Laura and Julian set off to explore Canada and the United States aboard their old Bully Rainette a month ago. How have they found it so far?
“We’ve been on the road for a month now, so we’ve settled in to this lifestyle and are getting used to our new lives.
We’ve covered a lot of ground. Our aim was to get to the Rockies ‘around 20th July’ to meet up with some friends. We travelled 9000km in 4 weeks - that’s a LOT of driving! It’s not the way we wanted to do it but we’re going to slow down a bit now and settle into our own pace. It’s also true that distance and the notion of distance is completely different in North America.
It’s difficult to describe everything that we’ve seen and experienced. We often find ourselves surrounded by nature, and what amazing nature it is! It’s just magnificent! We loved Bonaventure Island in Québec, with its huge northern gannet colony, and another highlight was the lakes we came across as we travelled around Ontario. We even swam in Lake Superior, despite the freezing temperature of the water! Next, we travelled across the Prairies from Manitoba to Alberto, via Saskatchewan - a road that is often described as boring, but certainly wasn’t for us. The skies and panoramic views there were just breath-taking. Then we entered the Rockies - wow! The emerald-coloured lakes, the snow-covered peaks, the walking and the Athabasca Glacier are just magnificent. We then started heading for Alaska from Dawson Creek and we are currently in Whitehorse, in the Yukon, so we’re getting closer!!
We are still just as blown away by the wildlife here, and so far we’ve seen a lynx, brown and black bears, foxes, bison, squirrels, eagles and even a wild tortoise. Yes, in Canada! There are also an incredible number of mosquitoes here.
What are we travelling in? Two years ago we purchased a 1983 Volkswagen T3 Vanagon, a 1.6L diesel, and completely redid the exterior and the mechanics. It was already fitted out inside and we wanted to keep the vehicle’s original feel, so we kept the furnishings. We have two hob plates, a sink, storage and 2 double beds (one when you extend the bench seat and another when you raise the roof). We also added a fridge (because there wasn’t one), made new curtains and recovered the door panels.
We’ve had no major mechanical or technical issues since we set off, despite a few minor concerns here and there. After the first week, our battery coupler was only recognising a single auxiliary battery (2 are powered by 2 solar panels). Given the heat, our fridge uses a lot of energy and a single battery isn’t always enough, which is why we found we were having to use campsites more often than planned so that we could recharge our batteries.
Then we discovered that the oil in our engine (10w40) isn’t easy to come by in North America, or is extortionately priced. How could we have foreseen that? So we drained the tank, a little earlier than planned, and replaced the oil with a more common one (15w40). Whilst draining the tank, the mechanic pointed out that our gimbal bellows were broken and there was grease everywhere. We had just travelled 6000km, but they, too, got replaced.
After that, one of our aluminium engine mounts broke. We were in the middle of nowhere, with no phone network coverage or Internet access, 200km from Hinton, the town we had left behind, and 100km from Grande Prairie. What were we to do? We decided to keep going and fortunately everything ‘held together’ for the rest of the journey. Of course, it had to happen on a Friday evening, and what were the chances of us breaking a part that was almost impossible to find? We went to from one garage to another and eventually found a company that specialised in welding. Fortunately, it only took us a day!
As far as we’re concerned, these issues are all part of the experience and we were prepared for that, or at least as prepared as we could have been. We do hope that we are not going to have too many more of them because they have had a significant impact on both our budget and our itinerary.
This is a map of the route we have taken so far.
In any case, we are ready for a second month on the road, complete with all of the wonderful surprises it will bring, along with those we might prefer to avoid”.