"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Batteries

Reader Croft essentially adopted me on the battery issue with my coach. He realised from my blog entries that I was facing eminent battery failure and took me under his wing to see a replacement project brought to a successful conclusion. Thank you so much, Croft!

As it turns out, he was right. My battery was the original one that came with the coach and had more than surpassed the average lifetime for a battery (seven year lifespan vs. twelve year old coach, hmm)... Also, it had probably not been maintained by the POs, and I discovered tonight that the cells were bone dry. Yup, this was definitely not a project I could postpone.

The first thing he advised me to do was replace my standard 12V battery with two 6V golf cart-type batteries to get more usage time between charges. I found some that he said would be satisfactory at Canadian Tire. Then I came to the issue of installation. Canadian Tire quoted me 400$ to install them and an RV place 300$. Croft seethed at that! So, he gave me two lists. One detailed the steps that I needed to take to replace the battery myself and the second gave me all the components I needed, including the Canadian Tire inventory number for some of them. Can I say thank you too many times in one post?

Once I knew what to do, I had to get permission to do it at this campground and I had to find myself a helper who could lift 136lbs, the weight of just one of my new batteries!

I had to ask for permission because there are a lot of rules here, one of which is that you are not allowed to work on your coach. I spoke to the manager and said "May I change my coach battery here?" She said that that was fine as it's neither a messy nor noisy job. I then asked her if she could recommend a strong guy to help me. She volunteered her husband!

Today, I went to town (Calgary) to get all the parts I needed, including some lumber to reinforce the compartment floor. I was lucky to find what I needed in the scrap bin, so my costs for wood were negligible, and I scored some 3/4 plywood for the floor!

I'd called Canadian Tire ahead of time to make sure they had two of the batteries in stock and to put them aside for me. They did have some and they were on sale now! I saved 20$ per battery. When I arrived, all the items I'd asked about were waiting for me as were a few other things the clerk had assumed I'd need (he was right) and someone made himself available to bring the batteries to the car. WOW. Canadian Tires out west sure aren't like the one in Gatineau! My shopping list there included the batteries, a voltmeter (on sale from 40$ reduced to 10$!), a battery watering thingy that looks like a turkey baster, a 9V battery for the voltmeter, and a gallon of special battery water (same price as I'd seen for the same quantity of distilled water at Walmart, so I figured I might as well go with battery-specific water).

I got home mid-afternoon and set to work cutting the wood for the floor and corresponding back and forth some more with Croft working out other little details and questions that came up. Let me say that it was so nice to work on my home like that. I sure missed being a homeowner in respect to doing fun projects!

My helper arrived at 6 as promised. Getting the old battery out of the coach was tougher than I'd expected. It was in a tote... that was bolted to the coach floor. It took about a half hour for him to get the tote out of there, put in the plywood, and put in the two new batteries. He kept on needing tools and laughed each time I pulled out what he needed. And some people said I was an idiot to bring all my tools (save the miter saw)!

He accepted only a thank you for all his effort. Some people are just so nice.

It didn't take me long to hook up the batteries as per Croft's specifications, test them with my shiny new voltmeter, and hook them up to the charger which informed me that the batteries were already fully charged. I then installed some 2x4's to keep the batteries from moving, opened a beer, and set to work putting all the stuff that I'd taken out back into my coach. That was the longest part of the process!

Total cost of the project, including the beer, but not including the hardware bits I had at home: 270$.

Here's a picture of the final result. The way I cut those 2x4s leaves me with a little compartment in front of the batteries that is just the right size for my container of water, the voltmeter case, the battery baster, and a couple of rags. Croft says that everything looks good, so I'm having a beer now and calling it a day!

Easy Decisions and Provincial Differences

The park where I'm staying runs through the winter, but with only a small section of its sites open. When I pulled in last week, they didn't have a spot in their winterized section available, so they put me in their 'about to be closed' section and told me I'd probably have to move today. Bummer. Today, I went to confirm that I was moving and where to. They said I could stay on my site if I didn't mind... not having running water. Okay, run this by me again. I can pack up and move for two days or I can stay here, with sewer and 30A power, and my full tank of water? Ooooh, now that's a toughie. This was pretty much my confirmation that this park attracts a higher end clientele; the manager couldn't believe that it's no hardship to live off my fresh water tank for two days! What's nice is that I now have no immediate neighbours.

As for provincial differences, I ran out of beer this week as I finished the 12 pack I'd bought my first day on the road. I decided to replenish my supply and looked forward to seeing how beer is sold in Alberta. In Quebec, you can buy liquor at any grocery store or convenience store, or go to a liquor (SAQ) store to get higher end items. In Ontario, you go to the liquor (LCBO) store to get wine, spirits, and fine beers, and you go to the beer store for beer. I'm exceedingly fond of that system. Sure, the beer stores can sometimes be in out of the way places, but it offers every single kind of beer imaginable in one aisle. Kind of like the M&M meat shop of the alcohol world. At any rate, I didn't really register where to buy beer in Manitoba or Saskatchewan. Parked in front of a Safeway grocery store today, I noticed that it had a separate entrance with 'liquour and spirits' written over the top. I imagined that it might be an LCBO-type setup, but figured that they might have some beers. I went in and found a proper beer cooler, with a decent selection. So, I guess that Alberta is similar to Quebec, in that you can get your beer at the grocery store, but in a special section of its own.

Well, I'm off to get creative with my battery compartment. An update about that will follow, provided my coach doesn't blow up (*winks at Croft*).

Monday, September 29, 2008


Today was the kind of day that makes you realise that you've been given enough gifts to last a lifetime and that asking for anything more is just greed talking.

I had a lot of misgivings and preconceptions about Banff. I expected it to be kitschy, expensive, and over rated. By the time I got to the town limits, I was in an absolutely foul mood and wondered if there was any point my being there at all. To enter Banff National Park (in which Banff is located), you need to pay an access fee of 10$ for a day or 65$ for a year for an individual or 130$ for a family. I decided that the annual pass would make more sense since it's good at all national parks across Canada. I asked the attendant if I was going to need a second pass for my motorhome, even if I was towing my car behind it and only one vehicle would be on park roads at a time. She said yes. That was sort of the proverbial straw for me as to dealing with Parks Canada. In order to stay at their grossly overpriced campgrounds I had to pay an additional 130$ per year? I decided right then and there that I was taking the Crowsnest Pass on Thursday and not going through Banff again.

But I talked to someone else at the Banff Information Centre and what she had to say was much more logical, that I didn't need a second pass. I realised then that Parks Canada employees are like a lot civil servants I work with and unable to see their jobs as anything but black and white. So if I get questioned for having just one pass, I'll just tell them that the people at the Banff info centre said I didn't need a second one.

My mood greatly improved then and one of the most amazing days of my life began.

Let's start at the beginning.

I stopped for a bit of a break on my almost 1.5 hour drive to Banff at Lacs des arcs:

I've always wanted to say: "I'm Rae. From Canmore." Non Royal Canadian Air Farce fans can just scratch their heads at that one. *ggl*

Entrance to Banff National Park

Welcome to Banff!

Banff Avenue

A lovely, eye-catching, sculpture on Banff Avenue

So, Banff. A compact, aesthetically pleasing but not kitshy, friendly town. The first thing that I noticed were gas prices; they were the same as in Calgary! Then I noticed all the signs announcing RV parking for two hours on the street and 12 hours (but no overnight) in special lots reserved for RVs. Then I noticed that all parking in Banff is free! I wouldn't want to take Miranda in there at the height of the tourist season, but today I would have had no problem finding a place for her and she would have been secure all day, without my having to beg for a place to park her while I explored. I therefore award Banff the distinction of being the first truly RV friendly place I've been to so far. I've never felt so welcome!

First order of business in Banff was pretty funny and goes to show that I'm living my real life and not on vacation. Yesterday, I managed to lose my ATM card. I'd had my previous card for 15 years and I wasn't able to hang on to my current card for more than a few months! So, off to the CIBC I went to get a new card. This illustrates one of the many reasons I love being with the CIBC; if a town has more than one banking institution there is usually a CIBC (unless you're in Quebec where the same can be said about Caisse Pops). I was therefore not surprised to find a CIBC right across the street from the lot where I parked.

That done, I went to the visitor's centre to raise hell about the park passes and to see if I could add anything to my day's itinerary, which contained just two items.

I wandered down Banff Avenue for a bit and then went to Gopher Avenue to visit the Whyte Museum for the sole purpose of viewing the Group of Seven et. al. exhibition. Yes, we finally get a bit of culture! LOL

Of all the members of the Group of Seven, A.Y. Jackson is my favourite.

There were also some lovely pieces by Japanese-Canadian artist Takao Tanabe, another favourite of mine. I couldn't believe I got to see this piece in person; it's my favourite of his!

There was more to the museum, but it was way too nice a day out to stay inside for long!

Next order of business was something I learned about at the info centre: the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. Even though riding a gondola was in violation of everyone of my instincts, I'd never done it and figured that I could survive the 14 minute round trip.

I didn't enjoy the trip at all, I'm afraid, even though the views were spectacular!

At the top, I continued up to the Cosmic Ray Station.

I have no problem being that high up when I'm on solid ground!

Coming back down on the gondola, I really impressed myself when I actually turned around and took this picture. EEP!

The ride down was a lot harder than the ride up as the first time around there had been people in the gondola with me and they were able to distract me.

Back on solid ground (and having lost fifteen years off my life), it was time to do the second item on my to-do list, something I found I'm not sure how. I got back onto the Transcanada Highway, then exited at the Bow Valley Parkway where I cruised along until I got to Johnston's Canyon. It features an amazing hike through a canyon, mostly on cantilevered walkways (non-scary; they're made of concrete and steel). There is a short hike to the lower falls, a longer one to the higher falls, and very long hike to pools of water known as the 'Inkpots.'

Making an attempt to reach the Inkpots was no small decision on my part. I'd already hiked 3km uphill to get to the higher falls and it was another 3km uphill to get to the Inkpots. Add to that the climb at Sulphur Mountain and the late hour of the day. This was a case where a good decision could only be made with firm knowledge of one's abilities. On flat terrain, I can hike 3km in about 30 minutes. Uphill, make that 45 minutes. Uphill and exhausted? Calculate an hour. So, that put me at the Ink Pots around 4. Add a bit of sight seeing, picture taking, and talking to people on the trail and I wouldn't be back at my car before 5:30. I was dressed for the weather, had enough supplies on me to face a 'worst case scenario', and knew that I was smart enough to turn around if I reached my limit. I set off and decided to reevaluate around 3:30. I'd just about had enough by this point, but, thankfully, some hikers came up from the Inkpots right around then and told me it was a downhill shot from where I was standing. I knew I'd have to climb back up again, but that after that I was looking at mainly downhill to get back to the car. I pushed on.

I'm so glad I did. :-)

The Inkpots

Doing the uphill hike up out of there, I had to keep reminding myself that I could not spend the night on the mountain. Someone was bound to question the car at the trail head and come in search of me! That would have been so humiliating! So, I pressed on and made it back to the trail head for bang on 5:30! There was an ice cream stand open now and I decided to treat myself to a double scoop cone! I've only just started to eat ice cream again and I have to say this cone was just fantastic! :-)

Driving back towards Banff, traffic came to a standstill on the parkway because of these three little guys:

Since I had an hour and a half to go before home and I felt that I'd earned a nice dinner out, I treated myself to salmon and chicken in Banff, then ambled back to my car. I had to stop to take this picture:

I call it 'Deer on Banff Avenue.'

Oh, wait. That name is taken!

I got home at 8:30; my longest day out as of yet and the first time I've been out after dark other than to go to the cinema!

One thing I didn't get to do today since I went to the Inkpots was to catch a glimpse of Lake Louise. I'll swing by there on Thursday on my way through the park.

I have two days left here. I had thought to go to Drumheller, but didn't realise that it's almost a five hour round trip drive. So, I'll save Drumheller for the spring. Tomorrow, I'll go into Calgary for supplies for Operation: Batteries and Wednesday I'll putter around at home, do laundry, pack, and plan my trip across the Rockies.

I can consider Banff to be the perfect cap to this first portion of my incredible journey. Now, it's a straight shot to the Osoyoos area (site of the only desert in Canada, not counting the Arctic) where I need to find a place to park my butt as I will be on call for a grape picking job as of Monday!

It seems that even good lives have no shortage of good days.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Heritage Park

Scary moment of the day: I had to scrape a thick layer of frost off my car this morning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Driving into Calgary today, I had to take this picture:

That's not a lake down there. It's a fog-shrouded town!

Preamble to my day:

1) Yes, I was a history major and am still a history buff.
2) The days have been way too lovely and sunny to spend them cooped up in museums!

So, today, I went to Heritage Park, which is Calgary's Fort Edmonton. It's quite a similar set up, only I got to see Heritage Park while it was fully running. It was a much more hectic, but richer, experience.

Entrance to Heritage Park is 15$ and then you pay 3$ per ride you want to take or 10$ for unlimited rides. Rides include a steam train, a paddle boat, a wagon, a trolley, and a variety of midway attractions. I suspected that the 10$ option would be the best value, so I went with that.

Guests who arrive before 10AM are served a complimentary and surprisingly hearty and delicious pancake and sausage breakfast with juice. So, I started with that and then began my tour of the park.

My first stop was the blacksmith shop where I stayed for almost a half hour watching the blacksmith turn a piece of iron into a meat fork. He gave me a lot of information on the trade and how one learns it.

After that, I wandered through the village, taking pictures of random things that caught my eye.

The Two Storey Outhouse:

This outhouse was attached to a bar with a hotel over it. Bar patrons used the ground floor holes while the hotel guests used the upstairs ones.

The Reservoir's Water Colour:

The ride on the SS Moyie was an incredible value, affording me a half hour cruise of the Calgary reservoir.

Rugs I Wouldn't Have in My Home:

I was startled just walking into that parlour. Imagine wandering around the house in the wee hours of the morning while half asleep and stumbling onto that thing?!

Fan Etiquette:

That Oh-So-Gaudy Victorian Sense of Style:

I wish I hadn't been shy and had taken a picture of the interpreter in this house. My first thought was that her blouse matched the wallpaper, but I didn't say that out loud. When I commented on the decor, she said "A lot of people are impressed that my blouse matches the wallpaper." LOL

My Favourite House Style:

Some people, including the interpreter, call this a Queen Anne Cottage. It's actually a rare type of Victorian that followed the Queen Anne Cottage, which has more ornamentation, and is a Gothic Victorian. If money were no object and I could afford someone to ensure the upkeep of such a home, this is what I would have built for myself. I love the square tower and the general layout of the rooms inside without there being all the Queen Anne 'frou frou.'

Before having lunch, I decided to try the midway. I rode the whip, which was fun, but very tame. I then decided for some unfathomable reason to ride the ferris wheel. The second to last time I rode a ferris wheel, I told myself 'never again' and six years later I found myself riding it again and being stuck at the top for an unfathomably long time due to a mechanical problem (how reassuring). But this wheel seemed tiny! Yeah. Let's just say I didn't have much fun and I was really, really, really glad when the ride was over. This video makes me queasy all over again:

I walked around for a bit after to settle my stomach and decide what I was going to do for food. I carry snacks, but was getting a bit tired of my usual lunch of a granola bar, cheese, nuts, and fruit. I avoid having lunch in these sorts of places, but when I saw the prices at the most 'upscale' restaurant on site, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal. Prices would have been considered reasonable anywhere and were a bargain in this sort of location. 14$ (including tip) netted me a huge gourmet sandwich of provolone, turkey, and vegetables, with a side of fresh french fries and a bottomless glass of apple juice.

Add a steam train ride, tons of walking, and an extremely bright sun, and I was wiped by about 4. What a full day!

I really liked Heritage Park and suspect that even if Fort Edmonton Park had been running full swing it wouldn't have been quite as much fun. My only major complaint about Heritage Park is that too many of the exhibits are actually stores. For example, you walk into a period drug store and are accosted to buy all manner of goods before you can walk to the back and see the actual museum exhibits. Otherwise, HP offers really good value for the money.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Calgary, My Enchanted Land, and the End of the Road?


The only thing on my schedule for today was a visit of Fort Calgary. It's a small museum, but the exhibits about the NWMP and the history of Calgary are quite interesting. I was accosted at one point by a retired RCMP officer who proceeded to talk my ear off for about twenty minutes about his career, his uniform, Mountie training, career opportunities within the force, his son who is serving at the detachment in Inuvik, our mutual feelings about Ottawa vs. The West, and more. It was really interesting!

As I was about to leave the fort, the lady at the admissions desk called me back and gave me some information about another museum that might interest me that is only open tomorrow (more about that tomorrow *g*) and then she gave me information on a walking tour of downtown Calgary, a scenic detour on the way to a cemetery, details on how to find a particularly interesting gravestone, a brochure about a rock garden that is a must see, and, finally, a map illustrating filming locations in the Calgary area. Whew!

I did only part of the walking tour, which was mostly a gentle stroll down Stephen Avenue, Calgary's former main street. The architecture was exquisite!!! During a pre-WWI boom, a lot of Calgary's original wooden buildings were replaced by sandstone structures that really reflect the amount of wealth coming into the city at the time. The Doll Building was my favourite:

The Hudson's Bay store left me awestruck. It takes up a whole block!

I then returned to my car and proceeded to Spiller Avenue, from which she told me I should take the steepest side street I could find and that I would know why at the top:

Next on the list was the cemetery. There, I took a photograph of this grave:

You won't know who he is. Most people wouldn't. But he employed two people who you will know about, even if you didn't know that they spent some time working in Calgary and that they probably met up here, while working for this gentleman. History remembers these two men as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Reader Rock Garden was attached to the cemetery. I enjoyed clambering up and down the stone paths even if there wasn't much in bloom at this time of year.

It was two by this point and I had nothing else planned for the day. So, I took a gander at the movie locations map. You wouldn't believe the number of major Hollywood pictures filmed in the Calgary area, everything from Robin Williams' 'RV' to Clint Eastwood's 'Unforgiven' to Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain' (a lot of which was filmed near the town on the outskirts of which I'm currently living).

My Enchanted Land

Until the late '90's, I could recognize a certain landscape, or a variation thereof, in numerous movies, but I didn't realise that it was truly one landscape from one region. It was a landscape of mountains, plateaus, and valleys; the perfect setting for everything from 'Legends of the Fall' to 'The Edge', movies set in a gentler time or about a rough wilderness. Then one day I watched the dueSouth episode 'Call of the Wild' and recognized this landscape in it. I did some research and discovered that my enchanted land is called Kananaskis country and it is in Alberta.

Why my enchanted land? There is a book I reread many times in my youth called 'Cat, Herself.' It tells the story of a family of tinkers in Scotland. Tinkers are travelers not unlike the full-time RVer. The main character, Cat, had a grand-mother who referred to Ben Loyal as her enchanted land. The expression stuck in my mind.

So, looking at the movie locations map today, I noticed a route marked the Kananaskis trail. It looked like perhaps three to four hours driving time total.

I wanted to go, but I hesitated. What if my enchanted land turned out to be two beautiful peaks surrounded by condos? Perhaps I should do what I did in 1998 when I purposely avoided Sherwood Forest, just leave it as a land out of dreams.

But I was so close. I decided to go.

I'll let just a few of the pictures I took tell the rest of the story.

The End of the Road?

There is so much work here in Alberta, more jobs than there are workers. From an employment point of view, this should be the end of the road for me until the spring. But I really don't think that Miranda could be made comfortable enough to endure a Calgary winter and I've endured enough miserable winters in the mobile home to know what I'd be getting into. But all these jobs! So, I'll confess that I'm looking, just for curiosity's sake, for an indoor place where I could park Miranda for the winter and live in her, like a heated garage or plane hangar.

To give you an idea of what the employment situation is like, let's go back for a moment to my very first morning in Alberta, back when I was in Lloydminster. I decided to treat myself to a Tim Horton's coffee before pushing off. I went in, ordered my coffee and muffin, and was about to leave when someone called to me. It was the manager. He wanted to know if I owned the RV outside and, if so, if I'd be interested in a couple of weeks worth of work.

I haven't shared that story because I felt no one would believe it. But the woman at the museum today did and she said she had a job for me for the winter if I wanted it.

That doesn't make actually looking for work particularly appealing.