Monday, October 29

Change of Plan

I think I've decided I prefer smaller towns. Cities are too much trouble. I also really enjoyed Moose Jaw, and could have hung out there longer than the few hours I was there, except I'd promised my hitchhiker I'd take him all the way to Winnipeg. He was happy to hang around, but I felt I should get on the road at some point - especially as he'd offered to buy my lunch in the next town! I've had good experiences in small towns, whereas cities mean enforced parking restrictions, navigation problems (you don't really need a map when a town only has 3 streets...) people who get annoyed about you parking outside their house, and way too many choices of everything - you have to decide if this laundromat/auto repair shop/supermarket/whatever is the one you should go to, whereas in small towns, it's probably the only one! And in cities you can't find anything, because you have to know where it is, and you can't just drive up and down all the streets because there are too many of them. So right now I have to wash clothes and I'm thinking I'll get an oil change and tune up somewhere. But I'll wait til I'm not in Winnipeg because here I'd have to do research first. In a small town, I'll just turn up at the first auto parts store or something that I see, and ask where I should go! And then maybe meet some locals and get decent advice and all that sort of thing. People have more time in small towns, I think.

So maybe I'll stay in Canada to go to Montreal, and see the small towns along the rest of the Trans-Canada highway. the big cities of the US feel a little daunting, not to mention dull, at the moment, anyway.

Friday, October 26

Reasons I could live in Winnipeg

  • FTW Collegiate (a monthly present-a-topic gathering)
  • The Bike Dump
  • A small flat city perfect for bike riding, except for the couple of months a year it freezes...
  • Friendly people and an active alternative community
  • Cheap for cost of living
  • A good number of francophones, and a whole French Quarter
  • Pretty sunsets

Of course, there are a few negatives: those months of the year when it gets to -40, for a start. Then the months in summer when it gets to +40 degrees. And I'm told it's really hard to find ESL work here!

Thursday, October 25

T-Shirt Weather

I would just like to point out that I am sitting here, at 5pm, in Winnipeg, in late October, wearing a t-shirt. And with all my van doors and windows open. It's 20 degrees here today. I was getting frostbite* the night before last, and now it's t-shirt weather.

*I didn't really get frostbite, but I did get the impression that I need better gloves. In fact, i need mittens.

Trois timbres, s'il vous plait.

I had my first canadian-french conversation in today. Well, transaction, rather than conversation...

As I've moved east, the percentage of french in the environment has steadily increased. In Vancouver, if you heard french on the street, the people speaking it looked like tourists. In Canmore, I heard bunches of kids loitering around town after school speaking french. In Winnipeg, there is a whole suburb, St. Boniface, that is the French Quarter. And when I crossed the river into St Boniface today, it was quite a noticeable shift. I wasn't there long, but I stopped at the post office to get some stamps, and got to eavesdrop on the previous person's conversation - all in french. So when I stepped up to order my stamps, I did it in french. Now, it was a conversation I think we probably learnt in grade 9 french class, but none the less, it was my first transaction in canada conducted entirely in French. It was very exciting. Really.
And then I went to a bookstore that apparently only sold french books. I got quite excited, but prevented myself from buying anything because a) they cost money, of course, and b) just because it's the first francophone bookstore I've seen here, doesn't mean it will be the last. There is time, and I haven't read all the books I already have here!

Wednesday, October 24


I arrived in Winnipeg early Monday afternoon. I had no idea where I was going - I had an address for my friend, but it wasn't somewhere I could stay, just somewhere I would have to be at some point collect a parcel I had posted from australia. And I had no idea how to get there. So I stopped at a thrift store, just for something to do, and spent $5 on some woolen leggings, an italian espresso pot (I'd looked for one in every thrift store for about 2 months so I was very happy to find one!) and an extra spoon. And asked for a map and directions. Which didn't help much. So then I drove around more or less randomly, sort of looking for net access somewhere, anywhere, and stumbled across a library, which was great, until I discovered that their wifi access had to be paid for by credit card, which is silly. But there were free computer terminals there I could use for free (cos obviously using their computers costs them less than using my own? Go figure.) So I got oriented, and then got a phone call from Ken, one of the people I vaguely know here (thanks to queeruption) who told me about The Bike Dump - a bike collective who happened to have a workshop time that night. This meant I could get my bike fixed! As the offroading I did in Canmore sort of wrecked my dodgy rear axle. So, with guidance, I got to fix my own axle, for free, (and learn how!) as well as meet some interesting people and learn lots about the interesting things in Winnipeg. And they told me how to get to the Walmart, which solved the 'where can I park tonight' problem. Walmart may not be the coolest place in town to hang out, but they let you park overnight unmolested, and have bathrooms. And they sell things I needed like engine oil and an power inverter that will allow me to run my laptop off the Battery of The Beast. Which will be nice!

And then yesterday, Ken and I I went to Mondragon, an anarchist collective cafe and bookstore - every town should have one! - for dinner and ended up chatting all evening there and then at a bar after they closed, to a varied group of interesting characters, one of whom invited me to park in her driveway, which even has a power outlet that allows me to sit here in my van and 'borrow' some wifi...
So, so far, I rather like Winnipeg!

And this is me, right now, in The Beast, sitting in the sun coming in the window, wrapped in the wonderfullest warmest ugliest doona and absorbing all the intermittent internet I can!

Sunday, October 21

From Moose Jaw

So I left Canmore, got to Calgary, spent a total of 2 hours there - partly because I had 2 hours free parking, and partly because that seemed long enough. It's just a city. There's a nice park on an island in the river though, and I spent most of my 2 hours there lying on the grass in the sun. It was so nice in the sun, and the temperature must have reached at least 17 degrees, which is about as warm as I've been in a week or two!
I left Calgary and drove as far as a rest stop near Brooks where I stopped for the night. It was a fun drive - the prairies start at about Calgary, so the mountains vanished and there was a whole lot of nothingness. Gently rolling hills, if you're lucky, and grass and cows and that's about it. It's pretty though, and the sky is very big. There were lots of real Canadian experiences to be had on the way: as I was leaving the mountains there was a whole herd of Elk or something grazing on the side of the road. And there are regularly signs to say watch out for Elk, Deer or Antelope on the road. I haven't seen a moose yet though. I did have to dodge some tumbleweed on one stretch of highway - yes! real-life tumbleweed! I'd never seen it in real life before. Parked at the rest stop there was very little to shelter my van from the wind, which was fierce for most of the night, and brought the sound of what I'm told were Coyotes howling in the night, which was pretty amazing.
And the temperature was a few degrees below zero when I woke up in the morning, which was less amazing, as my van is unheated (except when the engine's running). I refilled my hot water bottle and decided to spend a few more hours under my slightly inadequate sleeping bag. And determined to buy more bedding at the next thrift store I found.
I was in Medicine Hat soon after lunch, and found a Salvation Army store that sold me the world's ugliest floral-and-frills doona for a huge $3. It's damn ugly, but incredibly warm, and queen sized, so I thing I will never be cold at night again. Certainly I was a lot warmer last night - too warm, in fact! I'll have to pack up my sleeping bag, I think!
Leaving Medicine Hat I also picked up another Quebecois hitchhiker and his great big (and well-behaved) dog, who are planning to stay with me til Winnipeg. He even gave me some money for gas, which is really nice! I felt a bit sorry for him sleeping outside last night, but it's not like my van was much warmer!

I'm now in Moose Jaw, which is just a wonderful name for a town, even in this area. Nothing was open, so we found this cafe and I've spent an hour and a half doing internet. It's probably time to go explore now! Al Capone lived here, so there's some kitsch tourist things to do/see!

Winnipeg next...

Friday, October 19

New photos on Flickr

And now Canmore

So I left Hope, drove and drove and drove until late that night, and got to Salmon Arm. (Yes, they have interesting names of towns around here.) I stayed a night in a carpark of a 'beach' on a lake and then set off early the next morning in the pouring rain for Canmore. My friend - and QUT lecturer - Debra moved to Canmore on Monday, so I've been here crashing at the hotel suite she's rented for the first few months here until she finds a permanent place. It's very swish. At least by my standards, and staying in a comfy bed with heating is rather nice given that the temps outside are getting a little negative at night. And it's snowing up in the mountains. I can sit here in the living room and watch it!
In the first town outside Salmon Arm, I picked up a couple of Quebecois hitchhikers - and their small kitten, whose name was, strangely enough, Hope. I quickly discovered that I'm going to have some major problems in Quebec understanding the local lingo. I really thought I spoke french, but these guys were rather hard to understand, and we switched to english, when they spoke, which wasn't that often, as they both pretty much fell asleep.
We'd been going an hour or two when we got to Revelstoke, where I had planned to stop and get gas, until I saw the prices - 20 cents more than the last place - but my van was rather insistent. In fact, 1 minute up the road past Revelstoke and my music started cutting out again. And then m indicators didn't work when I went to turn around. I though (again) 'Uh-Oh' and droke back to find the nearest repair shop. Turns out the cable to my battery from the alternator was broken. The part was delivered from the shop up the road in 10 minutes or so, but it turned out to be the wrong part, so we waited about an hour until the right one was delivered, installed and we could get back on the road. At least it gave me time to make breakfast. And it only cost $20, which was a little better than the$150 I spent on alternator and belts the previous day!

The rest of the day was uneventful. I dropped the hitchhikers and their kitten off in Banff, and finally got to Canmore, only a day and a half after I said I would.
Canmore has been lovely - it's surrounded by mountains (rocky ones, surprisingly enough) and the town has walking paths and tracks all through it, which I explored yesterday on my bike. Yes, I actually went mountain biking! Well, sort of. It was mostly dirt and gravel tracks, but it was definitely off road. I had joked that bits would probably fall off my bike if I took it offroad, so I tightened the loose bolts before I went. But a bit still did fall off, just as I was back in town after all my offroading. The back wheel. It didn't completely fall off, but it fell out of place and became unrideable. Turns out I need a new axle. It's sort of patched up for the moment, but I have to be careful with it - no offroading! and I'll look for a new axle or wheel in Calgary and Winnipeg - the didn't have the right one in either of the shops here.

Tomorrow I'm off to Calgary for the day, then I'll continue along the Trans-Can: Following the Only Road!

Monday, October 15


I'm in Hope. It's a tiny town about 180km from vancouver.
Yep. Day one, and I made it 180km. Not the 500 odd km I planned to go. When my music started switching on and off I wondered if my battery had given up. When my indicators failed to work, I thought 'oh dear'. One look at the first repair place I found (on a Sunday afternoon in a small town!) and he said 'go buy an alternator up the road there, and I'll put it in'.
Much adventure later - about which I will write when I'm not paying 10c a minute for internet, and I have a new alternator and have spent nearly 24 hours in this lovely town, being entertained and significantly assisted by a couple of nice locals.

Now... Back on the road.

And to Ryan, who drove me to get the new alternator from the next town and then solved all the problems required to replace it, and to whom I gave this blog address, but whose contact I completely failed to get: Thanks for everything! And send me an email sometime :)

EDIT: Here's a pic of my mechanics in shining armour, just for proof. It ended up being the only one I took of them!

Sunday, October 14

Leaving Vancouver Today

Today The Beast and I are setting off towards the Rocky Mountains, and then Canmore, and then, eventually, Montreal. It's only 4000km...
And Vancouver has decided to give me a fantastic sunny day to leave. More of these days in the last 3 weeks, and I might not have ever left! But as it is, I'm glad to be finally back on the road again - almost. I'd better go continue packing up!

Friday, October 12

From the Belly of the Beast

Yes, that's right, this is my very first post written from the relative comfort of my own bed inside The Beast. I know I've written lots of posts since I bought my van, but I haven't been able to use my computer inside until this week, when I connected to AC power for the first time. Despite the mental images I had before I plugged in the cord, the van didn't start glowing blue or become completely electrified (it was a completely untested system!) but everything worked fine and I can now run my electric space heater, which makes a BIG difference to the comfort levels, and my laptop, which I will get around to buying a new battery for one day, I promise.
Of course I'm also indebted to the crazyfool who is 'letting' me use his/her unsecured wifi connection. I don't mean to be rude calling the person a crazyfool - it's actually the name of the connection...
So while I'm here, briefly, I'm still in Vancouver, still working, at least until tomorrow, and it's still raining, mostly, although it's supposed to not quite rain for the next few days. Which is nice, because I'm leaving here on Sunday, and once I'm on the other side of the rockies, it shouldn't rain so much. So hopefully I won't have to swim around my van again. (I should point out that my van doesn't leak, but when the humidity is 100%, and you have no heating, it gets pretty damp. And the condensation here is phenomenal!)
More posts sometime soon, when I can drag myself away from *finally* watching series 6 of scrubs... Ah, I like AC power sometimes...