Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Great American Tour - My Observations

On this trip we covered quite a bit of ground.  We passed through 19 U.S. states and 6 Canadian provinces.  It was a trip of a life time. We had the opportunity to see our Canadian friends who make the trip to Mexico every year.  Now we understand what it means to drive through three countries and we’re not talking about Europe here either.
This is a bit hard to put together because so much time has passed since the beginning.  As I write this the experiences that come to mind right away are the following: 
·         Brantley Lake in New Mexico where I had the great idea to open the screen door on a starry night to find I had let in thousands of swarming bugs.  It was my bright idea to park three feet from the edge of the water. 
·         The kind visitor’s center lady at the Langtry Museum in Langtry, Texas
·         The disappointment of Roswell, NM only to find their incredible art museum
·         Spending time with my big sister Dorothy who I miss all the time and the great food she prepares
·         Tide pooling with my brother Steve and his wonderful wife Michelle
·         Being yelled at by a Pacific Militia man in Winston, Oregon because we’re from Mexico
·         The kindness of border agents in Canada
·         Grasping the idea of why deposits on plastic, metals and glass is so important
·         Canada is a huge country, beautiful, incomparable, and last but not least, very expensive
·         Nova Scotians really know the love of their land (Argh, matey!)
·         Canadians know how to get things done
·         Bears really do eat people
·         There are big things in this world like mountains, mountain slides,  balls of twine, a pinto bean, a moose, a teepee, and waterfalls (Croft’s great-grandfather found that out)
·         Eating lobster
·         Last but not least, I love my new country and can’t imagine living anywhere else
The list could go on but I’ll stop there.  So many images go through my mind and here are a few of them.  This will be a long read so I will understand if you don’t do the whole thing.
A lot of this trip was planned but part of it wasn’t.  We liked that.  We went pretty much where we wanted in between visits and stayed days here and there and even did very short stints.  A couple of days we only made it fifty miles because we stopped to see so many things along the way.   I discovered that my love of history is still as strong as ever and I enjoy going through museums and art galleries.  We found so many things along the way;  antique furniture, machinery, Amish life, the Civil War, Chinese in Canada, Canadian history, well the list goes on.  We could do this all day while we’re on the road.  My only regret but it is easily remedied, was that we didn’t stay long enough in Kansas City to visit the Nelson Art Gallery.  It is a full day adventure and it is surely one of the best museums and art galleries in the world.  I hung out there as a teenager.  I love the smell of museums.
As you know, when we planned our trip we budgeted for it too.  We used $5 a gallon as an average for fuel.  It was pretty much right on.  I still haven’t done the expenses but as you know the big one was fuel.  Mexico fuel prices are climbing too so hang on if you are returning.  I put them, now with the exchange, around $3.65 a gallon.   I hate to say it but we need to find a cheaper mode to rving.  After al l the travel and time together on the road, we think we may want a Roadtrek or a Class B.  We’re good on sharing space, that has never been a problem.  Easy to park, fuel savings, generator ready, solar, looks like a good stealth vehicle.  By that I mean we would have to modify it a bit.  Roadtreks on the non Sprinter chassis look a bit flashy.  We have also given thought to a small 26ft Lazy Daze Class C.   It was always a shock to stop for fuel.  The most expensive we found was in Langley, BC at $5.77 a gallon and the low was in Alberta at $4.48 a gallon.  Chicago was another high spot at $4.20 a gallon.  Once we returned through Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, the prices leveled off and dropped as low as $3.19 a gallon.  As a side note, I think the whole fuel thing is BS.  I say that because I have always heard from people that gas stations only make pennies on the gallon of fuel and depend on their income for sales from convenience stores and oil-based products.  If so, how is it possible that if you get a $10 car wash, they will give you a .50 discount on each gallon.  At thirty gallons, that is a savings of $15 dollars and the sold you the car wash for $10?  Or the big one that bites the bullet; cash discounts up to .15 a gallon.  How does that work when the commission is .35 for accepting a debit card?   It’s a game and if you don’t shop around for gas you deserve to get screwed.  We used GasBuddy in the U.S. and Canada until we got to the point where it didn’t matter because fuel was below $3.25, we thought we were in petrol heaven.
We found that taste changes as you head north, west, east and south, very interesting.  As we approached the coast of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, we were in seafood and fish heaven.  Reasonable and very, very fresh.  Clams, mussels, scallops, salmon, halibut, well you guys probably know more than we do.  Crossing toward the east it gets a bit bland and very fattening.  Entering the east coast it is “lobster time”.   A true highlight of our trip.   I am satisfied for now but will need a refill in the next year I am sure. 
Cities also change.  Small towns in the U.S. are pretty much that, small towns.  They have lost their essence, many are abandoned or run into the ground.  Education is almost non-existent although millions are poured into the system.  It seems that in the U.S. the GED (General Equivalency Diploma) is the way to go.  After that anyone can get a minimum wage job.  Hispanics abound in the areas of West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona but with one caveat.  They are not first generation but many are third or fourth generation.  We met many people along the way whose grandparents came to the U.S. back in the 50s to work in the potato fields for example and have settled in but they still work in the same industries.  Work seems to be abundant as I had reported with fast food joints paying $10 to $12 an hour not to say that that makes a career but for a town of 500 it is much better than digging up potatoes.  No takers for those jobs so it makes me wonder if the welfare system is well-entrenched.  As you head north and to the west, the small towns take on a much different flavor, more white, poor, but with a certain quaintness.   In Canada the picture changes completely.  Small towns do have their issues but they are still operating.  Jobs are supplied by local merchants and government.  Good or bad, it sure made our trip a lot nicer.   We enjoyed our stay in those towns.  It is almost as if they not only survive but thrive as artists, small business owners, and they all have something to offer.
I’ve probably run this into the ground but one thing we noticed all through Canada was a certain pride in ownership.  Maybe it is the short Spring and Summer season that exists but almost every house, business, town, even city seemed to take pride in their yards, homes and gardens.   Very rarely did we see overgrown grass, or weeds around a business.  It looks surreal in a sense.  Many of our friends have flower beds, vegetable gardens and our friends in Ohio have farm animals and veggies which they eat from.  Really something to see.  We used to have a garden that started out as a compost pile and began growing all kinds of vegetables and fruits.   We have more land than ever before and don’t even grow a flower.  Sad isn’t it?  But this trip brought us to many realizations about these things.
As you might remember, I fell into a short spell of homesickness.  This occurred as we headed for Chicago and it was compounded by the fact that we were visiting friends from Mexico that we had known most of our lives that live in the Windy City.  We spoke in Spanish, ate Mexican food, stayed in a Hispanic neighborhood.   I was struck by the bug.  Always looking at the map on our trip to calculate mileage, where we were going and what we could see I was aware of the fact that from Chicago it was a quick four day drive south to Monterrey.   Juan made it quite clear that we would continue the trip as planned and continue our route.   After two days I was back on track.  I’m sure this is a common thing.  Most of it was brought on by leaving an almost 14 year old cat at home albeit supervised, watered and fed, and the fact that the house needed attention.  Leaving it in the hands of someone who really has no stake in our property leaves things open for disrepair and all the details of home ownership.  In fact, now that we are home, some minor things took place that may have been avoided or fixed before they became worse and now a greater expense.  I got over it and enjoyed the rest of the trip.  However, in the future, it would be best if we didn’t have a house.  As many of you know, we talked about our plans to move south to San Miguel de Allende where we would live in an rv until we decided if we really needed a sticks and bricks.
Canada, like many other countries including the U.S. and parts of Mexico know how to take care of Mother Nature.  We road on a ferry to Vancouver Island, crossed the Canadian Rockies, passed through the beautiful rolling hills of Alberta and Saskatchewan, we passed through farmland in the Midwestern states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas. We drove the Okanagan and stayed in the lap of luxury in Kelowna.  Tasted wine in more than few wineries.  We saw the Grand Canyon, hiked parts of it, marveled in its sunsets.  We visited historical sites with historians, people in native dress.  Along the route we met Mexicans from all parts of the county.  Visiting big cities was a great part of the trip too, Chicago, Reno, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa to mention a few.  I think for the money (not speaking literally) we did a good job of seeing what decided were interesting or important to us. We could have stayed five years and still not have seen it all.  It’s like Mexico, no one visits all the states in one winter not that it couldn’t be driven but you wouldn’t see very much although get a good idea of what to see on return.
Rv parks.  What a huge disappointment.  I am discounting Capilano River Rv Park in Vancouver, and staying with our good friends Colin and Contessa at their Holiday Resort.   Those are exceptions and both are well-worth what they charge although in the case of Colin and Contessa, they made arrangements for us which were incredible and the payback difficult to do.  Rv parks are not for us.  Oops, I forgot one,  Winton Woods in Cincinnati which is  a Hamilton County run park, excellent for an in-city park.   The parks we found were dumps pretty much and in all cases we could have found accomodations in nearby hotels for the same price, less, or just a bit more.  One of the shockers was the Skagit Casino which is also a Thousand Trails park.  How do you spell dump, D-U-M-P.  Another was also a casino in Newport, Oregon.  Nice parking lot but why would I pay $38 a night so I could gamble and eat in their casino? 
OTOH, Oregon state parks are amazing but to charge $20 for a night without any serviced not even water is not reasonable.  We are pretty good boondockers but I don’t tolerate 35C temps very well in high humidity.  BLM land and forest service thoughout the western U.S. and Canada is truly a boondocking experience.  Remember Botanie Lake in Lytton, BC?  Now that is boondocking.  Many of the parks we stayed in were well-established and I couldn’t justify the prices.  Of the few parks we stayed in, none of them were ever full by any stretch of the imagination.   We signed up for Passport America and as they say you get your money back with the first few stays.  Very true but we found is that in the Canadian summer PA doesn’t count and in the U.S. there are too many exceptions to even figure it out especially after the first happy hour drink.  Forget it!   Still not a bad deal, but we won’t renew our PA membership.  Home Depot in both countries wins hands down and a shout goes out to Kevin and Ruth for turning us on to the place.  Who can refuse free wifi, security cameras and employees and managers who never refuse and always have a smile.  We still think that Pilot, Flying J, TA and other truck stops could make a good business by offering a parking spot with/withour electric for $10 to $15 a night.  Machine run, just like their dump stations, you put in the money or get a code from the cashier that you enter in the machine and you have power for X number of hours.  The dump works the same.  Once you pay, you enter the code and it electrically allows you to open the drain.   Wifi is available to all at these places.  Once your power runs out, off you go.  Just like Walmarts, rvers always drop a few bucks.  Okay enough of that and just my personal opinion.
Now on to what made the adventure a trip of the lifetime.  You guys!  Everyone was more than generous, kind and provided very well for us.  From the time we stayed with our friend Michelle in Arizona until we said our goodbyes to David and Marina we felt welcomed and part of the great Canadian experience.
The best way to say thank you to all of you is by the following pictures.  In the end, what we discovered is that we have many friends who we love and cherish.  All of you made this trip very special for two guys from Mexico.  We will never forget this trip.  Thanks again so much for seeing us, being great hosts, and showing us all your beautiful places.  We hope to see you in Mexico soon.

Sister Dorothy and BIL Bill, Reno, NV

Norma and Croft, Vancouver Island, BC

SIL Michelle and brother Steve (Boise, ID) Oregon Coast

Teresa, Derek and Cassia Merrit, BC

Contessa and Colin, Kelowna, BC
 Michelle, Phoenix, AA

Sue and Brian, Fountain Hills, AZ

Donna and Leo, Monticello, MN

Fabiola and Enrique, Chicago, IL

Lin, Lori and Charlie, Sally, Christine, Ada, OH (Ohio Northern University)

Mike and Pat, Simcoe, ON

Kevin and Ruth, Cabri, SK

Mark and Jean, Cabri, SK (from Saskatoon, SK)

Marina, David, Sylvia, Frank, Susie, Cam (somewhere), Perth, ON

Mexican Fiesta-Nancy and Terrie, Paula and Jerry, Jill and Andrew, Karin, Kingston, NS

Paula and Jerry,  Aylesford, NS  (argh matey!)
Lindsey and Justin, Nova Scotia (sorry, I forgot the town)

SIL Barb and brother Bob and family, Cincinnati, OH

Maggie and Leyah, Fayetteville, AR

Virgina, Patrick and Nick and brother Phil, Kansas City, MO

Margaret and Francisco, Fayetteville, AR (from Baltimore, MD)

Friends Keith and Sam, San Antonio, TX







  1. So glad you enjoyed Canada. Sorry about the fuel prices. That's one of a few areas where we feel that we're held hostage.
    I was actually a little surprised by your comment about the Border Agents. It's such a hit and miss thing with those folks, and little do they realize that they are a visitor's first impression of Canada. Same goes for the other way around.
    I'm sure you're quite content to get back home though. There's no place like home. (cue Dorothy)

  2. Great recap. I read the whole thing :-)

  3. Great recap! I know all your friends enjoyed seeing you guys at least as much as you enjoyed seeing all of us. It was indeed the trip of a lifetime but with the caveat that you might want to hake smaller return trips sometime in the future as there are things you still have not tried! Maybe a book in the future? ;)

  4. Loved watching your whole trip, you recapped it great. I wish I had been in Moose Jaw a the same time and been able to show you around there, unfortunately I was in rainy Alaska, I blogged my trip also. I took a pleasureway van and it worked well, I am also a boondocker, we only stayed in a paid park for 2 nights in Denali with the pass it cost us $11. I must say a small class B is very easy and can be parked anywhere even at meters. I figured out our mileage we got between 12 & 14 mi per gallon it isn't great mileage. We just completed 14,000. we were gone 2 months. Another thing having a 22ft van was very reasonable on the ferries which we took from Haines AK to Prince Rupert BC beautiful trip.

  5. Man, what a trip! While we also had a wonderful trip to Europe, I think yours was better because of all the wonderful friends and family that were a part of it. We enjoyed the marvelous company of Heinz and Ulli and Pete and Madeleine while in Germany, but you, you guys had fabulous times with fantastic people the whole time. So glad you were able to do that, you are obviously and correctly so, an important part in many peoples lives. Congratulations on a job well done. Love yas.

    1. Thanks Barb, that means a lot. We had a wonderful trip and wish we could just do it all the time. You're right, we have some great friends we have met along our journeys throughout Mexico and the U.S. Rvers are a special group. We've sure had some good times together and I hope we have more. Great things happen once and no matter how hard you try, you can't recreate them. All of the pics I posted in the last post are those moments. Now we're back to Mexico and looking forward to seeing you guys and others this winter as we head to the west coast. SLDS