Sue North

From one adventure to the next ...

Category: Planning & Prep

Pilot Testing – practice makes perfect!

Oh boy, our countdown keeps dropping… We are only 3 weeks out from our departure date of August 3rd!! With the date creeping ever closer, we recently chose to dedicate a few nights towards pilot testing our car camping set up to ensure we’ve fixed and/or optimized everything before we begin living in Sue full-time this August.

For our first test of the platform, we traveled with friends to the high peaks region in the Adirondacks. Our first night was spent on the trail, where we backpacked approximately 4 miles in the dark to a lean-to. On arrival we found the lean-to to be occupied by backpacks, but no campers to be found. Nearby a poorly strung food bag was left dangling less than shoulder height from the group – this was not going to stop a bear! So we set up our tents in the forest underneath a no camping sign, knowing that we could justify our choice should a ranger happen upon us. We woke the next morning to continue our hike to the top of Dix Mountain. The weather was rainy and the hike challenging but super fun! We bid adieu to our friends at the summit, as they continued onwards for 4 more peaks as training for their upcoming adventure to Mount Rainier.

We spent the night at a trailhead near Lake Placid for the first big test of our platform since Antoine completed it. We found the platform to be quiet during the drive, and sturdy through the night, with no cracking or squeaking sounds coming from the wood. We also tested out my first curtain which crosses the front of the car and blocks our sleeping space from the front. I’d consider this curtain a success, but we were less lucky with our screens. I had only managed to make two screens in time for the trip and based on a Youtube recommendation, I’d decided to use small magnets to hold the screens up around the window frame. Let’s just say iteration #1 of the screens was not a success. The magnets were not dependable, and because of the forecast of rain we could not open the windows very much. It was also a humid night, so we decided to open the front windows as well. Rookie move! Without screens, we were inundated with mosquitos who woke us up periodically through the night with their buzzing. In the moment we thought there was only one or two that had made their way into the car, but the next morning we discovered we had underestimated them. Better, more reliable screens became our next big priority!

We decided velcro would be a more dependable, permanent solution to our screen dilemma. I went about ordering three kinds of velcro to use for both screens and windows: velcro tape (around the window), velcro tape for fabric (screens), and sewable velcro (curtains). The velcro arrived just in time for pilot test #2: Pinery Provincial Park. We decided to make a 1 night stopover at the park on our way to visit Antoine’s brother in London. First of all, I can’t believe I’d never visited this park while attending Western University. It’s gorgeous, and less than an hour away!!! Thick Carolinian forests and Savannah Oaks reminded us of our recent trip to South Carolina, and we were impressed by the sand dunes and sunset over Lake Huron.

 

We also had a chance to finally set up our Napier tent extension for the Subaru! What a luxury this is! It makes the space in the back of the car feel much larger and more open. It also makes getting into and out of the car easier, and provides better airflow throughout. It almost feels like we have our own camper trailer when we have this thing set up, and we suspect it might be a shared reprieve from the mosquitos when we head up to the Yukon.

But it hasn’t been all about prep! We also got to spend the first week of July with Antoine’s family, touring Ottawa and later London. Vegetarian meals  were served a plenty throughout the week, and we were so happy to see his parents and brother’s family. If you’re looking for great vegan recipes to try with friends and family, check out Grillable Veggie Burgers, Cauliflower Mushroom Tacos and  Greek Power Bowls (sans feta). We really enjoyed these recipes last week and are left wishing that our families were at least 6 hours closer to us so these visits could be more frequent!!

And speaking of family, my Uncle Craig recently visited the Yukon and collected a whole bunch of literature and maps for us along the way. It just arrived in the mail this week and we are SO excited!!! I had been meaning to print off some of the maps, but these are full colour books, maps, travel planning guides, campground and hiking trail guidebooks and more. I can’t thank him enough for thinking of us.

That’s all for now folks! We’re sticking around Ottawa this weekend to continue our preparations. Sue recently had new tires and rims installed; so this weekend we will tackle the mud flaps and  storage basket installations! Final work also has to be done on the platform to secure it to the car, and I’m hoping to start the side window curtains and do some dehydrating meal prep for the trip. Last but not least, I’m looking to buy some storage containers for underneath the platform so we can do a test packing session in the near future. Let’s hope these preparations make the last week before we depart a little bit less crazy?

Thanks for following along on our journey!

Liz & Antoine

It’s officially summer!

Summer has arrived, and with it comes sunshine, outdoor activities and a million reasons to put off the to-do list. Our weekends are filling up, and the countdown on our site is making me a little anxious… All kinds of preparations to finish up, and only 43 days left until our trip to the Yukon!!! Here’s a little photographic taste of our to-do list this month:

Antoine finished up the car platform project, and we now begin the testing phase. This was iteration #1!

 

I’m learning to sew and creating privacy curtains and screens for car camping

 


I’m researching camping meals and dehydrating foods in preparation for 5 weeks on the road

 

And we’re tracking down the last items we need to get Sue ready for the trip! New all terrain tires, rims and mud flaps were purchased this week!

And in the midst of all this, we’re still trying to have fun too! It is summer, after all 😉

 

The past two weekends were spent paddling on lakes near Ottawa. We visited Lac La Pêche in Gatineau Park for our first canoe trip of the season, where we scoped out some of the camping sites on the lake for future use.  We were really thankful to be on the water with a breeze, though, as the black flies were horrendous! We have never strapped the canoe to Sue so quickly.

 

Last weekend we visited White Lake to the west of Ottawa. We decided we didn’t want to spend $15 to put our canoe in at a boat launch, so we scoped out some crown land and launched from a marsh! Antoine and I celebrated our 4 year anniversary on the lake, and followed it up with craft beers and delicious foods at the Cheshire Cat Pub in Carp.

 

That’s it for now folks – this is officially the shortest blog post I’ve written! Hoping to have more detailed posts on the platform and curtain projects in the near future. It’s all hinging on Mother Nature. When the sun is shining, we just want to be outside 🙂 This weekend we are off to the Adirondacks for some hiking with friends. The weather forecast doesn’t look promising, but we’ll be warm and dry on Saturday in our car when we test the platform for the first time. Wish us luck!!

 

Liz & Antoine

 

Canada’s West Coast by Car: Vancouver Island (Part 1)

As we patiently await the arrival of summer in Canada, I thought I’d write a throwback post about the first big road trip Antoine and I took together.  Essentially this is where it all began! The trip confirmed our shared love of long drives, camping, and outdoor adventures. After this vacation, I truly knew I’d found my perfect travel partner! I’m so excited to finally share some of the many photos we took on this trip. It turns out there are so many stories to tell that I’ve had to split the post into two. Part 1 covers the planning phase of the trip including our handy itinerary and budget as well as our first week in BC where we adventured the coasts of Vancouver Island. Read on to find out how the trip came together and what we got up to on our first week in BC!

 

Planning
In 2016, Antoine was working full-time for the government and I was in between contracts as I patiently waited for an official offer from the same department (oh the life of a newly graduated librarian!). Our employer allows us to book chunks of time unpaid through a program called leave-with-income (LIA) averaging. They allow you to take anywhere from three to twelve weeks off, and the total number of weeks is subtracted from your pay over the course of a year, allowing you to continue to be paid while away from the office. As it was his first time taking advantage of the program, he booked the minimum three weeks in late May and early June 2016. He initially began planning a trip to Canada’s East Coast that would go something like this: New Brunswick (his home province) –> Cape Breton, Nova Scotia –ferry-> Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland –ferry->  Labrador –> Labrador Hwy –> Quebec City. It sounded amazing, but with further research he realized that many of the best hiking trails in Gros Morne were not open until late June / July, and his vacation was scheduled for early June. It just wasn’t the ideal time of year for that trip, and so he set his sights upon the West Coast. (Don’t worry – we definitely plan to pick that plan back up in the future… Summer 2019 perhaps?)

 

By this time, it was confirmed that my new position wouldn’t start until sometime in July so I fully committed to joining him on the trip. I have family on Vancouver Island and Pemberton BC, so this defined some key stops for our road trip. My family helped to advise us when planning our route, and we also relied heavily on online research, with blogs such as Banff and Beyond and Icefields Parkway informing our list of potential stops. We were careful not to over plan our trip though, and this was something that contributed to the success of the trip. No destination was considered a “must-see”; we planned our driving route and most of our campground stops, but when it came to what to do each day we left room to see how we felt, how the weather was, etc. – planning our hikes and stops on a whim. A lot of the “must-see” stops on the West Coast are very busy – with busloads of tourists visiting these main attractions. Antoine and I discovered that we both love getting off the beaten track, and most of the highlights of our trip were not the places we read about online.

 

Our road trip route

 

For those planning trips to Canada’s West Coast, here’s the route we took over two weeks. We kept track of our driving itinerary, expenses, and accommodations in this Google Sheet which you’re welcome to draw on when planning your own trips. The longest drive we scheduled was 7 hours, and most of our travel times were quite short to maximize time at our destinations.

 

We landed late in Vancouver on May 28th, and spent our first night at the Cambie Lodge Bed and Breakfast. We booked through Expedia, and found the price to be reasonable with a nice breakfast offered in the morning. It was centrally located for our purposes and we were able to walk to our car rental pickup downtown. We rented our car with Hertz, as they waive the fee for extra drivers under 25 for CAA members. We were given our choice of car upon arrival, and we chose a silver Toyota Corolla as we knew she’d be reliable and easy to drive. After circling back to pickup our bags from the bed and breakfast, we hopped on the Sea to Sky highway to catch the ferry to Nanaimo.

 

Telegraph Cove and Cape Scott – North Vancouver Island
Our first official stop of the trip was Telegraph Cove, a hideaway on the Northeast coast of Vancouver Island. We were visiting my cousin Derek who worked for many years as a grizzly bear naturalist for Tide Rip Grizzly Bear Tours. We spent three nights visiting with him, and he graciously hosted us in one of the staff trailers in the campground. This was my second visit to Telegraph Cove, and I was excited for Antoine to see the beauty of north Vancouver Island. We enjoyed fresh caught seafood and grilled vegetables for dinner the first evening, and afterwards Derek took us on a sunset hike with a couple of ciders to keep us company. The next day was set aside for more rugged adventures, so we parked the Corolla and set off in Derek’s newly acquired Toyota Forerunner. The 4×4 was helpful as we tackled a road used mainly by logging trucks to reach Cape Scott Provincial Park. A short 2.5km hike led us to San Josef Bay where we picnicked and searched the tidal pools while Derek took a quick afternoon siesta. We were completely charmed by the Vancouver Island coastline, and would love to go back one day to tackle the North Coast Trail.

 

On our second full day in Telegraph Cove we were fortunate enough to join Derek on a grizzly bear tour to Knight Inlet. Tour guests travel by boat  to view grizzly bears in their natural habitat in the Glendale Cove estuary. May to early July is”low season” for Tide Rip, but it is mating season for the bears so there are often fascinating sightings to be had at this time. We were fortunate to see a number of grizzly bears and their yearly cubs during our visit. We also saw whales, porpoises and black bears when boating to and from Glendale Cove, making this an unforgettable experience. Derek lent me his telephoto camera lens, and this allowed me to capture far better photos than the last time I’d visited Knight Inlet. Full disclosure: Derek set everything up for me so this is not a testament to my photography skills. We returned to Telegraph Cove that night for a final bonfire and farewell. This was an incredible start to our trip, and we could have happily spent our entire trip adventuring in this area.

 

 

Tofino – Pacific Rim National Park 
After three days in Telegraph Cove, we set off for Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast. We booked a campsite at Pacific Rim National Park in advance of our stay, and were looking forward to touring the surfer town of Tofino. We stopped for lunch at Coombs Old Country Market en route, where we ate lunch with a couple of goats on the roof (no joke!). This is a fun little stop in Coombs, B.C. and we enjoyed sun on the patio during lunch. Little did we know that it would be the last of the sun we would see that day… The drive across the remainder of the island was full of twists and turns, and Antoine was left dreaming of a repeat trip on his motorcycle.  A rain suit and waterproof boots would be a must have for that trip, as it seems that the rain never ends in Tofino. We arrived to Pacific Rim National Park amid a torrential downpour. We decided not to unpack the tent upon check in and continued on to Tofino, hoping the rain would dissipate soon.

 

We stopped in to sample some local craft beer at Tofino Brewing Co., enjoying them so much that we grabbed a few growlers to go. We did a quick tour around Tofino, but the rain persisted and made adventuring on foot less than appealing. Despite the weather we stopped to witness some brave souls surfing at the aptly named Long Beach. This is the largest and longest beach in the Pacific Rim National Park preserve; its dependable surf makes it one of the most popular surfing destinations in B.C. Unfortunately the rain continued. We arrived back at our campsite campsite around 7pm and set up our tent in the rain, deeply regretting our lack of tarp. Antoine used his rain poncho to set up a small vestibule for the tent, and I hovered underneath to cook us a quick dinner of KD and hotdogs. There was no time for fancy in this weather! Antoine kept busy digging ditches around the tent, with our now empty growler doubling as a shovel as we attempted to stave off flooding. This technique worked to keep the puddles away, but alas it was not a restful sleep. The thick, lush rainforest surrounding the campsites makes this campground an excellent stop – but please be prepared for rain, unlike us!

 

Those travelling in RVs and camper vans slept much more comfortably that evening. We loaded our sopping tent into the back of the car, happy to know we would soon be with family and able to dry our gear. Our only planned stop for the day was Cathedral Grove, which is not to be missed if you’re travelling to Tofino. I first visited the park in 2007 when travelling with my family. My Dad is a forester so this stop was no surprise, but my haughty teenage self could not believe we were getting out of the car, in the rain, to visit a bunch of old trees. With a few more years under my belt, I now walked again amongst the ancient Douglas firs and truly appreciated their beauty. Some of these trees are over 800 years old! After our leisurely stroll through the old growth forest, we spent a final evening on the Island in Victoria, where we met up with former work friends for dinner by the quay. I had spent a full week in Victoria for a workshop / conference in 2014, and really love the charm of this city! We could have spent more time here, but we wanted to maximize our time in the great outdoors and so we hit the road early the next morning to catch the ferry back to the mainland.

 

Ok folks, that’s it for Part 1! Thanks for reading along. The post was getting quite lengthy, so it had to become a two part series. The second post will cover the final leg of our trip through the Rockies, including stops in Whistler and Pemberton, Mount Robson and the Berg Lake trail, Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, Banff, Lake Louise and Kelowna. Here’s a couple more photos to tide you over until the next post! 😉 As always, we’d love to hear your feedback, questions or comments.

 

 

Liz & Antoine

Kayak camping in the Florida Everglades

As we settle in to the beach house in South Carolina, I thought I’d share a throwback post to our last trip down south. In April 2017, Antoine was sent to Miami for work training. We decided to take advantage of his flights and accommodation and made a vacation of it, extending the trip for an extra week to soak up the sun. We were looking to be thrifty with our spending as it was a last minute trip, so inexpensive accommodations and excursions were a must. I was dismayed to find that most camping accommodations in the Florida Keys were booked solid in late April, so we expanded our search towards the Gulf. I found campgrounds in the Everglades were far more available at this time of year (likely due to the mosquitos?!), but I was intrigued when I happened upon the Everglades Wilderness Waterway route through Everglades National Park. This 99 mile route connects Flamingo and Everglades City, and takes 8 days to complete by paddle. We did not have the luxury of 8 days to complete the full route, nor did I feel that we were experienced enough paddlers to tackle the whole thing. We decided to start with two nights in the park by kayak, with a launch point from Everglades City.

 

When preparing for our trip, we relied heavily on an article from the Everglades Diary titled Northern Wilderness Waterway Campsites. Unfortunately it looks like that article is now defunct, but I store all of my research for trips in Evernote (more on this in a later blog post 😉), so I have a copy of it should you be interested! Just leave us a comment below. The article was filled with photos and generous details regarding each of the campsites on the northern section of the Everglades Wilderness Waterway route, and this enabled us to be more informed when planning our route and booking campsites at the Ranger Station at Everglades City. Wilderness permits are required for backcountry campsites along the waterway, but we luckily arrived on the first day of the ‘summer season’ (May to mid-November) when there is no charge for permits. This is because “insects are so severe during summer months that wilderness use is minimal.” After reading that tidbit in the handbook, I’ll admit I started to question our plans, but the tandem kayak was already booked and there was no turning back…

 

The 7.13 mile paddle to Picnic Key

This was our first kayak camping trip, so we relied on advice from the rangers at Everglades City when deciding upon our campsites and route. We chose Picnic Key for our first night, which was a 7 mile paddle from the Ranger Station. On our first day, we found that we easily managed 7 miles per day by kayak in good conditions. In hindsight, if we had extended our journey beyond 7 miles, we might have made it to more secluded campsites farther away from Everglades City. Oh well – lesson learned for next time! We planned our departure with the outgoing tide based on research recommendations, so the paddle to Picnic Key went by fairly quickly. We were protected from winds off the Gulf by the mangroves, and navigated well with our waterproof nautical map. We were lucky enough to encounter a dolphin in one secluded mangrove bay en route to our campsite, and this remained a highlight of our paddle.

Dolphin sighting in the mangroves

 

Overall, we loved our stay at Picnic Key. We had the beach to ourselves during the day, but were joined later in the evening by a couple on paddle boards. They kept to themselves at the opposite end of the long beach, and the breeze helped to keep us cool during the night. The evening took a turn for the worse as we were prepping dinner though, as the no-see-ums came out to play. My bug net jacket and face protector were a life saver, but Antoine was not so fortunate. We were forced to eat dinner in our tent, only emerging late in the evening when the wind picked up and provided us with a short reprieve. Mosquitos, on the other hand, were not as bad as expected! Many reviews of Everglades kayaking at this time of year said the bugs were unbearable, but with the exception of no-see-ums for an hour or two on our first night, we were not incredibly bothered by them.

Picnic Key campsite

 

Racoons are another, albeit cuter, nuisance on the Everglade keys. The rangers were quick to warn us that these critters would be after not only our food but our water, as they do not have ready sources of fresh water on the islands and must subsist off rainwater to survive. We stored our food and water in the deck hatches of the kayak, and the raccoons were not able to open the latches. We heard them visiting in the night to try valiantly, but alas the kayak won! I must say, it is far less startling to wake in the night and know the sounds are attributed to a little key racoon rather than a bear.

 

5.17 mile route from Picnic Key to Jewel Key

 

The next morning, we slept late and enjoyed breakfast on the beach. Weather was spectacular for our entire excursion, with temperatures in the mid-20s and light winds. We departed for Jewel Key mid-morning, and only experienced swell on a few open sections on the Gulf en route. One of the sections we crossed between Picnic and Jewel Keys is known for dolphin and manatee sightings; there were a number of tour boats out during our crossing. We did not encounter either on this leg of the paddle though; I’m still waiting to see my first manatee! We landed on the Gulf side of Jewel Key and carried our kayak across the small peninsula to allow us to easily depart in the morning. We were the first campers to arrive that day, so we were able to choose an ideal spot for our tent with a cross breeze off the ocean.

 

Jewel Key campsite

 

We built a bench out of drift wood and created a fire pit, settling in for the evening. There were two other couples who set up on the beach some ways away, and a family of four arrived late in the evening. It is wonderful to see families getting out and enjoying the wilderness, but it is important to be prepared when you are far from regular amenities. We watched the family struggle to set up their 8 person tent in the strong winds off the Gulf coast, and later contributed our fire and food to the kids. The evening was a good reminder of the importance of packing appropriate gear and sufficient supplies when embarking on a trip. We’ve included a short pack list that we put together for our trip, in case it should help you prepare for similar adventures 😃

 

4.93 mile return to Everglade City

 

We enjoyed our kayak trip in the Everglades so much that we returned to Ottawa and quickly began scheming our next paddle adventure. Within 2 weeks of arriving back home, we had purchased a canoe and planned our first canoe camping trip for May long weekend. But that is a story for another time.. 😃

 

Our first canoe in May 2017 – a far cry from Florida

 

Until next time!!

 

Liz & Antoine

 

Ps. half of this blog was written in the car en route to South Carolina!! Photos and stories coming your way soon…

 

Kayak Pack List:
  • Waterproof nautical map – purchased in Everglade City
  • Whistles
  • 50 L dry backpacks from MEC (similar to https://www.mec.ca/en/product/5051-304/Slogg-70-Dry-Pack – ours seem to no longer be available)
  • Sunscreen (high SPF)
  • Tent with no-see-um netting
  • DEET Bug spray
  • Bug nets
  • Rain jackets
  • Wide brimmed hats
  • Cooking gear, fuel and non-perishable foods
  • Fire starting material and lighter
  • Water – 1 gallon per person per day
  • Wine 😉

 

What we wish we had:
  • Avon Skin So Soft – a local later informed us that it keeps the no-see-ums at bay! 

 

Helpful Sources

Our blog mascot – Sue the Subaru

When we talked about starting a blog, we knew we needed to come up with some kind of theme. We wanted to share our trips and research, but also wanted the chance to document our plans and projects. To bring these topics together, we realized we needed a mascot. It had to be something that was front and centre during our research, planning and projects this past year, and who would be a main feature of the adventures to come… That mascot had to be Sue, our Subaru Outback!

We purchased Sue this past August, and have already travelled over 18,000km in just 9 months. Those kms are not the result of any big road trips, nor from a daily commute to work as we carpool (thanks Manny!!) There are many more kms to come in 2018, with a convoy roadtrip to South Carolina this April, a wedding in May out East and our epic adventure to the Yukon in August. So what led us to Sue, and why does our car make us so excited for these upcoming adventures?

Cora the Corolla – the day we bought our canoe!

My family are loyal Toyota owners, with a Rav, Sienna and Tacoma lining the driveway back home. I followed suit and purchased a Toyota Corolla, truly thinking we would own her for many years to come. Cora the Corolla was incredibly reliable and fun to drive, and she never let me down in the two years I owned her. But we learned a few things about ourselves during those two years. Our biggest realization is that we are happiest when we are outside. Cora tried her best to be the car we needed her to be – we even bought our canoe to match her! But we also experienced the drawbacks of a car when camping, like that time we were stuck in a monsoon in Tofino, British Columbia.

Note the trench we dug the night before to channel the rain from our tent…

I remember looking enviously at the families driving by our waterlogged tent, staying warm and dry evening in their RVs, camper vans and trucks. If only we could hop in the back of our car and sleep in the comfort of our vehicle! We learn a lesson every trip, and after B.C. we began to seriously think we needed to buy a camper van. It didn’t help that we were regularly watching YouTube series on van life (shoutout to our favourite former van dweller – Finding Simon!), fantasizing about how fun it might be to sell it all and live life on the road.

 But then we realized we couldn’t fit two vehicles in our tiny townhome driveway. How might we combine the luxuries of camping in a van, with the reality of getting around Ottawa in a car? Our next best option was a truck with a camper! Our Uncle arrived at our family camp in summer 2017 with a very nice setup, and we thought a Toyota Tacoma and a light truck bed camper might just be the compromise we needed. We visited a local Toyota dealer in Ottawa, and were getting really excited about the prospect of truck life!

Sue and Cora together on one last adventure!

But then my Dad had to go and plant the Subaru seed in our minds… He’d done his usual research, looking up consumer reports and reviews, and wanted to let us know that the Subaru Forrester and Outback were top of their class. Might we consider a change of course? One visit to the Subaru dealership in London, and we were convinced. It’s not everyday you can visit a car dealership and ask to lay down in the back of the vehicle. We comfortably stretched our legs, looked up at the sunroof, and we knew it was the perfect compromise. It would get us where we wanted to go off road, and it would make our highway driving safe and smooth.

Our first sleep in the Subaru – September 2017

After buying Sue in August, we could not be happier with our purchase. We’re pleased with the gas mileage of the 2.5 CVT engine, and absolutely adore the all-wheel drive. We wonder how we ever managed winter without her! I was a little nervous to move to a larger vehicle after my Corolla, but found there was no adjustment period as she handles just like a car. Overall, we give her 5 stars out of 5, and are really looking forward to putting her to the test this summer on the backroads. Coming up soon, we’ll start sharing our planning and projects involving Sue as we get ready for summer 2018! Next up, we’ll share research from a past adventure in the Florida Keys and document our road trip to South Carolina with the gang.

Thanks for joining us on this adventure 😃

Liz & Antoine

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