Other locations that are not depicted and that are worth mentionning:
The Modern Bar Tender, where they sell a huge variety of bitters and syrups, but even better of herbs to make your own bitters for a fraction of the price. The great thing is that they have testers of every bitter for the clients to taste.
A really cute consignment store called Hunter and Hare.
As for camping in the Great Vancouver Area, it is very limited. The only legit place to camp for free is in North Van by the Walmart in the street (not the parking lot). It's not the greatest neighborhood and it's not leveled, but it's free and only 2 km from the Seabus to Vancouver (Gastown). In Vancouver per se, forget it. We asked at the Costco in Langley if we could spend the night after shopping there and the manager said yes (always make sure to write down his/her name), but when we came back to the bus after less than an hour in the store, there had been an attempt to steal Mara's bike (a grab 'n go thing, but the thief didn't notice the big Shwab chain and the bike was hanging from it). So, we moved to an industrial area in Langley in front of the garage where we had an appointment for the Westfalia the next morning. It wasn't a great neighborhood, but JF had the good idea to switch the bike rack onto the bus, so the bikes would sit just behind our head as we slept. Late that night, as we had just fallen asleep, JF heard voices and opened the curtain to see 2 guys who literally had their faces in the bikes. That's when Stout heard them too and barked his powerful bark. It was pretty funny to see them scamper away like little boys!
So, like any big city, Vancouver is not camper friendly. The closest RV park is in Burnaby and charges over $50 per night. There is also this RV park that looks nice in North Van that would be closer to the Seabus to go visit Gastown. It's still probably your best bet for a safe quiet location to visit Vancouver.
The Coastal Forest is just magical... You cannot help but smile when you walk in it, feeling like pointy elf ears are gonna pop on your head or that wings will appear on your back.
Alice Lake Provincial Park is a beautiful campground in that gorgeous forest. It's a popular family destination, so it's not unusual that the 108 sites are all reserved (and they don't have First Come First Serve sites). There are tons of beautiful hiking and mountain biking trails in the park and four lakes (only Alice lake is OK for swimming), but the hiking around Stump lake is beautiful. Dogs have to be kept on a leash everywhere and are not allowed on some trails and on the beach.
After driving through a very smoky sectors from Prince George to Clinton and seeing vast expanses of burnt (and still smoking) areas, we turned onto the Sea to Sky Hwy and the landscape completely changed. We could not believe how many vehicles were parked along the highway at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park and a quick search revealed why. There is a gorgeous 10 km hike that leads to 3 different green and turquoise lakes that look incredible. We'll be back another year outside of the busy season (and early on a weekday!).
The grades are pretty steep before arriving in Pemberton and the bus brakes overheated (and smoked) quite a bit. When we arrived at Nairn Falls Provincial Park (our destination for the night), the campground sign indicated Full. We still went in and asked and got the last available site! The hike to the fall was beautiful, especially at sunset (make sure your wear proper footwear and not worn Birkies like me, the rocks are pretty slick towards the end). There is a well-hidden beach where it is safe to swim (the Green river is pretty strong). More info here.
We rode some of the bike trails the next day (they are OK, but not great for the area). Aisha had a crash and ended at the Whistler ER (it's not broken!). The waiting room was mostly populated with other mountain bikers, full face helmet under their arms, limping their way in... All you could here on the interphone was: Bike crash coming in.
We also visited the magical North Arm Farm just North of Pemberton (40 km north of Whistler) and picked organically grown blueberries and raspberries. We also ate wonderful homemade food at their beautiful Café (breakfast tart made of croissant dough topped with homemade pesto, a farm egg, goat cheese and caramelized onions) and had their gelato. Everything was very decently price, especially for this area.
By the way, check out this fun graphics of us and many vanlife nomads at Mighty Goods. It's just too bad that they didn't include the girls and Stout in it, but still love it! Can you find us?
We have so much history here (just do a search with #burnslake on the home page)... A broken arm, mechanical problems, meeting friends, moon rise watching on the dock in our sleeping bags, bonfires and berry picking... It’s no surprise when a local comes and knock at the bus door, happy to see us returning once again and offers us a shuttle up the mountain.
I wasn’t excited to come back here again this year. You see, I long for discoveries and new places. All the time. My family likes a mix of both and the girls were *really* looking forward to come back here, especially for the Big Pig Bike Race that we have missed for the last two years since we left the Yukon too late... But as unexcited as I was, it didn’t take long for the magic of this place to hit me! I love Burns Lake. The bike trails are amazing, the community of riders is incredibly friendly and the camping is FREE right by the trails and by a gorgeous lake.
The BC Bike Ride event was here just before the Big Pig and they wrote a great article (with beautiful pictures) about this great place and the amazing mountain biking community.
So this year was the 10th year of the Big Pig Bike Race, which is the premiere mountain biking event in Northern B.C. It’s a family friendly festival, with kids events, downhill races, 4 Cross races, an epic cross country race and cross country events.
On Friday, Mathilde took part in the Pump Track, the Downhill and the X country challenges in the 10 to 12 categorie. She took the first place int he Pump Track challenge behind 12 yo girls and came in 2nd in the other two events!
JF and the twins did the Dante’s Relay, a timed event in which teams or solo riders race to complete the most number of 10 km loops in a five hour period. For the past 9 years, one lap of 10 km was added every year to the Dante’s Inferno course. It culminated with a grueling 9 Rings of Hell last year (for 90 km). I remember reading Dante’s Inferno (in Italian!) when I went to school in Italy at 17. To describe it as dense and intense piece of work is an understatement!
If you look at the map of Northern BC, you can see that Stewart, BC, really is the end of the road. There is no US customs to enter Hyder, Alaska, and no customs again as you reenter BC to get to Salmon Glacier. Hyder really has this end of the road feel. A lot of houses are unfinished or abandoned. We have seen a few buses turned into houses with structures built on top of them. This must be the only place where you can enter the United States without identification. The reason being, is that once you are in Hyder Alaska, there is no place else to go except back to Canada. (You will need a passport or Canadian ID to get back into Canada).
This article published in the NY Times really gives an accurate portrait of Hyder, AK.
For $5 per adult, you can go see bears catch salmons along Fish Creek. At this time of year, you are pretty much guaranteed to see them since the salmons are running.
If you keep driving up towards the mine, you will eventually reach Salmon Glacier (people might tell you that the road is rough, but it's not; you can get there in a 2WD vehicle). Trust me, it's well worth the drive. The view of the Glacier is stunning. And well, it might not still be there in 50 years. You can see here how much the glacier has retreated since 1975.
**You can see on the map that I circled the places I talked about in my previous posts for reference.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love a good free campsite. With the bus, we don't need the services that a campground offers, but we long for the quiet of the wild, so recreation sites are the perfect solution for us in BC where campsites are pretty pricey (and busy!). Morchuea Lake is located just North of Iskut on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway and has 8 campsites (2 that are closer to the lake). There were quite a bit of bugs (black flies, deer flies, mosquitoes...), but the gorgeous lake with Mount Edziza as a backdrop (and a kitchen tent!) made it worth a 2 night stop.
Mount Edziza is an icon of BC culture and Canada's second largest young volcano. It is surrounded by lots of cinder cones. It is not accessible by road and the best way to get to Mount Edziza Provincial Park is by plane from Telegraph Creek. There is some spectaclular hiking to do around it and it's an area we'd love to explore more one day.
Isn't that place spectacular or what? OK, there are some leeches in the lake and lots of deer flies, but hey, Bora Bora has dengue mosquitoes and sting rays, so we're even.
For more info on that campground, read my review on Campendium. Make sure your fridge is full of groceries and your tank full of water, because this is quite far off in the boonies.
Such clear water!
I am unclear about how to handle social media right now. It seems like the blog is more and more a rehashing of what I have published on Instagram and Facebook in the last week or so... I am really enjoying the My Story feature on Instagram right now (the bubbles at the top, where you post little blurbs that disappear after 24 hours, yes, a copy of Snapchat) and this is where I feel more compelled to post. I feel like the IG community is more active now than the FB one... So where does the blog fit in that? Not too sure, but I know I want to keep it up and going. Let me know what you think or what you would like to see more on the blog.
This is a text I published on my personal FB page and on Road it up Instagram. You might have read it already.
As we drive through rows of black spruce, the girls fight over iPad charging cables. I put my earphones back on, close my eyes and go back to the Masai Mara in Kenya with Tsh Oxenreider. I'm listening to her latest book, At Home In The World, the retelling of her year abroad with 3 young kids. She discuses with expats she meets along the way about how intense it is to be with her kids 24/7. I've never known anything else. I've been with my girls day in and day out for 13 years straight. As crazy as it may sound to some, I wouldn't want it any other way. Even on hard days. There were hard days when I worked in an office too (many more!). I smile as I now hear the girls laugh in unisson at a movie on which they finally agreed. I am back in Venice, eating gelato twice a day and drinking an afternoon macchiato with Tsh and her family when I spot a black bear scratching his back on a tree on the side of the Alaska Highway. We're home. Or rather, one of our home. But we're always home in our bus. The outside might be less familiar, but we feel home anywhere.
I pause Tsh’s book and look ahead, lost in thoughts. What is home anyways? A familiar bed? A favorite mug? A sense of safety and comfort? A smell we recognize and that makes us smile? The way the light filters through the tall branches of trees at 10:30 pm?
I dig my face into the Yukon moss. Yes, I am home, indeed.
Transitions. Every parenting book I read when the girls were little had a chapter on that. Every parent knows all too well the meltdowns that followed the announcement that we had to move on to something different, be it jumping in the car to go visit grandma or wash hands before dinner... In the Waldorf world, we had little transition songs for each of these moments, imaginative stories of foxes chasing little mice in the bedroom for storytime... It’s not easy to leave behind something that felt good and comfortable, something you were engrossed in and could keep on doing. That’s how it felt to leave the Yukon. We weren’t sad per se, but we could have stayed a little longer (in a warm house, not in the bus!). Most places we leave feel like that after a while, Tucson, Moab, Virgin... Our life is a series of transitions, of hellos and goodbyes and see-you-laters. An interesting choice for a girl that had lots of separation anxiety as a child... But, hey, I’ve always been the kind to grab the bull by the horns!
Or rather, I’ve always had that pull to explore, to get out of my comfort zone. Leaving for a year in Italy at 17, attempting to hike the GR20 in Corsica at 21, a little underprepared... Hitting the road in an old bus we had just bought! It’s not an adventure if there’s not a bit (or a lot!) of unknown in it, right?
If you are planning to drive North, I recommend that you come up through Glacier National Park (crossing near Babb), check the Canadian side of Glacier (Waterton Lakes National Park) and head towards Calgary on Highway 2, then to Canmore on the TransCanada Highway (spend some time there, it's a super cool city, lots of biking, hiking, climbing), then a stop in Banff and Lake Louise, and then onto the Icefield Parkway. That's a must! Know that there is no connexion at all in Banff and Jasper National Parks, but there is some in Lake Louise, in Banff and Jasper (town). There are tons of nice hikes to do in these two parks. Our friend Melissa who knows the area pretty well recommended these hikes: Cirque Peak, Parker Ridge, Fish Lake (2 days), Bow Falls, and the little stops like Peyto Lake, Sunwapta falls and Maligne Canyon. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to do any of these this time, but are planning to take some time off work next time to explore more.
Then, take the 16 to Prince George and head North on the 97 to Fort St. John, and all the way up to Whitehorse! The drive between Fort Nelson and Liard is the nicest. Make sure to do it by day as you are likely to see many animals. There are pullouts along the road where you can spend the night. There is a nice flat pullout just before Summit Lake and a few more between Summit Lake and Muncho Lake. There is no signal from Fort Nelson to Watson Lake (you'll get some in Steamboat a little after Fort Nelson). Then, no signal from Watson Lake to Teslin. Make sure to have enough fuel or carry a jerry can of gas with you since the gas stations are far and few, some are closed and some are sometimes out of gas.
I am publishing this post from Teslin, 3 hours from Whitehorse. We'll be there tonight! So excited to be back!
If you've been following our travels for a long time, you know our friends Martine and Andy. We first met in Costa Rica, when their 2 day impromptu visit became a 10 day long amazing moment. They crossed the States twice on their bikes with their daughters (and also biked in Cuba after Costa Rica). They are getting ready to leave in a few months for a year on a family bike trip in Europe combined with a 3-4 month rock climbing trip on a Greek Island.
During the last two years, they converted the Old Parish Hall into an incredibly beautiful house in Rossland. They now hold Tango lesson in their home once a week! They are incredibly talented artists and amazing people (art therapists, teachers, working with youth at risk, and so much more). They always welcome us (and our flaky plans...) with open arms and an open heart. They probably are among the most loving persons I know. We feel extremely fortunate to call them our friends. It was pretty special to see them connect with our friends on the road (the Vielhaber, of course!) and go on bike rides and share meals together.
When you've been living on the road for a while (and all over the place for many years prior), something interesting happens with your friendships. Most of our friends have rich fullfilling lives that do not include much time in front of a computer, and I am not in touch with most of them on a regular basis. Some of them follow our adventures on the blog or Facebook, some drop me a line once in a while (or I do), but even if we don't have any contacts, our friendships are still well and alive when we cross paths. I am lucky to have very flexible friends that are happy to see us show up at their place without much warning or planning.
Everytime we drive south or north through BC, we stop in the Kootenays to see our dear friends Annie and Chris, and Martine and Andy (next post!). We were excited to find out that a German couple we had met while rock climbing at The Feathers last fall were staying at Annie and Chris' as Helpexers, helping them build their new house and work in the garden.
We had a wonderful evening and a delicious meal wth ham from one of their own pigs, getting all the updates on the new additions to their homestead. They've been building that dream for years and it truly is a privilege to witness the progress every time we visit.
As Yukoners, Vancouver is our medical hub, the place we go to see any kind of specialists. Since JF was having an eye surgery done on both eyes for a visual dysfunction, we decided to bring the girls to see a specialized optometrist. We found out some pretty interesting things about all of our eyes, namely that Mathilde has some moderate binocular dysfunction that explains a lot of things (reading difficulties, focus problems, letters and numbers inversion still frequent, etc.). In her case, all 6 of her eyes muscles are weak, making it really hard to track objects, focus clearly, etc. whereas in the case of strabismus, for instance, it's only one muscle that is weak. The treatment for this type of dysfunction is vision therapy, which is pretty much physiotherapy for the eyes. The problem is that usually, you have to be in one place for a whole year and come to weekly appointement (the whole treatment costs roughly $4500 and is not covered by most insurance plans). This amazing clinic understood our situation and got us to meet with a therapist that explained all the exercises to do in the next 6 months by ourselves!
On the first day, while I helped Mathilde for her peripheral vision exercise, I realized I did even more poorly than her.... and decided to book an appointement for the twins and I... We found out that both twins eyes muscles are in good shape, but that they are both near-sighted!! I was pretty surprised to find out about that since both JF and I have myopia... When I hopped on the optometrist chair, I understood. She told me that I had much more severe binocular dysfunction than Mathilde (weak eye muscles that make convergence, peripheral vision and depth perception - in my case - very hard). Ah!!! And I thought all my life that I was simply a poor basketball, volleyball, tennis and badminton player (and well, any other sport that included a ball or anything moving really...!) and that I was a bad driver. Now, I at least have a good excuse for my clumsiness!!... and numerous bike falls!
The doctor explained that there should be 3 components to an eye exam: eye health, vision and eye muscles, but that almost all optometrists only check the first 2. I actually had one optometrist told me I had peripheral and depth problems about 15 years ago, but never told me I could actually *do* something about it! She told us that she was flabbergasted by how healthy our eyes were! She told the girls: you are sure eating your greens, are you? I was pretty surprised to hear that our eyes reflected our green juice intake! She told Mathilde that our eyes don't care about meat, dairies or grains, that they are all about fruits and veggies! She went on to draw a very interesting parallel by telling her a story. She talked about farmers working the field that needed strong muscles. She said if one has weaker muscles, he gets tired more quickly than the other ones and will want to move on to another task or take a break. The others will think that he is lazy or that he lacks focus, but it is because his muscles are not as strong as theirs... Mathilde sighed and spontaneously said: I knew it wasn't all my fault!! Sweet girl of mine... I wonder how many children diagnosed with learning disabilities and ADHD actually have a visual dysfunction... Too bad it's not more known... and too bad most optometrists do not screen everybody for this type of problem. There is a great Ted Talk about this here.
Anyways, we didn't go to Vancouver for nothing! We also took advantage of our time there to spend some time with our Yukon friends who are spending the year in North Vancouver. We shared a few good meals and bottles of wine, and went for a short hike in beautiful Lynn Canyon together.
And now, as I write this, we are driving into Washington State for the next leg of our adventures!
When we read that this hike was among the top 25 hikes in BC and that it was close to our campsite, we knew we wanted to go! It was the perfect hike to celebrate JF's 38th birthday. It is up there in our top 10 hikes!
The road that leads to the hike is quite something! If you go, make sure to have a rugged high-clearance 4 x 4 vehicule (very steep sections and major dips in the road for water evacuation).
Cheam is 9.5 Km round trip, the summit is at 2112 m (6929 ft) and the elevation gain is 665 m (2175 ft). That is to say, it climbs quite a bit! From the top, you can see the mighty Mount Baker draped in snow (in Washington State) off in the distance.
It gets very windy as we neared the summit and with the trail being in the clouds, it felt like we were in a giant freezer!
Cheam Peak was part of the oral history of the Sto:lo peoples. The Halkomelem name for the peak, Theeth-uhl-kay, means "the source" or "the place from which the waters spring." Seems very fitting that we felt compelled to drink the water straight from the waterfalls we found on the trail!
Oh, the pleasures of the big city...
This hike is called the Crown Jewel of Chilliwack and we understood why! The trail is stunning with some steep incline, boulder climbing and a narrow log bridge. The lake is a great reward at the end, the water is so clear (and cold - ask Java! He fell in it, head first)! There are tent platforms near the lake for backcountry camping. It is a stunning camping spot! Too bad it is such a popular place, we would have come back with our tents.
About 20 min into our hike, while watching an incredibly wide spider web, we noticed a teapot half hidden in the moss on a stump. Then, a few meters up, another one. We kept looking around as we hiked up and found more and more! It was such a fun treasure hunt! We knew the trail was called Teapot Hill, but had no idea that this place was so cool.
The Teapot Hill Trail is located in Cultus Lake Provincial Park. The area was named Teapot Hill in the 1940s by a logger who found a teapot on the hill. In recent years someone began leaving teapots on the trail for others to find. The trail goes from 20 m to 300 m altitude in 2.3 km. It’s a nice short hike that works the heart pretty good! And the view from the top is pretty rewarding too!
We counted 51 teapots on our hike! I am sure there are even more.
It is incredible to realize that only a few hours from the super dry Okanagan Valley, this place here (the Fraser Valley) is so wet and alive. The rain forest is gorgeous and reminds us of the Oregon Coast. The smell of that forest is so different and I can feel my skin soaking up the moisture in the air!
On the 8 days we were in Pentincton, we spent 6 at the Skaha Bluffs. When you have such an awesome rock climbing spot 5 minutes away, you make the best of it! In times like these, food becomes a mean to an end, and we don't want to lose anytime cooking! We lived on pastas, wraps, Vega bars, fruits, lots of snacks and water!
I know that rock climbing is an unfamiliar world to many and is perceived as an extreme sport. Like any sport, rock climbing can lead to injuries, but when practiced safely the way we do (and at the level we do it), it is a very safe sport with minimal risk, safer than many other sports (like mountain biking!). There are 3 main types of rock climbing: top roping (when you install a belay on top of the route and you are held by the rope from up top - this is the way all of us, except Karl and JF - climb for now), sport climbing (when you clip quick draws in bolts already drilled into the rock wall and clip the rope in them as you go up - this way, if you fall, you fall down to the last bolt you clipped) and trad climbing (when you climb a wall that is not bolted and put your own gear - called cams, nuts, hex, etc. - in cracks and crevises in the rock and then clip your rope to it - if you fall, you have to trust that the protection you installed will hold you!).
When you follow basic safety measures, rock climbing is safe and very enjoyable. It is a great way to work on your fear of heights. Installing top anchors (usually, on top of a route, there are two chains from which you create a belay with slings and locking carabiners - you can reach that anchor by walking up around the cliff in many places or by having someone lead the route and install a belay once he is on top), and knowing the rope tying and belaying techniques are a must before you start climbing outside. I highly recommend anybody that wants to start to take an intro class at a local rock gym.
Rock climbing is a very rewarding full-body workout and it is an incredibly confidence building sport. You learn to trust yourself and your belayer (he/she litterally has your life in his/her hands). Looking at the route, you have to visualize your movements: a great brain exercise. It is fascinating to see how some of our kids stay calm in demanding situations and work extremely hard to get to the top. Seeing them persevere throught tears of frustation and allowing another adult to guide them back to their center when they lose their cool is very heartwarming. And it pushes us to do even better.
It's the third time that we visit Covert Farm. Every time, we get there a few weeks before the end of the season and we get to enjoy the last of their produce. They usually tell us to eat what we want that is leftover from the blackberries, raspberries and melons for free (no more blueberries, peaches and nectarines this year). We stuffed ourselves with mouth-watering orgasmic (and organic!) blackberries until our bellies couldn't hold anymore... Then we headed to the strawberry field and popped as many sun-warmed strawberries as we could in our mouth. We picked all sorts of tomatoes and peppers. Last year, we had bought mind-blowing moscat grapes and hoped they still had some this year. The owner sent us to the special place in the field where there might have still some left... We were on a mission. And we found them. The kids screamed like gold diggers... and we stuffed ourselves one more time with these delicious sweet grapes.
Beside the wine tasting building, there is an awesome trampoline (called the bouncing belly) to keep the kids busy while the parents drink wine. We had such a good time!