By Barb Hale
People said “You’re 85. You can’t travel across the country by yourself!” They were wrong.
In 2020 my income was not keeping up with inflation and it was getting harder to make ends meet. I certainly wasn’t poor – my house was worth money. So why was I feeling poor? The thought would not leave me: “Why am I living in a 3-bedroom, two-bathroom house that I cannot afford?” A camper van would be much cheaper!
So, I sold my house – I painted walls, cleaned out the basement, gave away, sold, or threw out half of my belongings. Amazing how much will fit in a 10×10 locker.
I chose a Pleasure-Way Lexor, a mini home in a 12ft Dodge Ram van with a 3500 engine and named her Abeona, the goddess of travel. On October 1st, 2020, we started the journey across the country. Was I scared? You bet! I didn’t decide to actually do this until the day before. Once I hit the road it felt right. My friend Louise came with me for the trip around Lake Superior to Winnipeg. You have no idea how big Ontario is, until you drive across. Mostly we boondocked, staying in various places for free – Walmart parking lots, Casino parking lots and Boon Dockers Welcome. (These are people who let you stay the night in their driveway. Always wonderful people.) Driving 400 – 500K a day it took five days to get to Winnipeg. I took Louise to the airport and was now on my own. I have always enjoyed travelling alone; in Africa and South America. Staying in hostels, meeting people who are courageous and inspiring, giving me the confidence to experience more. Alone, decision making, meeting and talking to people is easier.
Not far west of Winnipeg the prairies begin, an endless flat land of huge farmers fields.
I found myself being mindful of the scenery. The prairies are not endless boring sameness. The landscape changes continuously and I was fascinated by it. Sometimes I would take a scenic route off the main highway and that was lovely. I stopped planning, took each day as it came, and I was always able to find a place to stay at night. I was able (for the first time in my life) to live in the moment. I learned to trust my instincts. My first night alone was in a Walmart parking lot. A friendly neighbour came over and asked if I was waiting for the border to open? Border? What border? “The US border,” he said. I explained that I was crossing provincial borders. He came back a while, later and gave me a small canister of bear spray. Said his wife was worried that I was alone and might need it to ward off intruders! That canister is still in my glove compartment – never been used
I was on the western side of Alberta when I had the first magical glimpse of a snow-capped mountain. I slammed on the breaks and took a picture – the first of many. I was nervous about driving through the Rockies. “Always check the weather forecast. Don’t drive if there’s snow on the mountain passes” I was told. I was on the Trans Canada Highway going through Banff and over Kicking Horse pass. That part of the journey was surprisingly easy, and I learned about the amazing engineering feat to tunnel through the mountain for the trains through the pass. I spent one night in the Lake Louise RV Park. This is a quote from my diary: “I love these times when I find somewhere to stay. I hook up power if I have it. Close up the van and pour myself a glass of wine. Look around and enjoy the view and just relax. Another day, another adventure. No, you are never ever too old to have adventures.
But soon the roads got more challenging. Winding, narrow roads going up and down around hairpin bends. Transport trucks galore passing at high speeds. I would always have a string of cars and trucks behind me wanting to go faster than I was comfortable going, and there weren’t many places where I could pull over to let them by. When I did, they would honk their horn. Not sure whether it was a thank you or a sign of annoyance. Probably the latter! But oh! The scenery was gorgeous. I wished I could go slower so I could enjoy it more. Lakes and trees and snow-capped mountains. At last, I arrived at Kelowna where the roads became easier.
I was spending the winter on Vancouver Island at an RV Resort near Chemainus, but first I went up the coast to Quadra Island to visit an old friend that I hadn’t seen for 30 years. We met when we both had a 4-year-old in nursery school. Several years later she moved to Quadra where her partner, an artist, was building his own house on the shores of the ocean. That house is still unfinished. Quaint and unconventional with huge picture windows facing the inland passage. The road to their house is a logging road with horrendous potholes, and on my way out I accidentally slid into the ditch at the side of the road trying to avoid said potholes. What to do? My phone had no signal, there was not a soul in sight, but eventually a young man in a pickup truck stopped and said, as soon as he got a signal, he would phone a tow truck for me. I waited and waited. Two women went by, and I told them no problem, the tow truck is coming. Another hour later, the same women returned down the road. This time they said they would check with the towing company. Finally, it did arrive. The lone tow truck on an island cannot always respond immediately, – there had been an emergency.
I left the RV resort at the end of January and explored Vancouver Island from coast to coast. The road from Victoria to Campbell River is beautiful. Beaches, ocean, islands, and snow-capped mountains in the distance. My favourite place was a small RV park right on the water. When I arrived the sign on the gate said No Vacancies. I went in anyway and talked to the owner who showed me a small parking area almost on the beach. “Forty bucks cash” for the best parking spot I’ve ever had!
In April, time to head home. 10 days later I was in Ontario and face to face with Covid reality. Everything was closed! The rules were strict, but I had no problem staying home! I lived in my van all summer. Visiting friends and relatives is easy when you are independent. You can visit and socialize and then climb back in your van and not be a burden. I also stayed many times at Fifty Point and learned to love that conservation area.
In the fall I moved into the 12th floor of an apartment building with a view of Hamilton harbour. To my surprise I love it here and my desire to travel has disappeared. Maybe the price of gas has something to do with that.