipped. At one point there was a particularly loud bang, which we wrote off as a rock getting flung up into the wheel well, and we thought nothing further of it. We arrived at Cypress Lake, our destination, and while levelling off the van I discovered, much to my dismay, the actual source of the noise we had heard – one of the rear door windows had completely shattered by a rock ricocheting off our hitch-mounted bike rack! It was only the adhesive tinting, which we had had installed about a week before, that had held the glass in the window opening, but the edges were starting to disintegrate and the integrity of the window increasing in doubtfulness. There was little we could do but tape up the interior of the window with a garbage bag and hope that it held.

Which one of these is NOT like the other?
A real pain in the glass

Cypress Lake was a gem – very warm but with a constant breeze that made the heat dome afflicting BC and Alberta quite tolerable where we were. I celebrated my actual birthday there and enjoyed a surprise celebration with Liz that reassured me that while getting older, I am still almost as good as I once was.

We had planned to doddle our way to Brandon, Manitoba, to visit our son Hollis and his girlfriend, Aria, who were in the middle of a move into a new apartment. We had hoped to arrive after all the cleaning and organizing was done, but the imperative to have the broken window replaced moved up our schedule – it is hard to organize anything around the Canada Day long weekend. We landed amidst the relative chaos of the move but were able to help in small ways with cleaning, unpacking, hanging art and assembling new furniture. It was the first time we had seen Hollis and Aria in almost two years, during which time Hollis had joined the army, completed all of his basic training and been posted to Brandon. It was nice to be hosted by them in their home, all neat and tidy and full of their grown-up furnishings.

Hollis took me out for a day on a guided hunt to some of his favourite areas. We thrashed about the bush with our shotguns and each bagged a ferocious Manitoba snowshoe hare. I must be good luck, as Hollis said it was the best and most successful rabbit hunt he has had to date. Overall a fantastic father-son experience, and I kept one of the unlucky rabbits’ feet as a souvenir.

We had Hollis and Aria to our place for dinner- Welcome
Fishing for Sturgeon in the Assiniboine River not far from Hollis’ condo
Hollis cooked us up some partridge poppers- spicy and delicious
Dinner at an actual restaurant! And Hollis paid!!
Aria and Hollis have made a really nice life for themselves in Brandon.. We are very proud parents.

After a number of days baking in the parking lot of the apartment building (which was our choice – we are most comfortable in our van) and much time and treasure spent in the local Canadian Tire, we cleared out of Brandon to continue our journey east. We had learned of an interesting site just east of Brandon in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, where the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz had deposited a mass of sand tens of thousands of years ago. We originally planned to just stop in and do the hike to Spirit Sands before carrying on, but the lateness of the day and the oppressive heat, which was causing advisories not to do the hike as the sands are 10 – 15 degrees hotter than the rest of the park (which was already about 34C – you do the math) made us re-evaluate. We decided to camp overnight, and were we ever glad we did! Manitoba knows how to do campgrounds – we had hot showers, flush toilets, beautifully clean camp sites, an extensive trail network around the campground and a great sandy beach along the river, all for $13 per night! The economical but beautiful camping we have done in every other province so far makes us embarrassed to be ex-Albertans.

After spending our first afternoon and evening on the beach, we got a break the following morning with the weather that allowed us to venture into the sands. It was other-worldly to be amongst the dunes in the midst of the prairies, and easy to see why this was considered a sacred place by the original inhabitants. Apparently there was at one time an area of 6500 sq km of sand, but over tens of thousands of years it has been overgrown until only about 2 sq km remains. We are privileged to have seen it, as within a generation it is expected to be fully overgrown.

An incredible place to visit
Stairway to Heaven
Walking through soft sand makes for a good workout
All the paths look they have been manicured and topped with sand. Its all naturally occurring though

We ended our sojourn in Spruce Woods to continue our journey eastward. Despite the warnings we had received of boredom and social decay in Winnipeg, we felt it was important to make our own judgment of this major Canadian city at the geographic heart of the continent. As well, Liz wanted to see firsthand how this seat of Canadian culture and history had been able to generate two of the musicians she loathes – Neil Young, for his nasally falsetto, and Randy Bachmann, for his incessant self-promotion. We drove the city from end to end and explored the area of the Forks. It is easy to see why Winnipeg is compared to Chicago, when rail defined its glory days at the turn of the last century. The architecture is grand on a Victorian scale (I have never seen so mean commemorative plaques!) and has been relatively well-preserved, but like so much else in Manitoba, the edges are badly crumbling. The Forks, which is the prairies’ answer to Granville Island, is badly in need of a power washing.

Our effort to arrange a legitimate boondocking site in the city failed so we carried on. A secondary highway leading eastward took us into the the Agassiz Provincial Forest, where we ducked off the highway on a forest road and found a clearing to spend the night. That is the beauty of this lifestyle – when we are done driving, we can pull up almost anywhere and make it home for the night. We are in a small meadow as I write this, surrounded by wildflowers and ticks, and completely snug in our tiny rolling home.

Home for the night
Its no sacrifice to stay here

We plan one more stop in Manitoba to do some canoeing on the edge of the Canadian Shield. We will post again from somewhere in Ontario!

Remy writing from our home office

We plan one more stop in Manitoba to do some canoeing on the edge of the Canadian Shield. We will post again from somewhere in Ontario!


Published by tompkinsontheroad

Married mother of two awesome boys who is now living full time in a self converted Camper van and seeing more of the world. We gave up something super special to live our dream of living a free and simple life on the road exploring new places and taking joy in the discovery of the extraordinary

9 thoughts on “Friends, Family and Fun

  1. Looks like you guys are having a fantastic time!!! Very glad to see it, ps when I post this 21 days !!! But who’s counting ! Cheers Remy and Liz!


  2. Wow great post! Happy to hear that despite the little ‘break’ in your plans you just kept truck’n and enjoying the view! Look forward to reading your next update! Cheers 💫


  3. Love to read your blogs, great writing and wonderful subject matter, well most of the time…broken windows excluded. Heading to Ontario?? We’re home.


  4. Thanks 😊 it’s lovely to hear what you’re doing. It’s nice to see Hollis is happy , he’s so grown up! I’m enjoying your posts . Keep safe xx


  5. Thanks so much for sharing your journey this way-it feels like we are right along side you in our small tent with no amenities but knowing we will knock on your door and slip right into your routine! Love you 😍


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