Almost at the Beginning
The dream team is pairing up for this one:
Matt's point of view in black // Clo's point of view in pink
Photo : Clotilde Richalet Szuch
It's been a while since we've shared any update about what we've been doing, either here or on Facebook. Clo has been very regular with Instagram though, so you can always get more recent updates there. We have also created a new section of this website and called it "Us'ies" - it will be updated on a relatively frequent basis with a quick picture, video, etc including a brief description. This won't change any of the journal updates we'll be posting, but gives us a way to share funny, cute, interesting, etc items on a more frequent basis. Such as my amazing flower beard.
So let's continue our story! The past couple of months have been spent in preparation (mostly on Wilbur, our method of vehicular transportation and habitation), work (for Clo, in Cannes) and with family (in France with Clo's family, and US with mine). I joined Clo and we spent two weeks in France doing family & friend things, then returned to Seattle & Walla Walla. We had a lot of smaller (and some larger) items to buy and things to do to prepare (you can view them in "What about Wilbur"), as well as getting ready for our first "real" test trip in our new home.
We decided our first trip was going to span nearly two weeks; about a week ourselves, and then a week with my sister and her husband in Montana. The first part of our trip (in Washington and BC) started on August 3rd and is what I'll cover in this journal entry. We started by spending a day deciding on what we wanted to take with us; Wilbur preparations aren't fully complete (no solar yet, and lacking internal drawer/bed system) so it changes a few of our choices. For now we have two clear plastic crates we put most of our stuff in, as well as a backpack for each of us. Actually, it's more like two backpacks for me (computer stuff in one, everything else in another) and three for Clo (clothes, computer, and camera). We definitely still have some work to do to minimize things, but for this trip we weren't so concerned since we'd only be sleeping in the truck for a couple/few days at a time.
I have to say that the organization of the car is a new passion of mine! It's like a small house, and I love it to be in order. Car or tent I like to make it feel cosy and confortable, I am very looking forward to see how we manage it during the trip on a longer period.
Our first destination was heading north from Walla Walla to Cheney, a small town near Spokane where I spent about 10 formative years of my life (from '87 to '96). It's been quite a few years since I've been here last, and so it was very interesting to see how the town had changed. Clo was also surprised that it was an actual city - I think she expected it to be some sort of tiny deserted ghost town. She might have even muttered under her breath once or twice that it was cute! This could also be some sort of auditory hallucination on my part, though.
We drove past all of the four houses I lived in (three rentals, then the house we lived in for ~6 years) with my family. None of them looked the same, and the house I remember most as home was totally changed. The huge tree and tree house I built with my father was gone. The front yard full of lilac trees (where we used to play endless games of badminton and croquet) was no more. The fence I was forcibly conscripted to assist in building and painting was gone around half of the property. The property itself was somewhat worn down and a bit forlorn; it was sad to see one of the places I used to call home changed so much. On the other hand, I haven't called it home in about 20 years so I suppose there's not that much to be concerned about after all.
We continued north from Cheney through Spokane on US395, past the few small towns that are glimpses into the rural lifestyles of Washington state. Unsurprisingly, not much seems changed, though I suspect the real changes that occur (or don't) are in people and not in the physical layout of a community. Deer Park, Clayton, Chewelah, Addy... they're all still basically the same. Lots of pickups, many with gun racks in the back window, and a lot of Trump promotional material. We drove through Colville and while in some ways it's the same (the population is rather static around 5,000) as when I grew up in this area, the Walmart, McDonalds and a few other fast food restaurants show the seemingly endless sprawl of commercialization and big chains. I suspect that to many people who live around here, these stores make stronger the role Colville plays as the "big town" of ~5,000 people where folks (us included, during the time we lived in this area) would come to in order to stock up on groceries and other sundries.
As we left Colville we drove through Kettle Falls and then began my favorite part of this route, driving along the Columbia River. I've been on this road so many times that I can still remember almost all of the turns, little landmarks and memories associated with the road. It was starting to be early afternoon, and as we drove I was talking with Clo about the dangers of driving near dusk in this part of the country. Dusk is when many of the animals start to be active, and especially since we were driving along the river it is always a risk that a deer will run across the road on the way to drink, and be struck by a passing vehicle. Sure enough, only a few minutes later a young buck trotted on to the road a few hundred meters ahead of us. We had plenty of time to slow down safely, and for me it was a nice reminder that even twenty years after I used to live here, the wildlife and nature is still the same as it ever was.
Finally we arrived at our destination, the property where I had lived until I was 7 (and we went back to visit for another ~10 years after). We looked around a bit, but as it was getting late in the evening we decided to go see if we could find a place to park the truck and camp for the evening. I wanted to check to see if a local beach was still accessible; it was at the end of a short but rough dirt road that requires a 4x4. Often times during the weekend it would have locals hanging out and getting drunk by a bonfire, but this evening there was only an old man doing some fishing (and sightseeing; he pointed out an otter playing in the river). He left soon after we arrived, and so we choose a spot when we would try out sleeping in our truck for the first time.
Getting the truck ready to sleep wasn't too difficult, even for our first time - plenty of space and the real unknown was how comfortable the mattress was going to be. One of the things I enjoyed the most about the evening was the fact it was just Clo and I. For the last hour or so of the drive (and all night) there was no data signal for our phones, so we were forced to actually have conversations with each other! I'm being more than a little sarcastic here, but this peace and quiet is one of things that both of us had been looking forward to for quite some time. It was a really satisfying evening, and we ended up getting a rather decent sleep too.
The next morning we were up bright and early, packed up our beds, did a few errands at our old property, and then headed north to Canada. The border crossing is only a few miles away, so it was a quick drive to see how it would go. The Waneta border crossing is only open from 9am to 5pm, and when we lived here (long before 9/11) the crossing generally consisted of driving through slowly and waving to the guy who was manning it. It was very casual. How much things have changed! Now there is a US exit area as well as the Canadian entry section, and both of the buildings are very large and imposing and a few hundred meters away from each other (they used to be small buildings, basically touching each other).
I had no idea that US and Canada had such friendly relationship, that US citizen don't even get a stamp when crossing the border! Just get in!!
We arrived at the border about 9:30, and there were already four cars ahead of us in line. And this is just on the section to exit the US! After just a minute or so in line, one of the officers started walking down the line to our car. I wasn't sure how to feel about this, as the first car was already pulled off to the side and getting searched. Nothing to worry about though, as apparently the cars ahead of us were all part of a group going to the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, about an hour north into Canada. I suspect there was some concern about drugs being brought across the border, as after a 30 second conversation the border guard waved us past the other cars, "because you two don't look like you'd be going to a thing like that". In an equally brief discussion with the Canadian border guards, he seemed somewhat disconcerted to learn about the people behind us, but told us to enjoy our trip in B.C..
Of course we immediately decided we would drive through Salmo to see what the fuss was about. We stopped in Trail at Tim Horton's so Clo could have the experience of a Canadian institution; it's sort of like a combination of McDonald's and Starbucks, but adored by my many Canadians to a level that still baffles me to this day. They do have good coffee, at least.
And Tim Horton's has clean bathroom (never thought this would be a criteria ever in my life, haha!!). Btw, useful app: Flush. Lists all the public toilets. ;-))
The drive from here on out became greener and greener, higher and higher, as highway 3B merged into #6 and we climbed our way past the Siwash and Ymir mountains. Salmo was a cute little town and we stopped there for lunch; obviously this music festival brought a bunch of people here, and most of them were quite young, with dreadlocks and lots of excitement and superlatives.
Finally we reached Nelson, a very cute town (mainly a ski/resort town during winter) on the western arm of the sprawling Kootenay Lake. We drove along the water for a short while, heading to where we had planned to camp at the Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. It turns out this area is rather busy during the beautiful summer months, and the camp sites were all reserved by 9:04 that morning. Woops. Instead, we decided to drive up about 10km up an unimproved dirt road to Gibson Lake and see if we could sleep there. What a drive! It took us nearly an hour to make it to the lake, though we did stop in the middle for some gorgeous views and a few pictures.
Once we arrived at Gibson Lake, we knew it would be perfect. Very quiet, amazing views and most vehicles there were parked overnight as folks used this trailhead as a base for multi-day treks in the Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. There were only two problems and they were both immediately evident; porcupines and mosquitoes. The porcupines can easily be explained via pictures, but the mosquitoes cannot. For those of you who are fans of Calvin and Hobbes, the phrase "Itchy Island, home of Nuclear Mosquitoes" might be familiar to you. Those mosquitoes would have been afraid to come to Lake Gibson, because they would be bullied by the tiny baby toddler mosquitoes living here. The full sized adult mosquitoes enjoyed biting us through two layers of clothing, ramming Wilbur's windows with a sound like Texas-sized hail, and generally being a literal pain in any part of our bodies they could reach.
Super. The only thing to do was to take a hike! We took a nice and easy 3 1/2 hour (GORGEOUS!) hike up to Kokanee Lake and returned to the truck to prepare for our second night in the truck. We slept very well in the much cooler weather, managed to prevent any mosquitoes from getting inside our sleeping area, and awoke the next morning with a decision to take a much longer and more difficult hike up to Esmeralda Peak.
This was really an amazingly gorgeous hike. It was long, very steep in some places, over a multitude of terrain types (including walking across/through a rushing creek) and lots of sun, but really made me realize how much I enjoy being in the outdoors. The views were spectacular and we stopped many times for pictures and marveling at the incredible amount of marmots running around in the rocky fields. The only downside was at the end of the trail, where we decided to push ahead when we both knew we were too tired. It was over granite glacial erratics interspersed with snowfields, and we almost went too far. While climbing on the shifting boulders was difficult, coming back down was much more complicated. It was certainly a good lesson though, and we did make it down safely and without anything serious happening.
Once reaching the parking lot, we piled our sweaty and stinky bodies into Wilbur and headed back down the service road. During the slow drive down, we decided we would look for a small town with a cheap hotel; we desperately wanted a shower, and sort of wanted to arrive at my sisters place smelling somewhat decent. Plus it would allow us to make sure we timed it so as not to interrupt the brewery tour itinerary my sister and her husband had planned for us in Kalispell.
We ended up in Creston, after a beautiful (and free!) crossing of the Kootenay Lake in a car ferry. A bit tired after the long hike and driving Wilbur along the very winding (and quite fun, at least for me) Highway 3A, we splurged on Subway sandwiches (in no small part because many other places were closed at the late, late hour of 9pm) and a 6-pack of Caribou Lager (interestingly enough, the beer & liqueur store was open until 11:30pm...). We sat outside our hotel room (cheapest in town, and actually quite clean and nice) on a picnic bench and enjoyed memories of the last few days and anticipated those ahead of us.