Date Archives September 2018

Lobster Land, PEI

Crossing one very long bridge to get to the land of lobster and potatoes that is PEI. We got spoiled with fresh oysters on red sand beaches in Tyne Valley before hitting the big city in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

There’s no better way to be welcomed onto PEI than by having two fresh lobsters on your plate within minutes of arriving. After crossing the Confederation Bridge, we headed through Summerside toward Tyne Valley where Justin’s friend had recently moved and was living with some top-notch PEI’ers. People talk about Southern hospitality but East Coast hospitality is where it’s at. Along with fresh lobsters, we were also spoiled with the freshest oysters out there: hand-picked from a private lease of ocean just minutes from home. From living in Toronto so long, we know that PEI oysters are the crème-de-la-crème and come with a crème-de-la-crème price tag to match. At the last bar that I worked at, we charged $18 for a half-dozen raw oysters – that’s $3 per oyster. Out on the fishing boats, our friend’s dad sells a case of 400 for $100 – $0.25 a piece! They were flabbergasted to hear that PEI oysters, specifically Malpeques, were seen as such a delicacy and were equally grossed out to hear that we enjoyed eating them raw. On the mainland, we always think that people on the east coast practically eat raw oysters for breakfast but we soon learned that most of the locals wouldn’t even give you a thank you for a platter of them.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Lobster Supper
Now that’s a welcome dinner

As plentiful as the seafood was, the only thing that was even more abundant was the obscene amount of mosquitoes. After being deep in the woods in Northern Ontario and around plenty of ponds and bogs in other places, PEI easily took the crown for the most bugs. While shooing away hoards of skeeters, we went to a quintessential red sand beach and enjoyed PEI’s beautiful, undeveloped coastline. I had heard that Cavendish is a cool spot to visit but was quickly corrected that it’s really no different than any other beach on the island aside from the fact that it’s littered with shops and food stands, AKA it’s a tourist trap. We were so grateful to get the inside scoop from locals and be taken around to some much more authentic places.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Red Sand Beach
Embracing the red sand at a classic PEI beach

After the beach, we went to the wharf to watch the lobster boats come in and unload the fruits of their labour. It’s funny to see how different people’s daily lives are and see your own job from a different perspective; Justin and I are sat behind computers all day building websites and making graphics while others are out battling the sea. Anyway, we had some local grub called “fries with the works”, which is like a PEI poutine: fries with gravy, green peas and ground beef. That might not sound all that appetizing but it was actually super tasty and filled our bellies before a boat ride out in the ocean. We went for a cruise and even got to collect oysters and bar clams in the shallow waters. We indulged in a spectrum of bar clams by eating them raw, bottled and steamed – all delicious but I think steamed was my favourite.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Boats Wharf
Lobster boats calling it a day

After leaving the Tyne Valley area, we drove the loop of the island, which barely took a couple hours. It’s a beautiful place and is filled with prosperous farms and exceptionally well-manicured lawns; you can tell that the folks take great pride in their farms and it’s nice to see. We popped into Charlottetown for a little while and drove around the island’s capital city. It’s definitely the most densely occupied area of the province but still maintains a small town vibe with a lot of character and charm. We were originally going to take the ferry from Wood Islands to Nova Scotia but decided to stick with the bridge to save a bit of time. If you didn’t know (I didn’t), it’s free to get to PEI whether you take the bridge or the ferry, but leaving the island comes at a price. Driving across the bridge into New Brunswick costs $47 and the ferry to Caribou, Nova Scotia is $78. Just a word to the wise so you don’t go blowing all your money on lobster and potatoes and end up having to live on the island since you don’t have the 50 bucks to get off.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Wharf
Can you spot Clemie?

With Atlantic province #2 off of our list, we were Nova Scotia bound and ready to keep exploring. This would be Clemie’s second last province to conquer and my last while Justin had practically rode in with the Bluenose. Onward!

Crazy Tides in New Brunswick

Walking on the sea floor at Hopewell Rocks while the Bay of Fundy’s tide rolled (more like sped) in and out in Alma, New Brunswick.

With Québec in the rearview mirror, we crossed into the Atlantic time zone and our first province of the Maritimes: New Brunswick. We were on a mission to get to the Bay of Fundy so only a brief pit stop was made in Edmunston to top up the gas and admire how lovely-ly the landscape was changing from central Canada. Things started to get really hilly and lush since we were still fairly inland from the coast. Driving through NB, you’ll notice two things: first, all the signs are completely bilingual. Personally, we think that all of Canada should be like that since it helps people from all over the country feel unified and you might even pick up a few things on your daily drives. To clarify, NB is the only officially bilingual province so they’re required to have all signage in English and French by law while other provinces aren’t required to do so. Anyway, the second thing we noticed is that there were a lot of road signs with claims about being the potato capital. Ok, those are some pretty great awards and titles to have but we all know that despite McCain‘s prominence in the potato world, PEI holds that crown. “Potato country”, “French fry capital” and “world famous potatoes” were all proclamations made on roadside signs that contributed to this potato propaganda. Although I’d need to see the official documentation to back these statements up to truly believe them, all the talk about potatoes and fries made us realize that we were going to feel right at home in New Brunswick.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Alma Boats
A fish boat out of water in Alma, New Brunswick

After zooming through Fredericton and making an unsuccessful attempt at getting some Sussex Ginger Ale in Sussex, we settled into a forest road campsite just outside of Fundy National Park for the night. It was a beautifully treed area that had this mystical sort of haze floating around that made it look pretty magical. Our goal was to get to the Hopewell Rocks for low tide bright and early the following day so it was the perfect spot to get a good night’s sleep before having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Fundy Campsite
Our magical looking campsite outside of Fundy National Park

On the way to Hopewell, we went through Alma, which is a cool little seaside town where we got our first view of just how crazy the tide really is. Huge fishing boats were completely out of the water and you could walk out at least 100’ beyond them. Once we got to the park, we could see people exploring the exposed sea floor way out beyond the steps to go down. We climbed down and checked out all the seaweed and flowerpot rocks that make the place so famous. The flowerpot rocks are also really good indicators of how much the tide changes – at 9AM we were walking at their bases and by 1PM, they were starting to get submerged.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks Low Tide
Low tide at Hopewell Rocks

We walked out about 1km/0.6mi and the sand started to turn into quicksand-like mud. I wanted to feel just how sticky it was so I crossed into some and almost lost a shoe. It’s clear that those areas are where the tide line usually hangs out since it’s so much wetter than the sand closer to the cliffs. I found it really interesting how little sea life there was other than seaweed but I suppose with a tide that aggressive, it would be hard for little creatures to survive. It’s very different than a lot of west coast beaches where you dodge crabs and mussels as you walk out.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks Seafloor
Walking on the sea floor of the Bay of Fundy
Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Muddy Shoes
The aftermath of the mud quite visible on my shoes

We stayed until an hour before high tide and the fluctuation was drastic. People were no longer allowed on the beach simply because there’s nowhere to walk; the beach completely disappears and gets filled in with water. Apparently a lot of ignorant people have gotten stuck from walking too far and not being able to find enough dry land to get back. The unique thing about the Bay of Fundy is that with the tide changing so quickly, it transforms the look of all the towns that it touches in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia alike. People can even rent kayaks at high tide to explore the rocks that they were just walking alongside on the formerly dry sand.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks High Tide
One hour before high tide at Hopewell Rocks. Note the kayaks

I’m going to refrain from subjecting any of you to the fun/Fundy jokes and just say that we had a wicked time in New Brunswick and that the Hopewell Rocks…rocked! Ouch, sorry. After leaving the park, we booted through Moncton to head toward the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island and hit up our first island in a while and take Clemie further and further east.

Living le Vanlife in Québec

Cruising along the St. Lawrence River in Canada’s Frenchest province through Beauharnois and the gorgeous countryside of Kamouraska, Québec.

You often forget just how big Ontario is and how long it takes to even cut across the bottom to get to Québec. I remember many $15 Megabus trips to Montréal to take advantage of the 18-year-old drinking age and late night bars where the drive seemed to fly by but in this case, it felt like more of a crawl (am I ageing myself?). A big part of how draining it felt stemmed from the days getting noticeable shorter. It’s starting to get dark earlier and earlier and autumn will definitely be upon us soon. Let’s just hope this year we will actually get to experience an autumn and Mother Nature doesn’t just slam the winter button way too early again. Anyway, after a long day, we decided to skip Montréal and settle into the small riverside town of Beauharnois for the night.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Beauharnois
Camping fleuve-side in Beauharnois, Québec

Beauharnois is home to a pretty massive hydroelectric dam with an adjacent gravel lot fit for a nice overnight stay. It seemed to be a pretty popular spot for people to stay the night, as there were more than a dozen vehicles already parked along the river when we arrived. Some folks even had their fishing rods out and were trying their luck with some poissons in the river. After climbing out of some not-so-obvious potholes, we crashed pretty quickly and had some much-needed rest after a long day on the road. We also had the free entertainment of locals bringing their Jeeps and minivans alike to do some awful-sounding donuts in the parking lot. In the morning, most people had cleared out but a man in a van not so different from Clemie came over to chat with us and welcome us to the area. It’s always super nice to get a chance to talk with locals and not feel like you’re seen as vagrant bums, especially when you’re just doing a quick overnight.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Beauharnois Night Shot
Werewolves not pictured in this full moon Beauharnois photo

We decided to pass on reliving our school year trips to Québec City and bypass the gorgeous historic city since we still had a fair amount of ground to cover in order to make our ferry to Newfoundland. Following the St. Lawrence, we drove through the countryside and got a taste for what the rest of our drive was going to be like. Small mountains were starting to pop up and water views were never far away. We had a few Québec vanners tell us that Kamouraska is where we want to be when it comes to travelling through the province so that’s where we headed. We stayed at a beach where the river felt like an ocean and there was nothing but peaceful, rolling hills in the distance. In the middle of all this painting-like scenery is a microbrewery all on its own called Tête d’Allumette where we popped in to grab a couple beers to enjoy on the beach as the tide rolled out.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Kamouraska Beach
The beautiful beach in Kamouraska on the St. Lawrence River

Kamouraska gave us a definite East Coast teaser and made us all that more excited to travel through Atlantic Canada. After leaving the beach, we made a stop in Rivière-du-Loup to get some much-needed rations: cheap beer and canned maple syrup. Did you even go to Québec if you didn’t bring back the tastiest maple syrup there is?! French goods in tow, we headed into the Atlantic time zone where we’d be embarking on the last leg of our voyage across Canada.

Bringing our New Home to our Old Home in Southern Ontario

Walking alongside the rapids of Niagara Falls before returning to our former home of Toronto, Ontario. All while squeezing in some TLC time for Clemie amid camping trips in Port Elgin and Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.

After border crossing #487354, we were home, sweet home and ready to catch up with friends and family all around southern Ontario (whoever’s keeping the border crossing tally might be a tad hyperbolic). We were stoked to spend some time with friends in Niagara Falls before heading to Toronto and were lucky enough to have a hookup with Niagara Parks for all kinds of complimentary passes to the good, non-cheesy attractions (shoutout to Brandon and Bev 😉). We spent a day being tourists doing the cable car over the whirlpool, walking behind the falls and indulging in some kids entertainment at The Fury.

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Niagara Gorge
View from the cable car going over the Niagara Gorge

The next day, we did the White Water Walk and got splashed by the most dangerous rapids in the world. That’s right, these are Class 6 rapids and are completely off-limits to rafters or paddlers because they’re that nuts. The limestone in the rocks give the water a beautiful, ultra-saturated teal colour that looks like a sea of cotton candy. If you find yourself in Niagara Falls, skip the wax museums of Clifton Hill and walk over to the gorge – in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the whole area. We didn’t bother with the Hornblower (the bigger, badder and crazier version of the Maid of the Mist, which is now the New York side’s attraction) because it was hot as hell out, the line was way too long and we had our share of plastic poncho-wearing for the day already.

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Niagara Falls Rapids
Getting up close and personal with Class 6 rapids

It had been 10 months since we left Toronto to move to Alberta and it felt a little surreal to be back – mainly because we brought our entire house with us. As always, it was great to spend time with friends and family and catch up on some work and van maintenance. We managed to cross quite a bit off of our list including rerouting our sink drainage, making a new table and sealing a couple chips in the windshield. It was nice to be parked at my parents’ house where tools and running water are plentiful. And of course, parents love to feed ya! With full bellies, we headed to MacGregor Point, an Ontario Provincial Park on Lake Huron, for a camping trip at our second paid campsite in 6 months. Yup, ever since we installed our solar system, we’ve only paid for two campsites since March. One in Tofino because we pretty much had no choice and this group camping trip that was planned months ago. How many people can say they’ve only paid one hundred and fifty odd bucks in rent in 6 months?? Fees aside, it was a really nice campground that felt like we were alone in the woods, which is generally preferable when camping as opposed to the all too common sardine can campgrounds where kids wake up super early and just scream all day. On our way out, we checked out the beach in Port Elgin where the crystal clear waters of Lake Huron make you feel like you’re somewhere tropical and do such a great job at making you forget just how damn cold it gets in the winter.

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Bandit
The best part of our MacGregor Point camping trip was getting to spend time with this handsome devil (sorry human friends)

Not long after we returned to the city to get back to work, we were headed off on another camping trip. This time, we headed east about 2 hours north of Peterborough to do some boondocking on some of Ontario’s mythical Crown Land (public land). If you’ve ever tried to locate Crown Land in Ontario (namely southern), you’ll know exactly what I mean. Sure, the government website provides a map but it’s complicated and not very user-friendly. Truthfully, I think that that’s their intention since it’s unclear whether many of the spots are even accessible – especially with a vehicle. Anyway, deciphering maps and finding camping spots has become a regular part of our daily lives so we were game to give it a whirl. We found an amazing spot called Cashel Lake where a few other campers had already set up shop to enjoy the peaceful woods and pristine lake. We spent the majority of the weekend floating in the water with friends while soaking in as much of the non-city air as we could before heading back to Toronto. I even dug out my childhood fishing rods that became our new favourite tools and even helped to catch us dinner one night. Not bad for city folk!

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Cashel Lake Fishing
Nothing like fishing from an inflatable pink donut
Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Cashel Lake Shanty Town
And then eating the fish at our little shanty town

After returning home and tying up some loose ends with van repairs, we were ready to get back into “routine” and hit the road again. Saying goodbye is always bittersweet but our goodbyes are always more “until next times” than anything else. Leaving the city this time around was so much more relaxed than last time when we were about to fly across the country to move into our house that we hadn’t even seen before. We’re geared up and ready to hit the East Coast and can’t wait to cross some more provinces off our list!

Top 5 FREE Camping Spots in Canada

In no particular order, here are our top 5 favourite FREE camping spots in Canada (so far…)

ARDEN CREEK – Port Alberni, British Columbia

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Canada

Secluded waterside camping at its finest. A 40-minute drive from Port Alberni on a well maintained logging road gets you to the Alberni Inlet where you can tent or vehicle camp in a beautifully wooded area with picnic tables and a vault toilet.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/arden-creek/

ALEXANDER BAY – Glovertown, Newfoundland

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Canada

With gravel pits aplenty in Newfoundland, finding one with a view is just an added bonus. Just off of the Trans-Canada on a dirt road is the former settlement of Alexander Bay; now a lovely gravel clearing on Boatswain’s (First) Pond.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/alexander-bay/

HARTLEY LAKE – Fernie, British Columbia

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Canada

Nestled in the mountains just 30 minutes outside of Fernie, Hartley Lake is a beautiful emerald-coloured lake surrounded by spruce trees. There are a couple gravel clearings for vehicles and many hiking and ATV trails around in an otherwise perfectly remote setting.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/hartley-lake/

CASHEL LAKE – Gilmour, Ontario

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Free Camping Spots in Canada

Grassy crown land on a crystal clear lake. Pick a spot on the grass or in the woods and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this nicely maintained area perfect for swimming, boating and fishing.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/cashel-lake/

NAHMINT LAKE – Port Alberni, British Columbia

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Free Camping Spots in Canada

It’s a rough road to get in, but totally worth the trek. Camp beneath old growth hemlock trees in BC’s rainforest. You’re also steps away from a rocky beach on a quiet freshwater lake.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/nahmint-lake/

Canada is HUGE and full of gorgeous, unobstructed nature waiting to be uncovered (and respected 🤓). Be sure to let us know if you check out any of these spots and shed some light on your favourite free spots too by leaving a comment below. Happy trails!

Lake Hopping the Great Lakes

Hugging the Great Lakes while battling traffic in Chicago, dodging semis in Indiana and lusting over “pond-pools” in Ohio before hitting the border in Buffalo, New York.

With the van pointed toward Toronto, it was time to boogey around the Great Lakes and knock a whole bunch of states off our list. Some might be wondering why we didn’t cross into Canada through Detroit and there are a few reasons; for starters, we had friends to visit in Niagara Falls, ON anyway so crossing through Buffalo practically had us at their doorstep. Second, we wanted to keep as much of the route to Toronto on American soil as possible because gas is a fraction of the cost ($2.95 a gallon in Buffalo versus $1.30 a litre in London) and of course, we wanted to boost up the tally of states we’ve driven through – duh!

From Milwaukee in the early afternoon, we thought we’d be in the clear for getting through Chicago while avoiding rush hour traffic. Ah, how naïve of us. Because there’s no bypass highway around Chicago, everyone and their brother is crossing through the city. Now, we usually don’t complain much about not having A/C since driving with the windows down makes a pretty decent breeze, but being late July when the temperatures are soaring, the breeze is largely dependent on one thing: you need to actually be moving. Let’s just say that bumper-to-bumper traffic in 30°C/90°F made for a pretty sticky ride. We had no intentions of stopping in Chicago to explore at all, but we got a nice, slow-moving tour without even having to leave our van! I’ve heard a lot of people liken Toronto to Chicago and we could definitely see why – heck, their bridges must have been designed by the same buffoon who was responsible for Toronto’s crumbling Gardiner Expressway (and another reference from 2012 to illustrate how long this has been going on, just ‘cuz). One thing we noticed was that gas stations in Illinois offer a healthy discount on your fill-up if you get a car wash and man, are these Illinoisans (apparently the proper demonym) taking advantage of that because everyone was rocking a super shiny car. If only we could fit in a touchless car wash…

Generic Van Life - Great Lakes Chicago
Taken during a brief moment when traffic was actually moving

Once we finally inched our way through the city, we had another moment of naïveté thinking that traffic would now ease up. Little did we know that Indiana is the so-called “Crossroads of America” and it was no joke. Thousands of semis coming from all directions on top of the regular 5PM hustle and bustle we were now right in the thick of. Thankfully things thinned out after the turn-off to Indianapolis and we could breathe again. We cruised into Michigan and touched base at the only Great Lake that neither of us had been to. We squeezed in some shut-eye at a Walmart after a very long day of driving and headed for Ohio the next morning. After clocking in a work day in Toledo – which I might add sounds way too Wild West-y to be in Ohio – we stayed the night at the Harry Hughes Equestrian Centre and relished in the quiet sounds of birds and crickets that made us thankful to not be at another Walmart.

Generic Van Life - Great Lakes Harry Hughes Ohio
Grass > Parking lot. Any day.

The traffic around Cleveland was practically non-existent, which was refreshing after our drive the day before. As we went through smaller towns and residential areas, we noticed that lots of people in Ohio have these little pond-meets-swimming-pool things that are totally genius. They look like ponds with rocks and gradual depth but they’re filled with vibrant teal waters and some even have diving boards or floating docks, making me question if they’re chlorinated? Plus they’d seemingly easily freeze over in the winter and double as skating rinks. Please shed some light if you know more about these things and if our hypotheses are correct, then tell us why no one else in North America has these?!

Not my photo but these are what the “pond-pools” look like. Seemingly fantastic but we need to know more!

We made the very brief voyage through Pennsylvania before heading into the last state on our route, New York. New York marked the 28th state that we’ve visited on this road trip with Clementine and that was pretty cool. We can easily knock off a bunch of east coast states next summer and hopefully eventually hit all 50 (maybe a little ambitious about Hawaii but one can dream). We stayed in the North Harmony State Forest, which unbeknownst to us, was in the heart of Amish-ville. We often feel old school driving a 30+ year old vehicle among shiny white Sprinters but instantly felt pretty damn modern when a family went by in a horse and buggy.

Generic Van Life - Great Lakes New York Campsite
Who owns that cutting edge ultra modern camper van over there?!

After packing up and heading to Buffalo, we were on our way back to Canada once again and ready to pay a visit to Toronto, where we lived before starting our van journey, and my (Olivia) hometown. As we mentioned before, returning to Calgary felt like we were coming full circle after driving almost 50 000 kms in three countries but coming back to Toronto was completing an even bigger circle. America was very, very good to us and we’re bummed that we only get six months a year to explore it but as always, we were super stoked to be home.

Top 5 FREE Camping Spots in America

In no particular order, here are our top 5 favourite FREE camping spots in America (so far…)

BLACK CANYON – New River, Arizona

Generic Van Life - Top 5 free camping spots in America

You’ve gotta love waking up in a movie-like desert with Saguaro cactuses taller than you at your doorstep. Lots of wide open space in this BLM area where you can stay a day or even a week.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/black-canyon/

EL MORRO – Tinaja, New Mexico

Generic Van Life - Top 5 free camping spots in America

The only National Park Campground we’ve ever seen that’s completely free. Amazing views of El Morro National Monument and you’re only a short drive away from exploring the grounds in the morning.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/el-morro/

PADRE ISLAND – Corpus Christi, Texas

Generic Van Life - Top 5 free camping spots in America

Beware of high tides when camping on Padre Island’s sandy beach. As long as you’re parked far enough back from the shore, this makes for an awesome spot to drive right on the beach and set up camp. Only catch here is that you will have to pay the entrance fee to the National Seashore, BUT it is free with an annual parks pass (which is definitely worth it, I might add).

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/padre-island/

LAKE CUSHMAN – Hoodsport, Washington

Generic Van Life - Top 5 free camping spots in America

One spot nestled in the woods at the foot of Mt. Washington with an awesome view of Lake Cushman. Part of the Olympic National Forest and not far from Olympic National Park.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/lake-cushman-overlook/

DIXIE NATIONAL FOREST – Leeds, Utah

Generic Van Life - Top 5 free camping spots in America

Winding desert roads take you up to several campsites overlooking creeks and the nearby town of Leeds. Can’t beat rugged desert camping.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/dixie-national-forest/

We only just scratched the surface on the plethora of amazing BLM and National Forest land that America has to offer. Let us know your favourite spots in a comment so we can check ’em out!

Hello Wisconsin!

Unfortunately Point Place is a fictional town so we settled for the state capital of Madison and the beer capital of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The drive further down the Mississippi River into Wisconsin kept those beautiful views coming. This part of the states is really unique and totally underrated as far as scenery goes. We made it to Madison and did a few much-needed errands like an oil change and a visit to the gym before exploring the city a little bit. It took us by surprise how nice it was and how crazy that State Capitol building is. We surely didn’t expect it to be so grand and the city to be so alive (sorry Madison, we doubted you). The Capitol building has a really cool x-shape and hosts all kinds of cool events on the lawns that take away from the typical stuffy feel of a government building. We were too late to do one of the free tours but if the inside is anything as beautiful as the outside, I’m sure it’s worth the price. University seems to be the main drag in Madison and it was chockfull of young people with backpacks and all the things that come along with that. Also, to Madison’s roster of cool stuff is the fact that architect Frank Lloyd Wright grew up there and has designed a number of classic houses and buildings around town. We didn’t have a ton of spare time but would have loved to tour around checking them out.

Generic Van Life - Wisconsin Madison State Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol Building is pretty cool architecturally. Who cares what’s going on inside when it looks this nice from the outside

We resorted back to the ol’ Walmart game and spent the night plugging our noses from sewage smell at the Monona location. Just to clarify, there’s a sewerage plant nearby so if the wind is blowing in a certain direction, it definitely makes its presence known. We had a decent sleep and woke up the next morning with two things in mind: beer and cheese. We made the pilgrimage to Milwaukee to visit the Pabst Brewery and walk the streets of beer-land. Once we found a place to park, we gathered some change to feed the parking meter and saw that it accepted nickels and dimes. Cheap parking is always an awesome surprise but this was downright comical. Parking in Toronto can be $4-6 per half hour so throwing in a few dimes and parking for an hour felt like a steal. We checked out the Best Place, which is the brewery store and learned that the brewery in Milwaukee no longer actually produces any beer and is in the process of being preserved into a museum and historical place. Walking the streets tells the story of the beginnings of the brewery and how the Best family’s (Best being their last name) beer company evolved into Pabst. Not bad for sidewalk literature.

Generic Van Life - Wisconsin Milwaukee Pabst Brewery
The Pabst Brewery now hosts tours and is working toward becoming a historic place in Milwaukee

Driving by the Miller Park was pretty cool, even for non-sports lovers, although the rest of the city was mostly concrete and not the most scenic. We didn’t really have time for scenic anyway since we were on a mission to stock up on some cheese before leaving Wisconsin and we found just the place to do it: The Mars Cheese Castle. South of town in Kenosha is a literal castle filled with God’s gifts to humanity – cheese, cured meats and libations. There’s no denying that cheese is pure magic since every person who walked out of the castle was carrying a very full bag and smiling (albeit their wallets were probably a little thinner). Every cheese under the sun from Wisconsin and other parts of the world were available to take home and some even to sample. We could have spent all day and all of our money there but we picked up a few interesting new cheeses and headed back on the road. With the fridge stocked with beer and cheese, we knew our time in Wisconsin was well spent. We had a couple more Great Lakes to get around before another border crossing into the homeland and the race was on to get back.

Generic Van Life - Wisconsin Miller Field
Pretty cool lookin’ place for a baseball stadium. Wait, they play baseball here, right? 😉
Generic Van Life - Wisconsin Mars Cheese Castle
A castle filled with cheese. A reality in Kenosha, WI.
Generic Van Life - Wisconsin Mars Cheese Castle Beer Cheese
Cheese, beer and beer-shaped cheese

Oofta! Minnesota’s Pretty Rad

Making our second dip into America by way of the Superior National Forest. We soaked in the nature in Duluth, Bruno and Minneapolis before checking out the World’s Largest Boot in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Whether it’s through Ontario or through Minnesota, the drive along Lake Superior is pretty spectacular. Granted it’s a huge lake, it’s pretty disorienting since its shoreline looks so much like the ocean. We drove the American side, which is full of cute little cottages and waterfront restaurants with views that will make your jaw drop. We found a spot to camp near Tufte, in the Superior National Forest, where we were surrounded by towering trees and of course, plenty of bugs. As much as I love summer, I detest that it’s synonymous with bug season – guess we can’t win ‘em all.

Generic Van Life - Minnesota Superior National Forest
Always pushing the RWD. Getting to our spot in the Superior National Forest

We continued to hug the “coast” down through Duluth, which is a really cute scenic town filled with beautifully preserved old houses with storybook-like gardens. For some reason I always thought Duluth was a heavily industrial town but the lake views and mature trees definitely trumped any factories to be seen. We made our first American grocery stop after being away for a while and asked ourselves again how people aren’t drunk all the time – we bought a 24 of beer in Kenora, ON for $41 and got the exact same beer in a 30-pack for $12 here. Land of the free, man.

Generic Van Life - Minnesota Lake Superior
Lovely rocky beach of Lake Superior near Tufte

We started making our way closer to the city and stayed a night in a town called Bruno. Despite being in a slightly more open area than the forest, the bugs were even crazier. So much so that I barely slept between being woken up by the sounds of buzzing swarming my head and going full-on Rambo trying to eradicate the problem. Whether I was successful is debatable but at least I managed to catch a few hours of sleep between swatting and bathing myself in peppermint oil. Before hitting the Minneapolis city limits, we spent a night in the Rum River State Forest where, to our luck, the bugs were so bad we had to stay in the van. We roasted while playing cards before a Forest Ranger pulled up and knocked on the window. That’s generally not a very good sign but this guy saw our Alberta license plate and just wanted to chat about his upcoming trip to Canada. To many people, Canada is like a mythical place so we’re always happy to chat with Americans who are genuinely interested in visiting and don’t just rule it out because you can’t carry guns.

Generic Van Life - Minnesota Rum River State Forest
If you zoom in, you can probably see the heaps of bugs that surrounded us in the Rum River State Forest

We left the woods and headed to the city where we stayed with Justin’s cousin and her family for a few days (yes, Justin has a lot of family scattered throughout North America). We spent a few days drinking, boating and floating among catching up on work and of course, showers. Minneapolis has got a ton of great breweries around town and we did our part to check out several of them. If you ever find yourself thirsty, be sure to check out Uteplis for beer, Sociable Cider Werks for cider and Tattersall for amazing cocktails. On the weekend, we were lucky enough to be in town when Target was putting on an epic fireworks show for the Aquatennial. Yea, I didn’t know what that meant either but in short, it’s a week of events celebrating the lakes of Minneapolis with a huge grand finale party. We’ve both seen some pretty great firework shows in our days, but this one blew all the others out of the water. Basically, it was 30 minutes of solid grand finale-level fireworks. We watched from Nicollet Island and had an awesome view of the explosive colours lighting up the city.

Generic Van Life - Minnesota Minneapolis Aquatennial Nicollet Island
Some epic fireworks put on by Target at the Minneapolis Aquatennial

After another top-notch day floating on one of Minnesota’s many beautiful lakes, we left town on a high note and headed toward the town of Red Wing, where the company Red Wing Shoes is based out of. I’m a bit of a nerd for quality heritage apparel so the fact that the factory store also has a (free) museum was pretty awesome. They trace back the history of the boots and how they’ve evolved over the years and even have a massive leather boot that’s fit for a giant. It took ages to make and definitely used more leather than a couch – they call it a size 638 ½. It’s a super cool spot to check out, even if you’re not that interested in boots. Outside of the factory, the town of Red Wing is really pretty and is oozing with character. It’s right on the Mississippi River and has got lots of historical buildings and local vendors selling farm fresh corn and other veggies.

Generic Van Life - Minnesota Red Wing
The Red Wing Shoes building in Red Wing, MN
Generic Van Life - Minnesota Red Wing Giant Boot
Now that’s a boot

We continued along the Mississippi to another State Forest where we camped a night and prepared for a lot of driving in the coming days. As I mentioned in the last post, the drive through the US from Thunder Bay, ON to Niagara Falls, ON crosses through 8 states. We were one down with seven to go so a good night’s sleep was essential.

Fishing our Way Through Northern Ontario

Entering the land of trees and lakes in Kenora, Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The drive across Manitoba changes its landscape quite a bit as you approach the provincial line. Falcon Lake just set the tone for the rest of the rocky, tree and water-filled drive that was ahead. We crossed into Ontario and the Canadian Shield was real. For those that don’t know what that is, just picture lots of rock walls (aka the earth’s crust) that have been blown out for the road to go through. The Minnesota license plate boasts 10 000 Lakes but Northern Ontario has more than 250 000 so I’m sure you can imagine that there is no shortage of lovely views. We found a boat ramp on a quiet lake where we stayed the night with a few other Ontario vanners looking to catch some shut-eye. Ontario never really felt unique for me since it was all I knew as a child, but after spending so much time elsewhere in Canada, being back reminded me that it really is beautiful.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Royal Lake
Gotta love waterfront crown land. Our camping spot on Royal Lake.

The next morning, we were headed to a remote fishing camp near Sioux Lookout. On our way, we drove through Kenora, which was somewhere I truthfully didn’t even know existed but was absolutely gorgeous. The town was bustling with shops and restaurants in old buildings full of character and charm, while boats rolled into the marina and people walked about. In fact, it was so full of tourists that we had our first taste of bumper-to-bumper traffic in a while and it felt like we were in a much bigger city. We had a grocery run to do so we stopped in at No Frills, which was an absolutely madhouse – they were even out of bread. Out of bread!! It seems that more and more people are catching onto how beautiful Kenora is and are making it their summer destination and consequently, clearing the shelves of the soft, delicious goodness that we call bread. Anyway, we were lucky that Dryden, another town along the way, was more prepared for these circumstances and had plenty of loaves and hot dog buns alike.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Kenora
This photo doesn’t do Kenora justice but you can see it’s a pretty little waterfront town with plenty of boats, shops and restaurants

We made it to Sioux Lookout where we caught a boat in to portage over to Ghost River Lodges, a fishing camp on Marchington Lake run by Justin’s aunt and uncle. Many of the camps in the area are fly-in only so it was nice to enjoy a couple boat rides and get a feel for the surroundings. There are 15 lakes all accessible by rivers or small portages full of fishies and other wildlife. We stayed for a week and fished every day, eating awesome lunches and dinners of the freshest fish around. We even got a cabin with a flushing toilet AND a shower – luxury! Although we had major separation anxiety from the van, it was nice to get away for a while and live a different – equally challenging – lifestyle. We spent our last night hanging out with friends and family, drinking wine and eating homemade fish & chips. We even scored a whole bunch of home-dubbed cassettes that are pretty rad.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Ghost River Justin Perch
Here’s Justin with a feisty little perch
Cooking up a shore lunch on a remote island. Talk about livin’ off the land!

The morning portage out was a little slow and fuzzy from all the wine the night before but we were anxious to be reunited with Clementine and get back on the road. Our next destination was Thunder Bay, where Justin has more family. We paid some visits and spent a few days relaxing and watching Mrs. Brown’s Boys with Justin’s grandma before seeing “the sights” that Thunder Bay has to offer. Ok, if you’ve been to TBay before then you know that calling them “the sights” might be a bit of a stretch. Basically, you’ve got a lovely view of the Sleeping Giant from Hillcrest Park and a stroll around the waterfront and marina. It seems that the city is slowly trying to put efforts into revamping the town to attract tourists and make it a little prettier. They’ve done a great job with the marina and hopefully that same love will creep up into the rest of the city but for the most part, it’s pretty dirty and not very exciting. Without hesitation, we both agree that TBay has been our least favourite place so far. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from going there but let’s just say (family visits aside), we were very anxious to leave.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Thunder Bay Sleeping Giant
The Sleeping Giant from Hillcrest Park

Our foray into Northern Ontario marked our fifth province and the nearing of completing our even fuller circle by returning to Toronto. Although we’ve been so happy to be back in Canada and uncover all kinds of cool new places, the beckoning of cheap gas and groceries was calling. We decided to cross back into the states to get around the Great Lakes as opposed to driving through Ontario. If that confuses you, take a look at a map of Canada and see how huge Ontario is – we’ll cross 8 states in the time it would take to get down through Ontario. Luckily Thunder Bay is barely an hour away from the US border where gas drops by over $0.60/L and chicken breasts aren’t 5 bucks each…ah, what a magical place.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Ghost River Full Stringer
BONUS PHOTO: Here’s me with a full stringer, pretending I single handedly caught them all