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May 2017 Wrap-Up: Our All-American Road-Trip

Boy, has this month been different from the last!  Bruno and I have finally left behind our bus conversion duties and officially hit the road – and many a roads have we seen in the last few weeks!

So much has happened, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that only three weeks ago, we were putting last-minute touches on our Big Blue Bus in Baja California, Mexico. Along with Pepe, Marco and his team, we managed to finish the chassis storage compartments in time for Bruno to complete our propane installation.  This meant we could head out with our stovetop and hot-water shower in working order.

The boys at Pepe’s gave us a little goodbye present of sorts – they redid the turquoise blue paint job on our bus.  We received a warm and enthusiastic farewell and exchanged promises to visit them next all next time we’re in town.  Thank you to the whole team for all your help in making our dreams come true!

Big Blue gets a shiny new [partial] paint job!

Big Blue gets a shiny new [partial] paint job!

Bruno

Bruno’s propane installation in the chassis compartments.

Thank you to the entire team at Pepe and Marco

Thank you to the entire team at Pepe and Marco’s. What a friendly and generous bunch!

On April 8th, Bruno and I removed the cardboard that had been protecting our panelled flooring for the past two months.  That, in combination with the stocked-up kitchen and map collage I had completed the night before, made our home welcoming.  Bruno quickly installed the bathroom door so we could use the compost toilet (which, in fact, we ended up not being able to use for the first week, anyway, because the 12V fan we’d installed blew a fuse) – and we were off!  (To read about our experience of living in Big Blue these first few weeks, click here).

Working on my map collage.  This is pushing my artistic abilities to the max.

Working on my map collage. This is pushing my artistic abilities to the max.

Unveiling our floor, after months of it being covered in cardboard, was a very exciting moment for me!

Unveiling our floor, after months of it being covered in cardboard, was a very exciting moment for me!

Connecting with Friends

We stopped in Phoenix to do a few bus-related errands: get a used spare tire, make a few Ikea returns, and try – unsuccessfully – to replace one of our solar batteries that wasn’t functioning up to par.  We took advantage of an opportunity to see an old friend who happened to be in town for the week with her husband.  I hadn’t seen Nanette and Karl since 2014, the summer of guests in New Brunswick, so it was wonderful to catch up with them and to finally introduce them to Bruno.  One of the things that makes me the happiest about traveling in North America is getting to connect with friends spread around the continent.  Our pool day with Nanette and Karl was a great way to [re]kick-off our North American adventure!

Catching up with my friends Nanette and Karl when we popped through Phoenix.

Catching up with my friends Nanette and Karl when we popped through Phoenix.

We got to show them our new home-on-wheels, and even spend the night in the hotel parking lot!

We got to show them our new home-on-wheels, and even spend the night in the hotel parking lot!

Up next was yet another visit with friends – this time, the parents of my friend, Erin (whom I’d visited last summer in Washington, DC).  Sharon and Glenn have been wonderful to us these past few months, allowing us to use their address to send mail (I may have gone a little crazy with online shopping for the bus) and for our vehicle insurance and registration.

They were just as wonderful – if not more – when we spent three days with them in Dewey, Arizona.  They both love traveling, and they’re passionate about their region of Arizona (they moved here from Michigan almost a decade ago), so they were tour guides par excellence.  On our first afternoon, we visited the nearby town of Prescott, which happened to be hosting an adorable arts and crafts fair in its town square. The town, too, was adorable, with an old western feel to it.  We even visited a historic saloon where Steve McQueen filmed a fight scene for an old cowboy movie.  Bruno, I might add, is obsessed with Steve McQueen.

At the arts and crafts fair in Prescott town square with Sharon and Glenn (not pictured).

At the arts and crafts fair in Prescott town square with Sharon and Glenn (not pictured).

There he is!  We went out for Italian for Mothers

There he is! We went out for Italian for Mothers’ Day, yum!

Check out these amazing cowboys at the historic saloon where Steve McQueen once filmed a fight scene!

Check out these amazing cowboys at the historic saloon where Steve McQueen once filmed a fight scene!

The following day – which Sharon had kindly taken off work – we were whisked off to the spectacular city of Sedona!  On the way, we drove through picturesque mountains, and stopped in one of Glenn’s favourite places – the old mining town of Jerome.  It was just as cute as Prescott.  Have I mentioned how nice Arizona is?

Sedona blew me away.  I wasn’t expecting to confront such beautiful scenery, but those red rocks literally made my jaw drop.  Sharon and Glenn took us to all their favourite viewpoints, and we spent the entire afternoon gazing at red rocks on blue skies.  It never got old.  And any description or photo I present here will simply not to Sedona’s scenery justice.  Have I mentioned how nice Arizona is?

The red rocks of Sedona - more beautiful in person than in any photo we

The red rocks of Sedona – more beautiful in person than in any photo we’ve taken.

I love Sedona!  I love being a tourist!

I love Sedona! I love being a tourist!

Sharon had never seen these cacti flowers, so we counted ourselves lucky to witness so much beauty in a single day!

Sharon had never seen these cacti flowers, so we counted ourselves lucky to witness so much beauty in a single day!

Registering our Bus

On our last day in Dewey, Bruno and I went to Prescott to change the registration of our vehicle from commercial bus to motorhome.  We’d spent the last three months filling out the list of Arizona’s requirements in order to conform to motorhome standards (things like electricity, a bed, a heater/air conditioner, and a toilet).  We expected the registration process to be rigorous, and Bruno (coming from France) wasn’t even sure we would pass the first time.

So when the officer gave a cursory glance inside, exclaiming your conversion is way nicer than most, before checking the VIN and giving us the OK, Bruno and I were shocked.  That was it?  We’d waited about an hour, had a two-minute inspection, and waited another 30 minutes to change the paperwork on our registration (where we paid a whopping $12 fee) and we were off!  Quick and painless! We are now the official owners of Class-A motorhome!

Glenn took me on a celebratory motorcycle ride around the area that afternoon.  Sorry mom!

Glenn

Glenn’s a super safe driver, mom, so don’t worry. Do you remember your motorcycle ride in Thailand?

Thank you Glenn and Sharon for an amazing visit!

Thank you Glenn and Sharon for an amazing visit!

And thank you for letting me use your home as a mail depot!  Sharon and Glenn even contemplating putting up a Christmas tree to go with all those packages!

And thank you for letting me use your home as a mail depot! Sharon and Glenn even contemplating putting up a Christmas tree to go with all those packages!

When we’d left Ensenada, it had felt like a grand departure because we were finally hitting the road after so many months of work.  When we’d departed Phoenix a week later, it felt like another grand departure, because for the first time in a while, we would be heading into new territory.  And when we left the Dewey that morning, we felt as though we were marking another grand departure – now our work was done and we would get to be tourists!  Bruno, Big Blue and I were headed north to discover the continent!  Our summer 2017 road trip had begun!

Thank you, Glenn and Sharon, for your amazing hospitality during our stay in Dewey.  We had a lot of fun and are very grateful for all the things you shared with us.  We have wonderful memories – and photos! – of our time with you, and can’t wait to do it again someday soon!  In the meantime, thank you, also, for your continued help with the practical side of our nomadic life!

The National Park Circuit

It’s amazing how quickly your environment can change in North America.  We’d left Ensenada, a week earlier, in a crazy humid rain storm, had struggled to keep our bus and fridge cool in the 40 degree [Celsius] dry heat of the Phoenix desert, and now we were in the forest near Grand Canyon National Park waking up to frost!

The cold (and the snow) remained a recurring theme for the next ten days.  After a quick visit to the most grand canyon I’ve ever seen (once again, no words, and once again, have I mentioned how nice Arizona is?), we transited through Utah.  It was difficult to pass by so many national parks (Utah is Bruno’s favourite state for good reason), but we had very limited remaining time on our U.S. visa and we wanted to use it to visit a region of the U.S. neither of us had seen before – Wyoming’s N.W. corner.

We spent three nights at Grand Teton National Park and another four days in Yellowstone National Park.  It was a special week, but I think I’m going to have to devote an entirely separate blog post to our U.S. national parks’ visits – there are simply too many photos to share!

Grand Canyon National Park!

Grand Canyon National Park!

Horseshoe Canyon, at the border of Arizona and Utah.  We camped here.  Yup.

Horseshoe Canyon, at the border of Arizona and Utah. We camped here. Yup.

Utah is so pretty!

Utah is so pretty!

Those Teton peaks are absolutely mesmerizing.

Those Teton peaks are absolutely mesmerizing.

Yellowstone National Park and its hot springs, geysers, and crazy hydrothermal activity!

Yellowstone National Park and its hot springs, geysers, and crazy hydrothermal activity!

We left Yellowstone via the Bear Tooth Highway, an infamous All-American road that had been recommended to us by Glenn that takes you through a 3,300 meter mountain pass.  The pass had just opened two days earlier and was filled with more snow than Bruno had ever seen (though not me, I’m Canadian, after all!).  The drive offered gorgeous alpine views, still-frozen lakes, and yellow-bellied marmots.  It also gave us a sense of the local culture, as the peaks were filled with winter-loving skiers and snowmobilers playing in the snow on a sunny long weekend.  Such a different way of looking at cold weather.

Bruno and I near the beginning of Beartooth Pass.

Bruno and I near the beginning of Beartooth Pass.

Beartooth Pass, over 3,300 meters altitude.

Beartooth Pass, over 3,300 meters altitude.

The snow on the side of the road was higher than our bus!

The snow on the side of the road was taller than our bus!

Ploughed by nothing less than THIS.

Ploughed by nothing less than THIS.

A few of the creatures that inhabit these mountains:

A few of the creatures that inhabit these mountains:

KMHJ3080 (143)

The mountains gave way in Montana to plains and ranches with grazing cattle. This gave us a hint at the scenery we would soon experience in Canada’s Grasslands National Park – our fourth national park of the month, and our first in Canada!  This is where we are finishing off our very busy, very adventurous, and very wonderful month of May!

The plains and farmland of Montana.

The plains and farmland of Montana.

A first taste of Canada

A first taste of Canada’s Grasslands National Park – and our first campground shared with another bus conversion!

This Month’s Statistics

Countries Visited: 3; Mexico (Baja California), United States (5 states), and Canada (Saskatchewan)

Kilometers Driven: 3,901!  This is approaching our all-time record (when we drove Route 66 in November)!  But Big Blue has handled the roads beautifully, and we’ve even managed to get her fuel economy down to under 13L/100km on the plains of Montana, so our fuel costs have been substantially lower than expected.

Microsoft Edge 2017-05-31 44016 PM

National Parks Visited: 4; Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone in the United States, and Grasslands in Canada.

Our Camping Situation: We still haven’t gotten the knack of finding and reaching BLM land in the U.S. for boondocking purposes, but we’ve done of our fair share of it in national forests!  And it has been wonderful!  I love that it’s free (balances out our slightly higher fuel costs) and especially that we no longer have to worry about water, showers, or toilets.  Now that we’re in Canada, we’re going to have to learn how to camp on Crown Land.  Any tips will be appreciated!

The only times we have paid for camping were when we camped in national parks.  We’re both happy to pay the fees to support the parks in any way we can, and we both enjoy camping in the lovely natural settings the parks provide.  So far we have slept in forests and prairies, by meadows and creeks, and at the foot of mountains!  It’s been great!

Score!  A wonderful free campsite in a national forest at the edge of Beartooth Highway.

Score! A wonderful free campsite in a national forest at the edge of Beartooth Highway.

Norris campground at Yellowstone National Park offered us a great view of the meadow, with the most perfectly-curved creek passing through.

Norris campground at Yellowstone National Park offered us a great view of the meadow, with the most perfectly-curved creek passing through.

On the Cards Next Month

We’re definitely planning on slowing down our pace of travel next month, but we do still have a lot of kilometers to cover.  We’ve begun our cross-Canadian trip (although it’s not truly cross-Canadian, since we’re starting in Saskatchewan) and we plan to be in New Brunswick by late July.  This month, then, we hope to drive through southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba and through northern Ontario (in time for the June infestation of bugs, yippee!).

We hope to find a spot or two in which to spend a few full days doing a few improvements to Big Blue’s interior (finishing the lighting and electrical setup, fastening our kitchen cabinets with locks, maybe adding a piece of wooden furniture or two).  But most of the month will be set aside for exploring Canada’s landscape (including another national park or two) and culture.  I’m very excited to finally explore my own country this way!

  • rcs - So happy that the two of you are back to the travel…and the RV looks great. Can’t wait to see it up close.
    Enjoy the Canadian scenery.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Hello from Riding Mountain National Park, which smells like New Brunswick! The Canadian scenery, so far, has been mostly agriculture, but it’s about to get real in northern Ontario! Can’t wait!ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth S - You certainly have had an eventful month! I loved reading about your travels though Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana as well as the National Parks and seeing the photos of absolutely stunning scenery. I’m envious but in a good way. So glad you had the opportunity to see good friends along the way. And yes, I will never forget my heartstopping motorcycle ride through the congested rush-hour streets of Bangkok!ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - I’m so happy to get to share wraps-up of our photos and journey with you, and imagine that now that we are closer to home, our stops take on a whole new meaning for you! Can’t wait to FOR you explore the SW USA one day!ReplyCancel

  • Daniel McDougall - Hi Brittany

    Congratulations on all the traveling. It looks like a lot of fun and hitting all those parks in one month is awesome.

    The cross Canada drive is a lot fun. We live in Kingston Ontario and have space in the drive way to park the big blue bus.

    Let me know if you would like to stop by at dan.mcdougall@gmail.com

    Sorry I am not on Instagram anymore. I have taken a productivity break from social media and other distractions.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Hi Daniel! Thanks so much for your kind message, and my apologies for our late reply – we’ve been in more national parks (this time in Canada) enjoying life, haha!!

      I wish I had known you were in Kingston last fall when we passed through on our way to Toronto. This summer we’ll be trying out the route through Northern Ontario (via Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa) so won’t pass your way. Wish us luck with the bugs! :)

      Thank you, again, for your super kind offer! I love it!!ReplyCancel

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