Day 1 (September 7, 2018) – The Trip Begins

Well Day 1 actually started the night before.  I got home later than I wanted from work because I had (as usual) put off getting some of the little supplies so the Wednesday drive home involved a lot of quick stops.  The dogs didn’t seem to notice, or care, what I was doing until I started piling things up at the front door to load into the car.  I had just put a bin down and was turning around when I suddenly found myself eye-to-snout with a boxer.  Leave it to Piper to figure things out.  The little monkeys followed me outside and stood at the door of the car, whining and doing the happy foot dance.  Guys, we just came back from a trip a month ago and you’re this excited to go again?!  Well alright then.  

Once I pulled the dogs into the house, I finished packing and fell into bed until I was rudely woken by the alarm at 4:00 am.  Even though I hadn’t been well organized the night before, the morning went surprisingly well and we were on the road at 5:09 am.

With no particular destination in mind other than “West” there was less of the drive to, well, drive and it was such a relaxed way to start the day.  I was tempted to stop at the dog park in Orillia but it was still dark out and most parks are not open to the public until dawn so we kept going until we got to Parry Sound.  Even though I had made a coffee before we left, I had held off on breakfast since I had been emptying my fridge in preparation for the trip.  I had done a good job of it too since my fridge was nothing but condiments and alcohol.  The point is, food was in order so we stopped at Richard’s Coffee and had a nice deluxe bagel (egg, cheese, and ham) and a coffee to wash it down.  The everything bagel I ordered was really good and the coffee was outstanding.  As I walked the dogs around the parking lot, I looked to the next property and saw the steady stream of vehicles waiting at the Tim Horton’s and just had to shake my head.  Hey Parry Sound: you have a great place here and it’s locally owned and the coffee is better and it has a drive thru too.  Once I had finished off that delicious bagel, we climbed back in the car.

Now, I had considered not stopping in Sudbury but as I was getting the yawns, a quick coffee break was in order and we stopped at Salute Coffee Company and, knowing that food goes well with coffee, I also ordered a pumpkin scone.  I like Pilot Coffee but the scone blew the coffee right out of the water.  It was so good and just what I needed to keep going.

We drove on to the rest stop in Serpent River.  I would have let the dogs play in the water but some men were fishing so we went for a little walk down a nearby trail instead and when we got back to the parking area, I pulled out the Ziscs for Leo.  I have two Ziscs so I throw one and when he returns with it, I show him the other until he drops the first.  As soon as that Zisc hits the ground, I throw the one I’m holding.  It’s like a relay and it tires him out so quickly that in no time, he was flopped out in the grass.  Excellent.  Piper and Jack sniffed some trees and were content to watch Leo run enough for all of them.

Our next stop was in Sault Ste. Marie and by this point I was starving.  As we drove along Highway 17, my eye was caught by Gino’s Family Restaurant.  Now when I walked in, my brain thought “salad” because that’s what I needed after all the coffee, bagel, and scone I had already eaten.  When I looked at the menu, my mouth said “hot sausage sandwich with mashed potatoes.”  In no time at all, I was back out in the car feasting on a meal that was outstanding.  I had never thought that a “hot sandwich” was a type of sandwich.  I always had assumed that a “hot roast beef sandwich” was just a name yet that assumption was blown away when I had a bread loaded under homemade sausage and gravy.  

As we continued north, it occurred to me that my choice in food was not the best I could have made because I was sleepy.  So sleepy that I actually pulled over in Batchwana Bay and took the dogs out for a play (and roll) in the sand, hoping that it would wake me up.  It didn’t and after we drove a short distance, I found another parking lot for a trailhead and put my head back for a few minutes.  I would have gotten a site there for the night if it wasn’t for the fact that the temperature was supposed to drop to almost freezing.  That’s a bit cold for my little ones so it was going to be a hotel for the night.

We drove into the night until we got to Thunder Bay and the Airlane Hotel.  Even though I was exhausted, it was well after 11:00 pm before I was able to fall asleep.  The dogs had no such problem and were passed out on the bed by the time I had finished bringing all of our things in from the car, forcing me to squeeze and twist myself between them to climb into bed.  Eventually, the sound of their snoring lulled me to sleep.

Day 2 (September 8, 2018) – A New Park

It was a slow start on the second day of our trip and I was dragging my backside to get going.  Eventually though, the car was packed and the dogs were loaded and we drove 30 seconds to Naxo’s Grille & Bar for breakfast.  I wasn’t super hungry but the sausage scramble was just too good looking to ignore and with a coffee, well breakfast was excellent.  I seem to really be liking the “scrambles” and “bowls” that restaurants are offering these days and this one was no exception with scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes, cheese, and bacon doused in hollandaise sauce.  Oh and it comes with pancakes or toast.  For some reason, I went with pancakes.  I sat with my meal in some chairs at the front of the restaurant and stuffed my face as people were greeted by the dogs.  Then I felt the need to grab an americano from The Seattle Coffee House across the street.  Not that there was anything wrong with the coffee from Naxo’s.  It was quite good in fact.  I just wanted more caffeine for the trip.   

We drove west along Highway 17 until we came to Lodge Lake rest stop and I let the dogs play in the lake for a little bit as we all stretched our legs and I took the opportunity to plan our route.  The idea that had been forming in my brain the previous day was to drive across the Trans-Canada as fast as we could to wherever and take our time coming back.  For some reason, that seemed less appealing as I stood there.  

Then I noticed a provincial park near Kenora almost on the border with Manitoba so I hatched a plan: if there were spots available at Rushing River Provincial Park, we would stay there for the night and if there weren’t, we’d continue to Winnipeg.  With that little dilemma dealt with, we jumped back in the car and drove west.  

We drove to Rushing River Provincial Park and luckily I caught the staff just before she closed for the night.  There were sites that were available and when I snuck a look at her computer, I was stunned at just how many open sites there were.  She marked out the ones that I could choose from and I asked her if there were any that she recommended.  “Oh yeah” was the reply and she promptly highlighted a few of them.  

There were two groups of sites that she really recommended: the first was high up over the lake and the second was right on a beach.  Knowing Leo’s proclivity for rolling, I knew that a beach option would be his favourite but signs posted that dogs weren’t allowed on the beaches we drove past as we entered the campground meant that he wouldn’t be able to really enjoy a beachfront site.  That and the last thing I wanted were wet, sandy dogs in the tent.  We’ll never know because as soon as I saw the first site that she recommended, I stopped looking.  Rather, as soon as I saw that we would be able to access the water, I stopped looking.  The site had an incredible view and it was massive.  It was such a great site that people were coming there to sit and look out over the water.  One couple was sitting down on the rocks and when we pulled into the site next to them, they scrambled out.  I was confused until a second couple came to check it out.  That’s when I clued in: this was a prime location.  Too bad for them.  My spot now.

I let the dogs out to sniff while I set up the tent.  I had just finished when it started to drizzle.  So when the Weather Network says there’s a 40% chance of precipitation, apparently that means 100%.  I was torn.  Do I pack up again and drive on to Winnipeg or do we just tough it out?  Remarkably there was cell service so I was able to pull up a weather map.  Light rain for a couple of hours and then that was it.  It kind of sucks not being able to sit outside but we can make that up in the morning.  With a little splash from the Road Trip Bottle, we climbed into the tent to wait out the rain.  

Fortunately we did not have long to wait and after a few hours of listening to snoring dogs, the rain stopped and I was able to make up a batch of ramen noodles.  As I was waiting for the water to boil, another vehicle pulled into the site next to me.  A couple got out and all I could hear was the man saying “It’s your decision.  It’s your decision.  What do you think?  It’s your decision.”  I wanted so badly to pipe up and volunteer to make the decision for them but they eventually left, after they backed into one of the posts for an adjacent site.

The dogs and I enjoyed the sound of loons calling out on the water until I heard the crunching of rock.  The couple was back, having made whatever decision needed to be made.  Apparently the decision was where to have a fire!  That was it.  They got out their chairs and started a fire then left a few hours later.  I couldn’t believe that there had been all that drama over a fire.  The worst part about it was that if someone else had come looking for a site, they would have driven by, thinking that it was taken.  All I could do was shake my head at it. At least I didn’t have to listen to them as I went to sleep.

Day 3 (September 9, 2018) – A Snake, Giant Crocus, and Exploding Beer

The first thing I noticed when I woke up were the loons again.  Then I noticed that it was really early.  Then I noticed that I couldn’t move my feet because Leo had squished himself into the bottom of my sleeping bag and Piper had the sleeping bag pinned down across my calves.  I listened to their indignant huffs as I somehow managed to extricate myself from my cocoon while Jack watched from the mound of blankets he was sprawled across.  I took the dogs down to the water then poured out their breakfast as I packed up the gear.  It looked as though more rain was coming so I didn’t stop to prepare breakfast.  Kenora was close by so breakfast and coffee was going to be easy to find.  Or so I thought.

With everything safely stowed, we drove into Kenora.  That was when I forgot what it was like in small towns because on Sunday, everything is closed except for the big corporate conglomerates.  Darn.  Onward we go.

We drove into Manitoba and when I saw Johnson’s Fruit Market I figured it would be the perfect place to stop, especially since my diet tends to be rather light on fresh fruits and vegetables on road trips.  As soon as I walked in the door, the gentleman behind the counter handed me a slice of peach.  Sooooo gooooooood.  Then he handed me a cherry.  Brilliant marketing strategy on his part because I left with a ton of peaches and cherries.  Oh and an americano.

I wasn’t planning on stopping at the White Horse Monument but when I saw it at the side of the highway, I just had to pull over.  Actually I drove past it first to take a peek at my grandparent’s old house just for the nostalgia.  Then we stopped at the White Horse so the dogs could have a run.  After they played for a little bit, we climbed back into the car and kept heading west.

A few hours down the road I saw signs for La Reine Spillway.  Let’s be honest: it was the signs for a restroom that caught my eye and the spillway was just a nice bonus.  I had hoped to walk the dogs right down to the water, but both sides of the spillway were lined with people fishing so I kept walking downstream looking for a spot to let them play.  That was when I saw the biggest garter snake in my life!  It must have been easily three feet long, maybe even four (I’m no good with measurements), and it was stretched right across the trail and looked like it was not interested in moving at all.  The dogs didn’t even have a clue that it was there so I gathered them all close to me and we sidled past it.  If someone had been watching, it must have been quite a sight to watch me creep along the grass with three dogs in tow. Unfortunately we could have saved ourselves the hassle because we just could not find enough space on the bank for the dogs to get to the water without either disturbing someone or risking hooks in paws so we turned back around.  I didn’t see the snake on the way back so I didn’t have to repeat creeping through the grass.  For the record, I’m not scared of snakes; I just don’t want to bother one or risk the dogs getting bitten (and knowing my luck infected).  We were walking back upstream when I saw some water running along the outside of the spillway.  Bingo.  It was contained enough that I wasn’t worried about the dogs getting swept into the main current and they were still able to feel like they were playing in the water.  Then as luck would have it, as we walked back to the car I saw some people leaving, meaning there was an open space on the bank.  By this time, the dogs were done with the water so they splashed a few times just to say they did and stared at me.

See the snake just above Piper’s head?

As it was starting to get late, I thought that it was time to find a place to eat.  Since I’d rather find a place where I can dine with my four-legged friends, I thought I would try and see if there were any breweries on our route.  We were in luck and Farmery Estate Brewery looked like it was next to the Trans-Canada Highway.  Perfect.  So there I was, driving merrily down the highway when I saw a giant sign for Farmery with arrows that pointed down a side road.  Naturally I turned to follow the arrows and soon found myself in Arden.  Then I was through Arden.  No Farmery and no more signs for Farmery.  I pulled over to try and sort out the confusion.  It turns out that the sign I had seen was for their hop field and you could take yourself on a self-guided tour.  Oh (insert face palm here).  The place where one went to enjoy said hops was farther down the road.  At least my little detour wasn’t wasted as Arden is home to the world’s largest crocus monument.  Naturally photos were taken with the dogs before we went in search of beer.

We soon found it.  There was a large patio to one side of the building with food huts and when I went inside, I saw several people enjoying flights and samples of several varieties of beer.  Now I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to ask if I could have the samples outside or if I could bring the dogs inside.  I just ran in like a wild person and grabbed their top sellers including a box of their summer varieties and the Endless Summer lager.  I squeezed my purchases into the trunk of the car but when I went to close the lid, it didn’t want to latch so I opened it up to reshuffle.  That was when I saw that I had punctured one of the cans and beer was spilling out everywhere.  “Oh crap crap crap”, I think I yelled as I pulled the beer out of the trunk.  The arm for the trunk lid had caught the can in the small gap in the cardboard of the box.  I shed a few tears as the frothy liquid poured out onto the ground.  The only way to get over the loss was to go have a beer.  Luckily dogs were allowed on the patio so I ordered the recommended fish and chips and an Endless Summer lager and tucked into a really good meal.

While I ate, I considered our options for the night.  The temperatures were continuing to fall so camping was not an option with my delicate darlings which meant it was going to be a hotel.  After much searching, I settled on The Travel Inn just outside of Saskatoon.

I had hoped that I would be able to get there before dark but it was just too much distance to cover.  The most remarkable thing I saw as we drove into the setting sun, was a massive expanse of water in the twilight.  Big Quill Lake seemed so out of place in the prairies, especially in that magical time around dusk and I had to seriously fight the urge to get photos but the cars screaming by in the dwindling light convinced me that it would be a very bad idea indeed.

Finally we arrived at The Travel Inn.  Scanning the vehicles in the parking lot, it was obvious that I didn’t belong here.  Everywhere I looked were pick up trucks and heavy machinery and there’s my little Corolla smack dab in the middle of them.  Then I walked into the lobby and it was even more apparent that “one of these things doesn’t belong here”. I guess someone of the female variety travelling alone is something of an anomaly or the guys that were staying there hadn’t left high school because you better believe I got eyeballed.  Hard.  Let me just make it clear: I wasn’t concerned for my safety one bit but all I could think in my head was “Sweetie I deal with alpha males everyday and I will knock you down a peg and leave you cryin’ for your mama if you want to get all up in my face.”  The gentleman working behind the counter had me checked in and on my way to my room in no time.

I looked to where my room was, hoping to have a parking spot out front so that unloading everything from the car would be easier.  Nope.  Some, how shall I put this, jerkwad had parked his truck and a trailer across I don’t know how many spots.  Then he had the gall to say to me “Sorry I took your spot.  I’ll be gone in the morning,” as he watched me go back and forth between my car and the room.  Oh you’ll be gone in the morning.  Well that does me a lot of good right now.  Then it started to rain again.  Needless to say, the dogs weren’t too interested in exploring and practically pulled me to the building.  I did make sure that the guests standing outside smoking saw the three dogs, especially the big boxer who paused long enough to stop and stare at them as she gave a little snort.  Somehow, Piper had the ability to make herself look intimidating when she wanted to and this was one of those times.  Her chest seemed to puff out more, her head was up higher, and she had a slight squint like she was sizing them up.  Even her little stump stopped wagging.  That’s my girl. 

As has been our experience with many smaller motels, the decor was a little dated but the room was clean and comfortable.  The dogs quickly made themselves comfortable on the bed until I wriggled in between them and we soon fell asleep.

Day 4 (September 10, 2018) – Rivers and Wild Rose Country

I keep forgetting about time zones when I drive and I was awake earlier than I had thought I would be, so I took the opportunity to plan our route for the trip.  As I had been driving, I had the idea to drive along the north branch of the Trans-Canada Highway to Prince Rupert on the coast of British Columbia, then drive south along the coast to Vancouver, stop in Kelowna, and back along the southern branch of the Trans-Canada.  Then I got hit with a hard dose of reality.  The weather forecasts for Prince Rupert was cold and raining.  Shoot. There’s no point to go to a town so far from everything else when we can’t even explore it.  

That led me to consider a Plan B: drive to Vancouver, get some sushi, and then start heading back east.  That was doable.  I booked an Airbnb in Calgary and off we went.  Sure enough, the parking lot was nearly empty when we emerged into the overcast morning.  

It didn’t take long for the rain to start to fall as we drove to Broadway Roastery.  I ordered my americano and on a lark, a cherry strudel and when I turned to leave, I was brought to a halt: there was a roaster right there.  As in, you can watch beans being roasted in the middle of the cafe.  Wow.

As good as the americano was, I needed more sustenance and found myself searching for breakfast places.   I decided on Kathy’s Kafe and I’ll admit that when I approached it, I initially drove by.  It’s in an industrial area and looks really rundown from the outside.  Then I gave my head a shake, turned around, and went inside.  Inside, it looked like an old Irish kitchen complete with souvenir spoons in racks on the wall, old dolls by the cash, and the food was being cooked in an electric skillet and household stove.  Well I’m always searching for authentic so here goes.  You know when you scan a menu and your eye gets caught by something unexpected?  My eye was caught by the break-er burger, as in a breakfast burger.  I had try it.  

As I waited for my order, I asked if there was anywhere I could take the dogs and I was given a flurry of directions to go to Diefenbaker Park.  I was a little worried about following those directions though because there were a lot of “left at lights then end of the road turn right”, “the road’s on your left and cemetery on the right”, and my personal favourite “go to the end of the road and turn left”.  Needless to say, I punched the park into my phone as soon as I got into the car.  How was the break-er burger?  Obviously made from scratch.  The patty was nice and meaty and the egg was a nice touch.  The home fries put the whole meal over the top.  

As I left the parking lot, I was stunned when I realized that the directions I had been given were totally accurate!  I would have been able to find the park after all.  Diefenbaker Park runs along the South Saskatchewan River.  The road and main park is elevated but there is also a paved trail next to the river with forest on the slope between the upper part and the riverbank.  Luckily for us country folk, there are trails in the forest so I let the dogs go for a run.  Naturally they all wanted to play in the river as well.  Once they were done in the water and Leo had rolled in the sand, we turned to head back to the car.  I kept the trail time short so that Piper wouldn’t overdo it so early into our trip.  Since we were parked right next to a big open patch of grass, I got out the Ziscs for Leo and Jack and tossed them until Leo stopped bringing them back.  That’s how I know he’s done playing. 

We continued on, stopping at the Harris and Alask rest stops before we crossed into Alberta.  The next stop was in Calgary at our Airbnb.  It was a small room with a queen bed but the dogs quickly made themselves at home.  Even with their soft blanket on the floor which would let them stretch out as much as they like, they still prefer to squeeze up on the bed with me.  My little darlings.

Day 5 (September 11, 2018) – Abandoned Roads and The Ultimate Dinner

I heard movement in the morning and went out to meet our hostess.  She was a lovely woman and we were soon deep into conversations about social responsibilities and politics as I packed up the car.  It occurred to me as we spoke that she reminded me of a very right-winged version of my very left-winged mother.  Eventually I was able to extricate myself from the conversation and get back into the car where the dogs were so very patiently waiting.

I went to the highly recommended OEB Breakfast Co. for breakfast.  Well, let me back that up a bit.  The part of Calgary that I was driving through was a maze of roads and nothing seemed to be in a straight line.  So as I was winding and backtracking my way to OEB, I noticed a sign for an off-leash area.  You better believe I made note of where that was.  So when we finally arrived at OEB, I ordered The Soul in a Bowl and a coffee.  The Soul in a Bowl is two poached eggs, herb potatoes, cheese curds, bacon lardons, and brown butter hollandaise.  I was somehow able to navigate back to where I had seen the sign for the off-leash area and pulled over at the side of the road to eat.  It was good but I thought it was too expensive for what you got and there was a weird taste that I think was truffle oil that I got every few mouthfuls.  I think it would have been better without it.

Once I had finished my meal and shared a few of the bacon lardons, we jumped out of the car.  Hang on.  I can’t continue without addressing one little thing: lardons are small strips or cubes of bacon.  So essentially we had bacon bits.  Let’s just jump off the pretentiousness train and call it like it is.  Now back to the off-leash area.  

It went all down the side of a steep hill.  I guess no one wanted to put the work into developing it so they left it wild.  Well done Calgary!  I had planned to go for a short walk but these wandering feet of mine just kept going.  The dogs also seemed to want to keep going so I just followed behind them and we ended up walking to the top of the next hill which gave us amazing views over the city.

It was a great park and big enough that you could not interact with anyone you didn’t want to.  Except for one idiot that could see a person with a small dog that didn’t want to come close to their pack so the person with the big dogs threw a ball in the direction of the person with the small dog.  Jerk level: major.  We were a way off but even I could see that I didn’t want to be anywhere near the pack chasing after the ball.  These bigger dogs seemed to fixate on all the smaller dogs and while I didn’t see any overt aggression, I know what happens when a big dog pays the wrong kind of attention to my little dogs: my big dog would get involved and she had no problem with taking on everyone and everything.  Fortunately that person left before we got close enough to worry about it

We were approaching Canmore when I saw signs for a brewery. A brewery? Don’t mind if we do. Unfortunately dogs are only allowed on the patio of The Grizzly Paw Brewing Co. and it was hardly patio weather as we passed through but there were so many samples to be had and the swag was too cool not to linger for at least a few minutes.

Once I got back into the car, we continued to follow the Trans-Canada Highway west.  I considered stopping to wander around the National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Revelstoke, and Glacier) but it was raining again and constant construction meant that what should have been a relatively short drive was not.  I wasn’t too disappointed since we had been there only a year ago.  I also didn’t want to put more stress on Piper’s arthritic legs after the long and hilly walk from the morning. However, we did stop at one lot for a stretch so that no one seized up.

I had stopped in Kamloops to get gas when I noticed a closed and abandoned road.  Even though we didn’t go far, it still felt kind of rebellious to be walking down what used to be a live roadway.  Oh we’re rule-breakers for sure.  As the dogs sniffed, I looked up to see lightning flashing over the mountains next to us.  OK dogs we’re not that reckless. Into the car!

I have to make a confession: I broke the first Road Trip Rule.  We went to a chain restaurant.  Intentionally.  Let me explain: when I told a friend of mine that we were heading to Vancouver, he told me I had to go to Snowy Village in Coquitlam because his sister-in-law owns it.  He got all excited and told them I was coming and sent a photo so they would know it was me.  So how do I not go?  Besides, it’s a dessert shop.  A Korean dessert shop.  Having never had Korean desserts, I felt that it was only proper that I take this opportunity to change that.

Navigating in the dark and rain, I parked probably (OK definitely) illegally in front of the shop.  I sauntered up to the counter and said that my friend sent me.  I got a blank stare and “OK”.  Hmmmm maybe they don’t like this guy as much as he thinks.  After quizzing the woman at the counter I ordered a Green Tea Bingsoo to go.  What is a bingsoo?  Shaved milk ice with cubes of green tea cake, chewy rice cake, red bean paste, a drizzle of condensed milk, and more red bean paste to top it off.  If you get it to go, you can only get a large which is supposed to serve two people.  Ha I scoff at suggested serving sizes.  Even better is that it comes in a cooler bag.  Perfect for when you don’t want to leave your dogs in the car and you still have to get to a hotel.

Luckily The West Country Hotel was not difficult to find.  It was an older hotel but it was clean enough and didn’t have that sketchy feeling of some of the other places we’ve stayed.  I’ll admit, I didn’t really care too much about the room.  I was tired and had bingsoo to eat.  It would have been an interesting sight to see as I sat hunched on the end of the bed, watching TV as I shivered from one bite to the next.  Dammit I wasn’t going to let the dessert beat me especially since adulting sucks enough so if eating dessert for dinner makes it suck a little less, so be it.  The dogs kept trying to get their noses into the cup but since I didn’t know if anything would be bad for little tummies, they had to sit this one out.

As I was slowly losing the feeling in my face and hands, I was subjected to a flurry of text messages.  My friend told me his sister-in-law had been in the kitchen and I had been talking to a staff member that didn’t know I was coming.  I had to go back.  They’d feel bad if I didn’t go back.  He felt insulted.  Oh dammit.  Shame on me for not making a big deal about not really knowing the owner.  Fine.  I’ll go back tomorrow.  By then I should have the feeling back in my face.

Day 6 (September 12, 2018) – Meeting New Friends

Luckily I wasn’t suffering any ill effects from my dinner/dessert the night before.  I packed up the dogs and stepped outside into a deluge.  I didn’t mind the rain since British Columbia had been having problems with forest fires and needed all the rain they could get. 

I figured that the Vancouver area would have some good parks and when I saw one nearby, we made the drive to Derby Reach Regional Park which was supposed to have a really good dog park.  If you’re in Langley and you have a dog, you owe it to yourself and your dog to go to this park.  There are three fenced sections: one for small dogs and two bigger sections with gates between all three parts.  One section even has access to the Fraser River.  Oh and it’s HUGE!  We met a big doberman named Lucy that Leo and Piper tried to play with but she was a bit too timid for them.  Finally, Lucy had to go home and we had a lunch to get.  After coffee.

I stopped at Warehouse Cafe which I kind of expected to be in a warehouse but it wasn’t; it was in a car wash.  I guess you can clean out your car then treat yourself to a lovely coffee and power ball.  Hey whatever works.

With coffee in hand, we drove to Sushi Express.  Now here is where I made some seriously questionable decisions.  If you go, don’t be scared off by the interior.  It’s small and not fancy in any way.  Thinking that the portions had to be small given the prices, I ordered combo #1 (shrimp and vegetable tempura with miso soup, California roll, and teriyaki), chopped scallop roll, and tuna sashimi.  I’m not sure why I ordered the chopped scallop roll and the sashimi.  All I know is that as soon as I saw it, I wanted it.  When I walked back inside to pick up my food, I was handed a surprisingly heavy bag.  Oh no.  What have I gotten myself into?

I thought there was a park behind us where I would be able to sit and enjoy the meal but I couldn’t find the parking lot.  Fine.  I’ll eat on the side of the road then.  The quantities of food were substantial and far surpassed what I had expected.  Even the dogs were offered little bits of sweet potato and sashimi.  Leo has become quite picky and turned his nose up at the morsels.  Jack and Piper made sure nothing went to waste.  After taking a few minutes to breathe, we drove back to Snowy Village.

This time I was met by the owner and we laughed about the misunderstanding the night before.  I’ll admit that I felt a little weird about the whole situation but I had said I would go to eat so here I was.  I decided to go with the other specialty of the house and ordered taiyaki.  These are fried pieces of dough with some kind of a filling cooked in the shape of a fish.  Since they usually come in orders of three, I asked her to surprise me.  She did.  I intently watched as she stretched pieces of dough onto a fish shaped iron.  One she filled with pizza sauce and cheese, another with red bean, and a third with nutella.  I eyed the machine, wondering if I would be able to get one for home use (I looked into it later and yes you can).  The smell that came from the machine was intoxicating.  Soon I was staring at three golden brown little fish.  Part of me wanted to sit down and enjoy but I had a feeling that if I did, more food would be set down in front of me so I bailed.  Besides, I had somewhere I had to be.  As we left Coquitlam, I tucked into my taiyaki.  The pizza was good, I liked the red bean, but the nutella was my favourite.  If you’re ever in Coquitlam, make sure you stop by Snowy Village.  The food is outstanding and the hospitality is second to none, even if you don’t have an inside connection to the owner.  

We were outside of the city when I saw the signs for Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park and I decided that a break was in order after the mass quantities of fried dough and sushi I had just consumed.  The sign in the parking lot says that it is a 15 minute walk to the falls but even with us taking our time as I waddled up the slope, I don’t think it took that long.  The waterfall at the end of the trail is well worth the walk.  After the obligatory photos, we returned to the car, and were soon back on the road.

Bridal Falls in British Columbia.
A rare pack photo.

Here’s the deal: I have been following a blogger, Maxx Trails, for quite some time and thoroughly enjoy reading about their travels.  A retired couple, they live in their Wildcat trailer splitting their time between Arizona and British Columbia.   I’ll admit a touch of jealousy when they can pull off the road and go right to sleep in comfort.  Not to mention the photos, especially from the balloon festival in Yuma are spectacular.  In fact, they are the camp hosts at Bear Creek Provincial Park just outside of Kelowna.  Other than visiting my grandparents, the only other plan for this trip had been to pay them a visit and deliver some Ontario beer from our local brewery.  The proper thing would have been to contact them and let them know we were coming but I’m so “fly by the seat of my pants” that I’d start fixating on time and get all stressed out. 

I pulled up to the camp office and after questioning the staff about weather and temperatures, I decided to get a spot for the night.  While the Weather Network had been calling for rain, she told me it had already rained so we should be good for the rest of the night.  There were plenty of sites available so we drove a couple of loops  of the campground before settling on a double site hoping that no one would come after us.  I set up the tent and then went back to let her know what site we had taken.  I could see the camp host sign right behind the staff building so once the site had been paid for, we drove around.  There was no truck in the drive and no answer at the door so I left the beer on a table along with a note and drove back to our site.  I had just gotten comfortable at the picnic table when it started to pour.  The dogs got themselves all tangled as they rushed to get into the tent and I found myself in the middle of a comedy routine trying to get them off their tie-out and into shelter.  It was late enough that we made ourselves comfortable for the night and listened as the rain died off.

As inevitably happens, I needed to make one last trip for the facilities (ahem) so I climbed over the sleeping piles of canines and walked the short distance to the rest station.  As I approached my site, I noticed a couple of people ahead of me.  I hung back a little but then I saw them stop at my site and someone disappear behind my car.  OK that’s weird.  “Hello” I called out.  Had my brain been functioning, I would have figured it out: it was the folks from Maxx Trails and they had left me a bottle of local wine.  Yay!  Although it was a bit weird to be meeting someone for the first time in the dark in my jammies, sometimes that’s just how it works.  They had mentioned that they were trying to be quiet so they didn’t wake the dogs.  The fact that I was talking to two strange voices in the middle of the night didn’t seem to be bothering the pups at all.  Great guard dogs I have.  I’m so glad we didn’t disturb the little munchkins.  I offered to bring them outside which was quickly accepted.  The dogs emerged from the tent in a wave of wriggling butts for a visit and after a little more chatting, we bade each other good night and I led the dogs back into the tent for sleep.

Day 7 (September 13, 2018) – South into the Rockies

The next day we were awake with the sun and I lay curled up with the dogs until we had to get up.  I toyed with the idea of making something to eat but I knew that there was a place in Kelowna that we had to visit so I packed up our site and we went for another visit with our new friends.  They are such a warm and welcoming couple and we chatted for a good long while.  I even found out about a nearby beach where the dogs could run off-leash.  A swim was a perfect way to start the day.  We finally bid our new friends goodbye and made the short drive to the water.  It was a cool morning so the dogs quickly had their fill and once Leo had rolled, we were back in the car and driving to Kelowna.

When I found out there was a Kekuli Cafe in Kelowna, you better believe that I was going to make a destination of it.  I happily stepped in and locked my eyes on the case of bannock across from the door then studied the menu.  A Road Trip Warrior cannot live on bannock alone no matter how much I wanted to do just that, so I decided on a bacon breakfast sandwich (bacon, scrambled egg, and cheese on a bannock), a coffee, and six bannock to go.  Almost as soon as I ordered the box o’ bannock, I shook my head.  I have a problem.  I love bannock.  The bannock in the case were adorned like donuts and I asked the woman behind the counter to surprise me and she did not disappoint with her selection.  With my food in hand, I went back to the car and tucked into the sandwich and I almost forgot to breath as I devoured every crumb.  It was so good, that I went back inside and raved about how much I enjoyed it. 

So what is bannock?  At it’s most basic, it is fried dough and reminds me of the beignets I had in New Orleans.  The bannock at Kekuli is light and slightly sweet and my mouth is watering just thinking them.  I peeled open the box to reveal the beauties to enjoy with the rest of my coffee.

Leaving Kelowna, we made our way south to Highway 33 and it is a stunning road to drive.  It also has some wonderful places to stop for a rest and we found one that had a trail leading from the parking lot, giving us the chance to do some exploring.  Highway 33 is also dotted with several small towns and we stopped at the Rock Creek Trading Post for a nice cup of coffee to help with some more bannock.

Then the rain came down again.  I’m not sure if the pounding headache I realized I had was because of the rain or because of the fact that the only food I had consumed was bannock and coffee.  Either way, I was not feeling well at all when we rolled into Creston and our Airbnb.  I had wanted a place to stay without distractions so that I could have some much needed unplugged time and I thought that a shack in the woods would be the answer.  Nope.  It was still close enough to civilization to have cell service and the temptation of the phone was always there.  Oh well. Once I had unpacked the car, I sprawled out on the bed to rest until my brain stopped trying to jump out of my skull.  Figuring that I should get something to eat that was not fried dough, I brought the dogs back to the car and we drove into Creston and to Real Food Cafe.  After questioning the staff about the food, I ordered the fish and chips with a salad.  I wasn’t sure about the salad since it was made of melon, blueberries, and feta but I was told that I had to order it; so I did.  The crazy combo was so delicious that I found myself craving it afterwards.  The fish and chips were pretty good too.  Even better was the fact that my headache went away and I curled up on the bed with the dogs and was asleep soon after.

Day 8 (September 14, 2018) – A Day in Creston

Since my plan to lock myself away from the world had failed, I decided to make a day of visiting Creston.  For a small town, there is a surprising variety of things to do in Creston and we had a full day doing most of it; starting with breakfast of course.  

We started our tour of Creston at Buffalo Tails Coffee House where we had a nice americano and a breakfast wrap which we enjoyed while sitting at one of the tables on the sidewalk in front of the cafe.  The only thing that I don’t like about sidewalk seating is that the dogs become the centre of attention for every person walking by and when I’m shoving a wrap in my mouth, I’m not really that chatty.  But then I look at how happy the dogs are to be getting attention from new people and I can’t mind that much.

You’re going to share right?

With a full belly, we drove around aimlessly for a little while and then turned to visit not one, but two wineries.  We stopped at Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard first and I sauntered inside, sampled a few of the wares, and purchased a couple of bottles to take home.  I wasn’t able to bring the dogs inside but we were able to go for a walk among the vines.  I put the dogs back in the car and drove next door to Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery.  The first thing I noticed was the boxer walking around the parking lot. I like this place and their taste in dogs.  It got even better when they said I could bring the dogs into the tasting room with me.  Awesome.  I sat and chatted with the woman who was dishing out the wine for a long time and she even told me about a place to take the dogs where they could go for a swim.  Perfect.  On the way out, the dogs had a chance to meet the resident boxer, Kaslo.  She didn’t seem to be too keen on my little pack but I think the sudden rush of high energy would freak out anyone out.  After lots of butt wiggles and sniffs, the dogs jumped back into the car and we said goodbye to Kaslo to go for a swim at the old ferry landing.

I’ll admit: the ferry landing was not what I was expecting.  The landing had not been used in some time and it was basically some bare ground to park and a gently sloping rock bank to the water but since we were the only ones there, it gave my little ones a chance to run off-leash and splash in the water.  That is until I saw rusted out hunks of metal and broken glass and that was the end of the fun for us.  The last thing I needed was a sliced up dog paw to put a damper on the trip so back in the car for the trip into town for lunch.

As tempting as it was to return to Real Food Cafe for another helping of that remarkable salad, I decided to go to Retro Cafe instead.  First order of business was to check if the dogs would be allowed to sit at one of the picnic tables outside and happily they were.  The cafe is owned by a French-Canadian couple so there were several traditionally French offerings but when I saw the Forestiere Crepe, with ham, mushrooms, cheese, and a Bechamel sauce with a caesar salad, I was sold.  The owner was really nice and even brought out an umbrella for me when it started to drizzle, followed shortly by my meal.  The crepe was delicious with the caesar and the coffee that I ordered hit the spot perfectly.  The only downside was that the picnic tables were facing the main road which made for a noisy meal, but the quality of the food more than made up for it.  The dogs stared at me the entire time when they weren’t tucked under the table, hiding from the little shower.  Seriously guys?  You just jumped out of a river.  You’ve gone body surfing in the ocean, splashed in all five Great Lakes, waded across the Mississippi River and here you are hiding from a little rain?  Such delicate little flowers I have.

I decided to take a slightly different route back our Airbnb which was when I stumbled across something unexpected: the Kokanee brewery.  Now I’m not a big fan of Kokanee beer but I just had to stop and check it out.  The beer gear was nothing exciting and obviously a tour was out of the question but we still got our obligatory photos before we drove on.

When we parked at our shack in the woods, I took the dogs for a walk along some trails that I had spotted leading up the mountain behind us.  As we walked, I had the feeling that we were being followed and turned to see the resident dog tailing along with us.  He didn’t seem to want to play but he was happy to tag along as the trail led us higher up the mountain.  Maybe he just wanted to maintain ownership over all the trees as Leo peed, then Jack peed, then dog peed, then Jack peed, then dog peed, then Jack peed, then dog peed.  I lost count of how many pee-offs the two of them had.  I think Leo was just content to be involved with the big kids and Piper was so busy scouting ahead that she couldn’t be bothered with silly boy games.  We climbed as far as I dared with Piper’s arthritis then returned to our shack and flopped on the bed.  As much as I like getting out to see as much as I can, it was refreshing to have a spontaneous break in the travelling and actually get to explore a place.      

Eventually it was time to think about dinner so I pulled out my trusty Yelp and scrolled through the listings.  I was intrigued when I saw a Polish restaurant called Chatka Family Restaurant.  With thoughts of my grandma’s homemade pierogies and borscht dancing in my head, I decided we were going to take a stroll down a culinary memory lane.  I roused the dogs and it seemed in no time flat, we were back with borscht, pierogies, and a cabbage roll.  I may have been a tad bit overenthusiastic with all the food but I collapsed into bed happy and soon found myself curled up and spooning a snoring Piper as Jack snuggled up to my back.  Leo had all the blankets piled up on the floor but at some point in the night, he jumped onto the bed, wriggled his way under the blankets and tucked himself into the crook of my knees.  

Day 9 (September 15, 2018) – Along the Crowsnest Highway

The dogs knew we were leaving when I started packing up as soon as I rolled out of bed.  When I let the dogs out to take them for a walk, Piper went straight to the car and stared at me, then looked at the car and back at me as if to say “Hey this won’t open itself”.  She reluctantly joined us as we walked the trails again and Jack and Leo were happy to reclaim all of the trees that they had peed on the day before.  I poured out food for them to eat as I loaded the car but found that it had been untouched as they were more interested in hitting the road.  All right guys; I get the hint.

Are you coming?

First order of business was breakfast, which we found at Break in Time Cafe.  With no dog-appropriate seating, I ate my bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast in my car parked on the side of the street with a boxer nose snorting in my ear.  

Once that was done and the dogs had eaten their share of the bacon, I decided to go to check out the farmer’s market.  Who doesn’t love a farmer’s market?  I found a parking spot, unloaded the dogs, and was happily walking up to the mass of humanity when I saw the big sign “No Dogs Allowed”.  What the…no dogs?  How am I supposed to stock up on locally produced goods and maybe some fresh fruit seeing as how I’m not very good at eating things that aren’t fried?  Fine Creston Farmer’s Market.  You win this time.

Luckily there were some farm stands down the road so I stopped there instead and loaded up with apples and some cherry barbecue sauce and we soon had Creston in the rearview mirror as we drove along the Crowsnest Highway.  Since we hadn’t been able to visit the farmer’s market and the dogs had only had a quick hike before breakfast, I immediately parked at the first rest stop we found and it was one of those gems that you stumble upon when you least expect it.  The trail from the parking lot led us to a small river and the dogs immediately jumped into the water as I enjoyed the quiet.  Once the dogs emerged from the river, we slowly walked back to the car to give them as much time as possible to drip dry before we continued east.

We were approaching Cranbrook when I felt the afternoon sleepies set in and I quickly found Kootenay Coffee House, leaving a short time later with an americano to keep me awake.  It was a very good brew and the scenery around Cranbrook was absolutely enchanting making me wish that I had stayed there instead of Creston.  Maybe next time we’re out west we’ll spend more time there. 

I will say that the Crowsnest Highway was one of the best stretches of highway that I have driven in a long time and if you’re not in a hurry, I highly recommend this road.  It winds its way through the south of British Columbia, passing several smaller towns that have far more character than any city.  I found myself eying every property with a “For Sale” sign, dreaming about mountain life.

Our last trip out west during our tour of National Parks had missed one park because of forest fires and Waterton Lakes National Park at the southern end of Alberta was now in my sights to right that wrong.  There were forest fires burning in the park again this year but parts of the park were still open so we would be able to cross this one off our list.  Like several other parks we had visited, there was a small town in the park with cute little houses and cabins.  There were also deer just hanging out right in the middle of town.  Once Piper saw them, she could not look away and as entertaining as it was to watch (and hear) her, I found a parking lot closer to the lake and brought them out for a walk.  We ended up meeting and chatting with a couple visiting from Australia and my mind was blown when they told me that dogs weren’t allowed in the parks there.  As lovely as they were to talk with, the sun was setting and I did not want to be driving in the dark if I could help it.  Several of the trails through the park were closed because of fires so we weren’t able to explore as much as I would have liked to but I saw enough to know that I want to go back.  How this park is not better known is beyond me.

I was glad that I had made the decision to leave while it was light as we saw several bear and deer on the side of the road on the way to the Wilshire Country Inn in Claresholm, Alberta.  Our room was large and clean and very close to Casa Roma Restaurant where I ordered a large meat lovers pizza.  I was almost sleep eating and found myself nodding my head over the box before I gave up and slid into the sheets between the dogs.

Day 10 (September 16, 2018) – Welcome to Vulcan

It was downright cold when the dogs and I left our room for a walk and they were happy to curl up on the blankets in the car until it warmed up.  They did not show much interest in what I was doing when I stopped for breakfast at Roy’s Place, at least not until I climbed back into the car with a breakfast skillet and the biggest cinnamon roll I have ever seen.  I found a parking lot near a large open space and ate the breakfast skillet which was so filling, I couldn’t even think about the roll quite yet so I left it on the floor where it would stay nice and warm from the heat and brought the dogs out to run as I tried to walk off some of the fullness in my tummy.  Once the dogs made their way back to the car, we sampled the cinnamon roll (Oh.  My.  Goodness.) and I steered the car east.  

The weather did not improve as we drove and the cold rain made our pit stops short ones.  The dogs jumped out, peed, and jumped back into the car.  It does make the drive go faster that’s for sure.

Anyone that has followed our travels knows that we are unabashed nerds so when we are passing near a town in Alberta called Vulcan, I mean how could we NOT stop.  The town has embraced the essence of the name and everywhere you look, there are references to Star Trek.  It was so cool.  Unfortunately, as with many small towns, it was locked up on Sunday so we were unable to do much more than visit the Visitor’s Centre and walk around the town.  Much like Roswell, New Mexico, this has owned its reputation and I was in nerd heaven.  Given that it was cool and raining, we didn’t stay as long as we normally would have but we still saw all of the attractions before leaving Vulcan behind and continued on to our Airbnb in Regina where I dined on leftover pizza and watched a show about how the Egyptian pyramids were built as healing chambers before we passed out.

Day 11 (September 17, 2018) – Brief Stop in Dog River

My plans to get up early and hit the road were seriously derailed.  For most of the trip I was awake before my alarm and this day, when I didn’t set an alarm, is the day that I slept in.  Well to help me get my backside in gear, I went to nearby Cafe Francais where I ordered an americano and pain au chocolat (which is basically a chocolate croissant).  I figured a French cafe would be a safe bet and it was good, just not the best I have ever had.  Although, how do you go wrong with buttery layers of pastry wrapped around chocolate washed down with coffee?

As we left Regina, I had a decision to make: I wanted to get to my grandparent’s cottage before dark but I also wanted to visit Rouleau, Saskatchewan.  I drove and watched the time and picked apart distances and weighed my options and finally, when we reached the road for Rouleau, I said to myself “Let’s do it”.  What’s the big deal with Rouleau?  Oh just a little show called “Corner Gas” that was filmed there and even though the show had stopped filming years ago, there was still vestiges of it.  The grain elevator was emblazoned with “Dog River” as was the water tower.  We wandered around like the tourists that we were before setting back off down the road.

With brief stops in rest areas and the large dog park in Weyburn we were still quite late getting to my grandparents.  It’s not the late hour that is a problem; it’s the large and very active population of deer.  As much as I love deer, having one embedded in the front of a Corolla would put a serious damper on the trip.  We did see a few but luckily we didn’t have any close encounters of the hoofed kind.  Piper somehow has this remarkable ability to know when she’s somewhere that she likes and when I turned down the road to the cottage, she woke up out of a dead sleep and started whining until we parked at the cottage. When I opened the car door, all three of them bolted to the door and quickly reacquainted themselves with the family.

We enjoyed a few days of relaxation as we took a break from driving, Piper snuggling with grandma, Jack stealing grandpa’s chair, and Leo taking every chance to clean the floor.

Day 12 (September 22, 2018) – Back on the Road

Rested and refreshed, we left the cottage and made the slow drive to the Trans-Canada Highway.  When we got to Kenora, I stopped in town to get a sandwich and coffee to keep me going to Thunder Bay.  Here’s where something weird happened: my grandpa had told me a story about a man that robbed a bank in Kenora and he blew himself up.  So as I was waiting in line at HoJoe Coffee & Eatery in downtown Kenora for my godfather sandwich and americano (which were excellent), I look at a shelf beside me and there, right at eye-level, was a book titled “The Devil’s Gap” by Joe Ralko about the same event that my grandpa had told me!  What are the odds?  

I ended up buying the book later and the story is so bizarre that I can’t believe more people don’t know about it.  In 1973, an armed man walked into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (C.I.B.C.) with sticks of dynamite that he had rigged to a “deadman’s switch” made out of a clothes pin that he kept in his mouth.  He made a demand for someone to drive him away and an Ontario Provincial Police officer in plainclothes volunteered to be the driver.  As they left the bank, a sniper shot the robber and the dynamite exploded.  This was all reported live as there was a radio station across the street from the bank.  If that wasn’t crazy enough for you, they STILL don’t know who the robber was!  

Unfortunately the cold rain followed us east and our stops were brief until we arrived in Thunder Bay.  Now I could have gone straight to the Airlane Hotel for the night but where’s the fun in that?  Besides, I had never been to Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. and I figured it was time to change that.  The dogs were not allowed in the bar area but they were warmly welcomed to the tasting room.  I ordered a flight from the wide selection of beer offered while the dogs quickly fell into their roles as the official greeters.  I bought some of the excellent beer to take home with me and was able to pull the dogs away from their adoring fans so that we could head to the hotel.

Day 13 (September 23, 2018) – The Long Way Home

The thing with spending weeks on the road is that you quickly fall into a pattern and by this time, our mornings were practically on autopilot: crawl out of bed, throw on clothes, dogs outside for pee, and as they turned up their noses at the food I poured out, I packed up our stuff which I loaded in the car before collecting the dogs.  We’ve done it often enough, I guess we should be good at it by now.  

Rather than try and choke down substandard hotel coffee, we drove back to Seattle Coffeehouse where I ordered an americano and a scone to fortify me for the trip around Lake Superior.  We were approaching Nipignon when I suddenly realized that something was different.  What was it?  Wait…SNOW?  There was a generous sprinkling of snow all around us.  Well winter was coming after all.

For some reason, I don’t think we have ever stopped at the Visitor’s Centre in Nipignon so this time we took the time to check it out.  I was puzzled by the carved man in a canoe at the front of the centre until I read about the children’s story “Paddle-to-the Sea” in which a First Nations boy carves a wooden model of a man in a canoe and carves “Please put me back in the water. I am Paddle-to-the-Sea” on the side of the canoe then releases it into the water where over the course of years, it eventually makes its way to France.  If you’re in Nipgnon with children, a stop by the Paddle-to-the-Sea Park is in order.

White River is another place that we have driven through but cannot remember stopping which is surprising given the large Winnie-the-Pooh sculpture on the side of Highway 17 that begs to have a photo with some dogs.  The bear that inspired the character was from White River and the town has amassed a collection of memorabilia for anyone that is a fan of the rotund little bear.

We drive by this all the time and finally stopped.

With the weather continuing to be cold and wet, camping was out of the question so our stop in Lake Superior Provincial Park was a short one just to stretch our legs.  We had climbed back into the car and were passing through a spot where radio reception gets bad.  I had pressed scan and noticed the radio kept cycling through.  Just as I was about to turn on the bluetooth, it suddenly locked into a station and the next thing I know, I’m listening to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.  Now let me break this all down as to why that’s weird: I rarely hear that song on the radio and I catch a signal just as it starts to play.  I was driving along Lake Superior almost directly across from where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.  I lost the signal just as the song was finishing.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

The rest of the drive home was spent watching the scenery through the windshield wipers.  I unloaded the dogs and we were were greeted by Piper’s cat Chase at the door.  Rather, Chase greeted Piper and ignored everyone else until we were all curled up in bed and then Chase climbed onto my shoulder and purred me to sleep. 

So ends the story of the last trip that I took with my beloved boxer Piper.  It’s a small consolation that she was able to see my grandma one last time, we met our friends at Maxx Trails, and were able to hike in the Rockies one last time.  I now know that she had a mass growing in her abdomen and in little more than a month after our return, I would be saying goodbye to her.  Looking back at the photos, that truth is hard for me to comprehend as I see the photos of her begging for someone to play with or splashing into each river and lake we stopped at.  I’m just glad that we were able to share one last adventure together.