Time to play with other kids – Smonecten – Days 46-51

Family at picnic table in Smonecten

Months ago, Paigey sat online waiting on the clock for summer camp registration to open up in Sidney. This was the week we were to benefit from those efforts. Five days of kids off on their own at summer camp while we got to enjoy all the Victoria area had to offer. It wasn’t just the kids that were excited. I relished the routine of bedtimes, wake-ups and even packed lunches. Paige was excited about the weather and lunches without crayons or kids’ menus.

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Denman Island (an island just off an island) – Days 44 & 45

Family walking on beach with tide out

One of those places where the journey is better than the destination. That’s Denman Island to me. Paige and I had to fill a couple days before the kids started summer camp near Victoria so we decided on a two-night stay on Denman Island. I didn’t know anything about the place but it had availability and fit into the budget, so we gave it a shot.

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Drive to the Ferry – Days 32-36

Totem Poles erected in a field

So with Kluane in our rearview mirror, we could begin to get excited about the next “WOW” destination of the trip, Vancouver Island. There was only one problem, we were nowhere near Vancouver Island!

First, we needed to backtrack 400km across the Yukon, then we would take a highway down the middle of B.C. and then we would cut back to the coast to the port city of Prince Rupert. It was going to be easy. The little lines on the map connected the cities, we just had to drive the road. The reality is far different. Firstly, not all highways are treated equally. Secondly, this was the first section where we really didn’t have accommodations booked. Thirdly, we were coming off the high of having stayed in one place (the Yukon) for 6 full days. And finally, we had to say goodbye to our Nan who was heading home after a short visit. As they might say on the amazing race, this was a tough leg.

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We made it! – Kluane National Park – Days 29-31

We planned for Kluane National Park to be the furthest point north that we’d venture before turning south. Michael had always dreamed of going to Nahanni in the NWT but when he realized that required a float plane, he decided that Kluane was a little more realistic. We were surprised to find out that my mom also dreamed of seeing the Yukon and its rugged wilderness. She signed up to join us for this leg after flying into Whitehorse to meet us.

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Whitehorse – Airbnb time – Day 26-28

A common question we get is whether we book everything in advance or if we just find places to stay as we go.  It has been a mix of both but when you end up with an Airbnb as good as the one we had in Whitehorse, you come to appreciate the “book early and find the most awesome place”.  We knew that my mom would be joining us for part of the time in Whitehorse so we booked a nicer place than we usually do. Even still, this place far exceeded our expectations.  It was a two-bedroom penthouse condo (3rd floor but that’s high for Whitehorse) with a great kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows.  It was really nice having our own space for 3 nights in a row.  It made us concentrate all the more to book longer stays in one place.

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Bring on the Yukon – Watson Lake – Day 25

Woman posing at Yukon Border Sign

This was the leg that had us worried. It was just under 900km, all of it on the Alaskan Highway. There were huge gaps between stops. How would the kids handle that amount of time in the back of the car? How would we handle it? What was the highway going to be like? All these thoughts were in the back of our minds as we departed Fort St. John early in the morning. The morning walk had to be postponed to hit our 6:30 departure. Anyway, all the worry was for naught. This leg would turn out to be my favourite of the trip and the kids loved it.

The drive was like a northern version of African Lion Safari. We will just dive into the wildlife update as it is longer than normal.

Animals Seen:

Moose feeding in marsh
  • 3 Moose – Paige goes her whole life without seeing moose then sees one in Thunder Bay.  And today we stumble across moose three additional times.  And these aren’t far off in the forest viewings.  We stopped the car for five minutes and watched one feed in a marsh, completely ignoring us.
  • 1 Coyote – It was just running down the ditch beside the highway
  • 1 Wolf – flatter face than the coyote and much larger
  • 20+ Bison – There was an electronic highway sign telling us there were bison on the highway 150+ km further down the road. We rolled our eyes. What were the chances that the update would be even remotely accurate? But a couple of hours later, we see one bison, then ten minutes later two more, and then 15 minutes later an entire herd. 
  • 1 Grouse – It seemed to be playing chicken with the traffic – it survived but not sure for how long
  • 4 Mountain Sheep – crossing the road and Paige had to stop to let them go by
  • 1 Grizzly Bear – The previous day we saw a black bear, today it was time for our first grizzly.  The kids could see it out the window as it grazed up a hill on the side of the road.   It was eating berries and paid us no attention. Isabella suggested it was a brown black bear. But we could see the hump, meaning grizzly.
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Time for the Big Drives – Fort St John – Day 24

Giant Beaver Roadside Attraction with Family

This was a long day for us. Before departing Edmonton the kids needed to go visit Elk Island National Park with their Nan. It was funny as we had been to that park four years ago so we knew where to look for the bison. Yep, you go to Elk Island to see bison and not elk. Also, there is no island. Regardless it is a great park and the wildlife is easy to spot from the highway. We had brought the bikes to the park too for the kids to hone their skills. Fortunately, they did not crash into any buffalo. We spent a couple hours at the park and then really needed to be on our way as we had a 7+ hour drive ahead of us. The kids said goodbye to their nan (who had planned to meet up with us in the Yukon in a few days) and off we went.

For lunch, we took the kids to Wendy’s for their first “chain” fast-food of the trip. They got happy meals and for some reason, we substituted their drinks for Frostys. Paige then bought us a medium Frosty to share. Needless to say, I ended up eating half a medium frosty and 3/4 of a kid’s frosty twice. If my math is done correctly, that is enough calories to run a marathon.

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Family Time in Edmonton – Days 21-23

The kids said goodbye to the yellow fields of the prairies as our next destination was Alberta. Our plan was to spend three days with Paige’s extended family in St. Albert (located just outside of Edmonton). Isabella and Julie were looking forward to meeting their cousins for the first time. Paige and I were looking forward to having a kitchen, adults to talk to and some space.

The drive from Lloydminster is a mere three-hour drive on paper. But why do a trip in three hours when you can stretch it into six? We were then lured to the town of Vegreville with a giant Pysanka (easter egg) you could see from the highway. We hopped into the FREE paddle-boats at the tourist information and got a 360-degree view of the egg. And then we had our best roadside meal of the trip at some taco place in the town (Loco Burro). Great marks for Vegreville all around! What a pleasant stop. However, the kids were beginning to piece together that the promised three-hour drive seemed longer. Julie is on the verge of being able to tell time.

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Life in the Prairies – Saskatchewan – Days 18-20

Entering Saskatchewan, I always feel a weird sense of belonging since my parents were both from here. Isabella has been to the “Land of Living Skies” before but Julie had not. Thankfully both girls have now been to 5 provinces and there is no sibling rivalry.

I drove a decent chunk of the drive to Saskatoon from Yorkton (where we made a stop at Wal-mart to replace the bell that had broken off Julie’s bike). I love driving on the prairies; you just set the cruise control and stare ahead at the interesting clouds and occasional grain elevator. It was a long but pleasant drive.

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Ice Cream, Kayaks and Bears – Riding Mountain National Park – Days 16 & 17

Children in Kayak

After a week of Summer Camp in the city with the girls, we were ready to get back on the road. Our destination was Riding Mountain National Park and arrived in the early evening. Daylight lasts so much longer here, we had plenty of time to set up our site and check out the town of Wasagaming which is actually located within the park boundaries. We were blown away as you could walk to the town from our campsite (about 1km away). And the town itself felt like a mini beach town from home. It was busy yet it didn’t feel overwhelmed like the beach towns back in Ontario. There was a “street” of commercial establishments, a pier, a nice beach and many quaint cottages throughout the town. There were no fences, no garish multi-level dwellings and no garbage anywhere. I guess there must be some sort of park bylaws limiting the type of dwelling that can be built. And there were ice cream parlours!

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