We’ll soon be making our way down near the US East Coast and we haven’t done that area in a long time. We’d love your recommendations of must-do, must-ride, must-hike and especially your good/decent (free) camping spots. We don’t have much in the plans, except maybe a stop for a few days of beach time around Cape Cod. We'll likely be cutting through Virginia toward Asheville after that. Thank you in advance!
There was a lot of action this weekend at Mont Ste-Anne with the XCO World Championship AND the DH World Championship! It was also the XCO Quebec Championship, the last big race of the season for the girls.
On a side note, you might have seen me picking up fellow vanlifer’s TP on Instagram. If not, here’s my little rant about it: Vanlifers are now shamelessly peeing and shitting around in free camping spots. This morning, in the Mont Ste-Anne resort parking lot, we saw a guy get out of his car in boxers, walk a few steps and take a leak in plain sight. While we were having breakfast (I know this does not imply TP, but I don't need to see your bird while I’m eating my granola). There were porta-potties 400 feet away. This kind of entitlement that we see more and more in the vanlife community will be the end of it. We've been living full time in our bus for 5 years and what we've seen in the last 2 years is simply disgusting. So many sites are closing because of those careless acts. We have to be more vocal and proactive about this.
The Western Canada Summer Games were the girls’ first time competing in a multisport event. The opening ceremony with the delegations entering one by one and the lighting of the flame was pretty special (and it was quite surreal for me to watch it online and see my girls and JF on screen!). The cycling events were a combination of road and mountain biking this year, which is quite unusual since these are two very different disciplines (think of it like cross-country skiing and downhill skiing), so it is the main reason the girls started training last December on a road bike.
The Western Canada Summer Games are held every 4 years and this time around, British Columbia decided not to participate in the Games, so only Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the 3 territories were present. Only Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Yukon had a cycling team.
The girls knew their strong suite was the mountain biking, but they still performed pretty well in the road events. However, when the Mountain Bike Eliminator was cancelled on the 3rd day (the 1st day of mountain biking) because the rain had turned the trail into a deep peanut butter clay, the organizers of the Summer Games decided to cancel it AND change the course for the official XC mountain bike race on Day 4, the girls were very, very disappointed. They changed the race to a short track (mostly on grass). The original plan was that there were 4 cycling events in total during the Games (2 road events and 2 mountain biking events), and obviously, the girls are stronger in mountain biking, so this was a big bummer for them. BUT they all had really strong races and Mara came back home with a medal!
Mara gave many interviews after that win and here’s a link to an article published in the Whitehorse Star: https://www.whitehorsestar.com/Sports/roldan-wins-yukon-s-first-cycling-medal.
So, how do we deal with the heat when relying mostly on solar? Even with 750 Watts of panels, we can’t run the AC in the bus. We could pay for a 55$+ campsite, but we try to find public beaches where we can spend the day and sleep in free spots. We haven’t paid for a campsite since we left the Yukon. Actually, we very rarely pay for campsites anymore since it is so easy to find free camping spots, and since at this time of year you need to make reservations in advance to have a good campsite (and in our book, if you pay for a campsite, it better be a good one).
When we cover a lot of ground like we are doing this summer, our go-to strategy is to stop during the day (and often for dinner) at beautiful spots along the way, stretch our legs, bike, swim, and keep driving afterwards. By then, it’s dark and it doesn’t matter much where we spend the night as long as it’s not too noisy. It allows us to save money (since we are spending a lot on gas during this time) and not worry about making reservations in advance.
In Canada, iOverlander is the best app to use to find free camping spots. Be aware that most users are in vans or 4 x 4 vehicles, so scout out the recommended spots in advance if there is no information about vehicle length in the comments to avoid bad surprises.
The XCO Mountain Biking National Championship was a bit of a bust. Aïsha crashed during her first preride and got a concussion, so there was no racing for her. She is still healing and focusing on the Western Summer Canada Games at the beginning of August. Mara felt strong and ready, but the crazy hot weather at 42 C with humidex was really rough for a Yukon kid. She battled hard, but crashed near the finish and lost 3 positions, finishing 14th over 21 strong girls. It was not the results she was hoping for and she was quite disappointed.
Mathilde is still too young to compete at National level, but took part in the Ontario Cup the next day. The weather was a bit cooler, but there was A LOT of traffic on the course. She’s still quite happy with her race.
Following Julien’s suggestions (in the book Vie de Van, of course!), we headed to the Conglomerate Cliffs for a sweet boondocking site. However, since we were already in the Albertan side of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park for biking, we decided to cross through dirt roads. We didn’t expect them to be that steep and were too low in diesel for that inclination (and the pump could not pick up the fuel…) Sooo… We got stuck on a hill and had a bit of a moment trying to back up with the Westy attached (we have to be careful backing up with a tow bar and couldn’t unhook the Westy), but made it with the help of a local. JF drove 45 min to the nearest gas station and came back in the dark. As we stayed behind in the middle of nowhere, many herds of cows came to sniff and check the bus. One young bull stuck around for a while and Mathilde turned a stressful situation into a good laugh, saying: Mom! He must be one of Roaditup’s followers! He wants a selfie with the bus!
We were only 10 minutes from the boondocking site, but driving in the dark on those roads proved dangerous since cows charged the Westy (that I was driving). There are LOTS of free ranging cows here, so driving during the day is strongly advised. The roads also become a mud fest when it rains, so stay away if it is in the forecast of if there had been rain in the last few days.
We get spoiled so much in BC and in the Yukon! On this hike, there are a few trails options and not must signage so it can get confusing. Stick to the trails on the right and you’ll get there. Consider taking poles if you struggle with steep descent. It’s a pretty tame hike by Rockies standard (it’s considered moderate), but the climbing is pretty steep and constant, so just plan accordingly if you need breaks. We got to the pass in one hour and back in 30 minutes. After taking a break at the pass and admiring the view, you can keep hiking all the way up to the Wind Tower.
Well, Canmore was not what I was hoping for. This was for sure not my weekend. I crashed on Thursday during my preride and then crashed again on race morning, bending my front wheel and derailleur 2 hours before my start. We pretty much took a bunch of different parts from other bikes and put them on my bike. When I was finally able to do my race, I didn’t even get 10 minutes into the race and got a flat on my rear wheel. There was lots of experience and learning throughout these few days spent in Canmore, but I’m wishing to get all problems fixed in time for the Horseshoe Canada Cup. What happened to me today was simply bad luck, crashing and flatting are things that are part of cycling and it is for sure not the last time that this will happen to me. Awesome job to everyone who raced today and thank you very much to all the people for helping and supporting me throughout this rough couple of days. What a fun event though, I wish to come back next year and have an even better time riding these amazing trails!
Even after 5 years on the road, we sometimes forget how fragile the balance of our daily life is. Of course, sometimes we just need to get somewhere and drive a lot, but that also means making sure to get outside and be active for an hour or so a day at least. We are pretty good about keeping our regular (healthy) meals schedules and to keeping a work and school morning routine. However, since we left the Yukon, we haven’t slept in a campsite once and parking lot life does take its toll on all of us. Yes, our bus is big, but throw 5 adult-size person + a giant size dog and it feels very small. Especially after 2 weeks.
Since there isn’t much external framework when you live on the road, you have to constantly check in with yourself to figure out why you feel the way you feel. It’s one of the reasons people say traveling is a fast track to self-improvement. And a fast track to divorce!!
So, yes, even after all this time, we’re still learning how much of a balancing act this is. After two days in nature, I feel like myself again, ready to cross the Prairies and hit the hot humid and buggy weather of Ontario. Just kidding, I’m so not ready for that. But hey, soon we’ll be in Quebec and spending time with our loved ones and I sure am ready for that!!
Finding free QUIET camping spots in Whistler and Canmore is not an easy task (and paid campgrounds are often full or very expensive). Even the usual trail head spots often have NO Overnight camping signs. We lucked out that our friends found a new trailhead that didn’t have a sign up yet, so we could spend two quiet nights here after the chaos of the Visitor Center (there are huge signs saying NO overnight camping there, but they tolerate it if you leave by 8 am).
The Whistler Canada Cup course was the most technical race the girls had ever done. On top of that, there was 240 m of climbing PER lap. Some sections of the course were only a few days old and very loose. The whole course was incredibly dusty. Aïsha crashed during the preride; she was in pain during the race and had lost her confidence, so she decided to opt out after one lap to avoid another crash and save herself for next weekend Canada Cup in Canmore. Mathilde coughed all night (and kept everybody awake) and was feeling miserable on the morning of the race (we all brought back a nasty virus from Whitehorse). She freaked out a bit after the first big climb when she stopped and felt like she was choking, but thankfully, coach Dan Sams @terraridersyukon was right there and talked her through it and she kept on going. She finished her race and grabbed the 3rd place. She was super proud to have finished such a tough course in her physical condition. After a sleepless night, too much preriding the day before and still healing from her nasty crash at Baie St-Paul, Mara was able to hang on to 4th place. Quite a feat in her condition! The field of Expert Women U17 was very strong with a few BC riders who are super strong technically. It was a good experience and the girls know what they need to work on for next year!
We were super proud of the girls’ Yukon teammates from U Kon Echelon who came all the way down here to race, not expecting such a tough course, but did it nonetheless! Way to go, friends!
The local roadies like to joke that the Kluane Chilkat international bike relay (KCIBR) is the only day of the year when Yukonners road bike. While this is not exactly fair, most people start training about a month before the bike relay and turn to mountain biking after it.
The KCIBR is a huge road bike race - even more by Northern standards - with over 1,000 riders this year. It starts in the Yukon - in Haines Junction, near the Kluane National Park - and finishes 238 km later in Haines, Alaska (with an elevation gain close to 1,600 metres). Some people do it solo, but most do it in teams of 4 or 8 (and some in teams of 2 and solo). If you want more course details, click here.
The KCIBR is celebrating it’s 25th year this year. The amount of volunteers (and the work that these volunteers had to do) to create such a well organized race that ran smoothly is just incredible.
After most people have crossed the finish line in Fort Seward, the celebration continues at the Alaska Fair Ground with a huge fish fry meal for all the racers.
It was the first time the girls were away for 2 weeks and that we could not be at their races. Needless to say, it was nerve-wracking! But they were very well-surrounded!
The girls had a great flight experience and I feel like since we often hear bad things about Air Canada, I feel it is important to talk about the good things they do too. The girls were upgraded to a direct flight from Montreal to Vancouver (instead of a transfer in Winnipeg) and got upgraded to First Class for that flight AND given 20$ each in per diem to spend at the Vancouver airport! Way to go, Air Canada!
And a little something I posted on Instagram that you might not have read:
And they’re off again, this time it’s only the twins, but for a trip to Quebec. It's funny how when your kids are young and you choose to keep them close people are feeling like you are over protecting then… I've always been a believer in the idea that kids who feel secure when young become confident adults, that you cannot force independence, that it actually come from a place of secure attachment. I had cautious little girls who took their time and we gave them that time. And here they are, at 15 yo, leaving on a trip across Canada alone with 3 flights, solid, independent, resourceful and self-reliant. It's a real treat to watch. Maybe it's time for a little pat on the back.
The Yukon Energy Road Cycling Championships started on Thursday evening with a race in Whistle Bend, a criterium in Marwell on Friday night, the Southern Lakes Yukon Grandfondo on June 1st — which doubles as a road race in the championships — before concluding with a final time trial race on June 2 on the North Klondike Highway.
The Hayman Classic is a multi-stage road race that consists of a time trial hill climb and circuit race on the first day, a criterium on the second day and a road race on the last day.
Rather than dividing the field based on age and gender, the field was self-selected based on ability. The change was designed to provide “flexibility to help each rider find their appropriate level.” An unintended side effect of this change, is that most top-five finishes were being awarded to male riders. Since Mara was the only girl riding in the ability ‘A’ category, she is the only Yukonner who got a podium prize money.
Despite only having one gear thanks to mechanical issues, Mara finished her race. Aisha rode in the ability ‘B’ criterium, finishing in ninth for females, just one minute and 50.5 seconds behind the winner. In the ability ‘C’ criterium, Ava was second, Tori third and Mathilde sixth on the female leaderboard.
After Tori took a bad fall, Ava stuck around to wait for her and rode with her until they reached medical attention and Tori withdrew from the race. It was a beautiful example of team spirit. Mathilde took over and Ava was able to finished her race.
The Hayman Classic was the first major road race for our girls, and it was a great experience will to prepare them for the Western Canada Summer Games in August.
Only a day after coming back from Penticton, Mara and Aïsha flew to Québec where they will do two Canada Cup mountain bike races, while Mathilde will take part in the last of the major Yukon road races, the Yukon Energy Road Cycling Championships.
And for those who haven’t read about the butt foam on Instagram:
After a race, we like to ask the girls to share a positive and a negative of their race. This time Mara said: Being the only girl in the A category and being able to hang on to the peloton toward the back allowed me to see all the strategy that was going on. On the down side, 5 or 6 guys from the same team had used a strange shammy butter that started foaming because of all the rain and started flying off everywhere. The guy beside me just had time to say: “What the hell is that?” before getting hit in the face by butt foam.
We’re just back from an incredible weekend of racing the Tour de Skagway in the White Pass between Alaska and the Yukon. The weather was perfect, which is rarely the case there, and the riders were strong and ready for a challenge. Because a challenge, it was. On the first day, there was a 20 km Time Trial and a 72 km lap race (24 or 48 km for some), and on the second day, there was the hill climb, which started from Skagway, AK, at sea level all the way to the White Pass summit at 3292 feet. It is rated the second hardest hill climb in Canada!
Kluane National Park has a special meaning to us: it’s the first place where we had our first real taste of the Yukon when we spent a weekend hiking with our new Yukon friends in July 2003. This is also where the twins were conceived on that same trip… So there is a bit of our family history here.
Every time we drive from Whitehorse to Haines Junction, we are in awe at the incredible landscape that greets us. You just can’t get used to so much beauty. You know, a lot of people who did the trip to Alaska tell us that Kluane National Park was the highlight of their trip. Just so you know, it’s an hour and a half from Whitehorse and it will save you hours of boring drive to get to similar landscapes in AK… From there, you can simply drive 3 more hours and get to Haines, AK, a very cute town with an end of the road feel.
The Tour the Haines was the girls’s first long distance road race. Mara did 100 km, Aïsha did 80 km and Mathilde did 50 km. They all had an awesome race! And you know, with such an incredible backdrop, you can’t help but enjoy the ride!
Historically, coming back to Whitehorse is emotionally charged for me, so I had prepared accordingly. I know myself pretty well and made sure I had a plan in place and that I was regularly checking in with myself. So far, it’s been really good and very pleasant to connect with dear friends. It’s hard to keep our schedule from becoming too packed but I am guarding it pretty well so far.
The girls are really enjoying their road biking experience with the local club and are also able to teach the kids from that club some mountain biking technique since some of them will be heading to the Western Canada Summer Games in August, and that the cycling event combines 2 road biking races and 2 mountain biking races. The Yukon is a great place to learn the ropes of road riding: there is very little trafic and the club is small and full of super helpful people. It’s been so positive! Mathilde has fallen in love with road riding here and might be allowed to go to the Western Games even if she is under 14 if she makes the try outs.
Camping in BC can be pretty expensive, but it is also fairly easy to find free camping spots as long as you are not on the islands or the coast. We used a combination of iOverlander, Park4night and Campendium (where I posted many reviews years ago about many spots in Northern BC) and were able to not pay for a site once after leaving the island. Granted, there were quite a few parking lot and industrial area nights, but as soon as you get North of Prince George, there are many rest areas and pull outs on the side of the roads where you can sleep for free, all the way to the Yukon!
Discovering Victoria has been so much fun thanks to all the great recommendations many of you gave me. I'm so impressed by how green most of the restaurants and coffee shops are! No straws, all compostable containers and utensils, compost and recycling on the premises, locally sourced ingredients.
We really fell in love hard with this city and the whole area. If we had to pick a place to settle down in Canada, it would definitely be our first choice… if lodging was affordable (which it isn’t). I can officially announce that we have decided to stay on the road at least for another year (as long as the bus doesn’t die on us…). We had said that we would not make a decision until we come to Vancouver island. Our time here has been incredible and the girls got to rub shoulders (and race with) very strong and pro riders. It has allowed them to see how our lifestyle gives them the flexibility (in terms of school schedule AND moving around) to keep progressing in the racing world - something all 3 want to do. After talking with many kids who go to school and race, our daughter who was curious about going to school changed her mind. We have a pretty exciting summer and fall ahead of us, and I can’t believe I will finally get to visit the Magdalen Island, where my dad’s side of the family comes from!
But for now, we are headed North to our beautiful Yukon!
We only spent 10 days in the Comox-Cumberland-Courtenay area, but really loved it. We were camped at Cape Lazo RV Park since we needed water and sewer hook-up with all that mud! It is a great little RV Park right by the ocean, but it is crazy windy. We nonetheless recommend it and would go back there!
The biking community here is very active and the trail system is very well developed. Parts of the village of Cumberland reminds us of the old downtown Whitehorse, before all the big box stores moved in. Actually, all these stores are not far, in Courtenay, 15 minutes away, so it allows Cumberland to keep it’s charm and local shops and restaurants.
The Bear Mountain Canada Cup was the first national race to which the girls ever participated. They are finally old enough for it and did great for first year cadets (U17)! If, like me, you are a neophytes to race lingo, you might not know the difference between a Canada Cup and the national Championship. The Canada Cups are a series of 8 races to which anybody can participate (so there were US racers who came to race it in the Junior category - U19) whereas the national Championship is a once a year event to which only the best Canadians can participate. Bear Mountain was the first Canada Cup of the 2019 season and Mara and Aïsha were racing in the cadet field (15-16 - the age at the end of the year) as first year cadet. The big race (the XC race) was on Saturday and there was a short-track race on Sunday. There was also a big Enduro race happening on Sunday, as well as a Bike Festival, so it was quite the event!
Mathilde is still too young to be part of the Canada Cup, but she could take part in the Bear Mountain Challenge XC on Saturday morning. However, she crashed on the Enduro course while pre-riding with the local team (Dirt Squad) group 4 days prior and ended up in the ER and needing 12 stitches on her knee… She was very bummed to not be able to race, and at the last minute decided she still wanted to give it a go and said she would stop if it was too painful. She did one lap and decided to stop (her race was 2 laps), and was very proud she gave it a try.
It was a wonderful team experience for the girls and they were so happy to be part of such a big event. It was great to be finally reunited with the team and their amazing coach. I’m already looking forward to the next Canada Cup… and coming from me, this means a lot!!
There is so much to explore on the Island and we will not see it all in the month or so we are here. I’m glad I got to see a part of it with my dad while he was here with us!