So as many will know, we took off for a West Coast camping trip this week. We have been planning this trip since early 2020 and had to skip it last year due to the uncertainties around the COVID-19 pandemic. We had booked over 60 days of camping last year and had to cancel it all.
This year we booked our entire itinerary early with almost everyone certain that things should be back “mostly opened up” by May if we just “listen to the experts just a little longer”. At the beginning of the pandemic, authorities were mostly worried about international travel (and not inter provincial travel) as well as making sure we “flatten the curve”. A year later, we have moved the goal posts so many times that I have no idea what we are aiming for anymore.
Love us or hate us but we took off and escaped Ontario and we didn't look back. I've stated this many times before but I very much disagree with the current public health guidelines and measures. Many governments have tried different strategies but the ones currently being used in Canada (and more specifically in Ontario), in my opinion, are unrealistic, draconian and likely worsening the problems of the pandemic.
Although we don’t agree with the rules and guidelines, we are not planning on breaking any laws during this trip and plan to abide by all local public health guidelines within reason.
I plan on posting regularly about our trip. Some of our posts may be long and you might want to skip. I am making these posts because I want to document our adventure and want to encourage others to start living a more “normal life” without fear.
Days 1-5: Leaving Ontario/Manitoba and travelling back in time to when camping was legal and fully open
All three kids were up early on our first day as they were excited about leaving so we hit the road at 6:30AM. When crossing Ontario, we didn't have any campsites booked as they had all been deemed illegal COVID super spreader locations. We used a few different websites and apps to help us find camping options.
For our first night, we used the iOverlander app which is a community based program whereas users post about spots they have been able to boondock (stay overnight without services). These are mostly parking lots that allow overnight camping (i.e. Walmarts, truck stops) and picnic/rest stop areas on the highway that don't prohibit overnight stays. We identified three potential spots that we could stop depending how long we wanted to drive on day 1. We ended up making it to our furthest spot, which was the public beach in Wawa, ON. Along the way we stopped at two great trails (at the Serpent River Picnic area in Serpent River, ON and at the Chippewa River rest stop about 30 minutes past Sault Ste Marie, ON).
The beach in Wawa was a great spot. Although the parking lot is essentially right on the road, there was very little traffic. There was also a playground for the kids to play at. This was the perfect spot for our first boondocking adventure.
On day two, we followed the largest freshwater lake in the world all the way to Thunder Bay. It was raining most of the morning so we didn't stop other than at a truck stop for gas and to make lunch.
For our second night, we used the website Boondockers Welcome to find our camping spot. This website community costs $50 to join (only $25 if you offer up your own location as a host) and gives you access to thousands of hosts who will let you camp on their property for the night. To participate in this community, you must be in a fully enclosed vehicle (i.e. RV, Van, Bus etc.) and have access to your own services.
We found a great spot 30 minutes past Thunder Bay. Our host had a huge property with a few ponds, rivers and many trails. He offered us a nice spot overlooking the water and allowed us to hike his trails and welcomed the kids to roam the property. We will likely stay at this spot again on our way back.
By the end of day 2 we had driven over 12 hours and over 1000km. Even though we spent a good portion of the first two days driving, the kids' fitbit showed they still got over 10,000 steps each day.
The Time We Drove 11.5 Hours in One Day
Day 3 started early once again. We thanked our host and were driving by 7AM. Our goal on day 3 was to have a short driving day to Kenora, ON and then cross Manitoba on day 4. Manitoba currently doesn't allow residents from other provinces to camp. They do not stop people from crossing, however to avoid having to quarantine for 14 days, you cannot stop anywhere other than to get food and gas. Like I said, we don't agree with many of the rules and guidelines but we do not want to break any laws. Our only legal way to get to Saskatchewan was to cross Manitoba (approximately a 6 hour drive) in one day. We didn’t originally anticipate taking on this crossing after having already driven nearly 6 hours.
Three factors led us to take on an 11.5 hour driving day with three kids.
1. We made it to Kenora at 12PM but then realized we had crossed into the central time zone and it was actually only 11AM. We further realized that Saskatchewan was on Mountain time, which meant it was only 10AM there. Meaning we could make it to the nearest campground in Saskatchewan by dinner time.
2. The forecast was calling for rain in Kenora for the rest of the day, which meant we would be cooped up in the RV for the rest of the day regardless of where we decided to camp.
3. The kids were getting a little annoyed from driving every day, so we made a deal with them. We told them that if we chose to drive all afternoon we wouldn't have to drive the next day and they could play at a playground and beach all day tomorrow. We further bribed them with a $4 bag of Oreo popcorn I found at the gas station (yes it exists) as well as a promise to pick up McDonald's happy meals while crossing Manitoba.
The most exciting part of the day was crossing the Ontario-Manitoba border after witnessing the huge OPP detachment stopping all incoming traffic. This might sound overdramatic but they kind of looked like “the guardians” in The Handmaid's Tale. Who would've ever imagined we would have checkpoints at provincial borders a year after they told us we needed “two weeks to flatten the curve”. Anyways, back to the trip. I definitely felt a huge sense of relief and joy to leave my own province. We cranked up the radio and had a mini party in the motorhome.
The day went surprisingly smooth. It really helps that we are driving in a motorhome. The kids have so many toys and activities they can play with at the table and one adult is always getting them everything they need. We also have access to a washroom that allows us to never leave the vehicle while driving long distances. Also, Danielle and I have been splitting the driving so we each get a turn being the pilot and then the flight attendant. It probably won't surprise you to hear that being the pilot is a much easier job.
We arrived in Brandon, MB at a perfectly placed McDonalds right on the trans-Canada highway at 5PM Eastern time (3PM Mountain time). The kids were super excited to have anything they wanted. Mia chose pancakes and Quinn got to enjoy her first happy meal all to herself. Then they all put on their PJs, brushed their teeth while we cleaned all our dishes of the day. We then drove our last 1.5 hours to our destination.
When we arrived at a real, live, legal campground, we were so excited that we let the kids go play at the playground past their bedtime and in their pyjamas. We went to bed early (by Mountain time standards) and started the next day at 5AM to an amazing day and the start of our real vacation.
We spent our first few days in Saskatchewan at a regional park (Saskatchewan equivalent to a provincial park). The park was nearly empty because it is May and the weather is still pretty cold. Unlike the provincial parks in Ontario, this provincial park had fully opened showers (no mask requirement in the showers) and all the playgrounds (4 of them) were open. Even though it was only 5 degrees celsius and cloudy for most of our first day here, the kids spent almost the entire day outside going from one playground to the next. The campground also had a beautiful beach, many docks to fish from and lots of trails that we explored with our bikes.
Today we leave this campground and head south west to another provincial park for a couple more nights on route for the highlight of the Saskatchewan leg of our trip, Grasslands National Park. Our next destination is only a 2 hour drive from here so we will still have plenty of time to enjoy the day as we will arrive and be set up before noon. We chose our next destination as it is within biking distance to a Walmart and a laundromat. Tomorrow one of the adults will bike to do our groceries and do our laundry because once we leave here our next two destinations for 8 nights are very remote with virtually no nearby amenities.
To end today’s post I’ll share a few of the interesting things we have learned about our new home:
1. It can hold a lot of water and waste: We went 4 days with the whole family using water and bathrooms for all our needs without needing to empty our waste or fill up on water.
2. The fridge always needs to lock: We learned this the hard way. After our first rest stop on day 1, I grabbed something in the fridge and didn’t close it until it clicked lock. After Danielle pulled onto the highway, the door swung open and half the contents fell out, including the container of chili we had made as our first night's dinner. Luckily we only lost half and had enough for a modest dinner. I learned my lesson when I was on my hands and knees cleaning the huge mess while we kept driving. We were doing good time and weren’t going to stop just to clean up.
3. We love camping in a motorhome and I don’t think we could ever go back to tenting: When we arrive, we have nothing to set up or unpack. We just park and get out. Leaving is just as simple. And on driving days, the kids eat breakfast while we drive. Most mornings we can be gone within 15 minutes of every one waking up.