Campgrounds. RVs. Family time. Lorraine.
One of these things just doesn’t belong. But sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone to discover something new. Fabulous, even. And so I did.
I am not a camper. I think I’m roughing it at the cottage if we run out of mix. But casting caution to the wind, I teamed up a couple of weeks ago with Go RVing Canada, an organization with a comprehensive website representing campsites, RV dealers and RV enthusiasts as they combine energies to explore this great continent of ours.
“Do we have to go?” asked Christopher, 16, apparently speaking for his brother.
“Of course,” I told him. “That’s the whole point.”
“Can I bring my computer?” he asked.
“Where do I sleep?” asked Ari, 13.
Those would be the only two questions from either one of them until we pulled out of the driveway. They would add one more: Are we there yet?
From Motor Home Travel in Woodbridge, I picked up a 2008 Chateau Sport 29R Class C Motorhome on July 26. A large dealer, they also have a fleet of over 70 privately owned units they lease out. The units are immaculately maintained both mechanically and esthetically, and it’s not difficult to imagine yourself “camping” in these luxurious quarters. You just push buttons and the sides slide out – voila – instant huge living room.
At 31’ feet long, the seven person RV we received had just over 4,000 km on it. (It’s advertised as sleeping “up to eight”, but the eighth would have to be an extra from the Wizard of Oz). Over ten days, we would more than double that mileage number. From home, we crossed Quebec, descended down into New Brunswick, over to Nova Scotia and out to the tip of Cape Breton Island. As every single day took me somewhere I’d never been, it revealed not only breathtaking parts of this amazing country, but insight into my family, and myself.
There are many types of Recreation Vehicles. Towables, expandables, fifth wheels, pop-ups, camper vans, sport utility – you name it, there is some configuration of it. I’d asked to use a motorized RV – I didn’t want to be towing something, and as I’d once owned a cube truck, I felt somewhat familiar with the boxier sensation of driving such a large vehicle.
While fundamentally driving these units is the same as driving an automatic car, make no mistake. If you are a timid driver, I suggest you don’t attempt it. Likewise if you are an aggressive driver, don’t bother. They are comfortable, powerful, and large. You must always be aware that the bedroom in the back can have a pendulum effect in crosswinds (as on bridges), and you must acclimate yourself to wide, gentle turns to avoid taking out gas pumps and inattentive bystanders. It takes less than a day to get comfortable behind the wheel – the mirrors are trustworthy, and the backup camera is excellent. You’re on holiday; you need holiday calm to handle highway pressures in parts, and you will not be darting in and out of traffic. If you miss an exit you shrug and get off at the next one.
While we primarily stuck to the TransCanada highway, anyone who travels this country by road knows this moniker is handed out with somewhat drunken abandon. Heading across most of Quebec called for a tooth count at day’s end, and much of it was under construction. Ever paying tribute to its European racing roots, Quebec weaves interesting – and abrupt – chicanes into their construction zones. Tossing 20,000 pounds around is a little freaky for the driver, and requires a Gravol cocktail for everyone in the back.
We erred on Day One by plotting too much of a drive. A better plan would have been to have a short drive day – maybe 3 or 4 hours, then set up camp. By day two, The Poor Sod and I were arguing over who got to drive – it was that much fun, especially for people who enjoy driving.
So why was I trouncing around the Maritimes in a living room on wheels while gas is sky high? I obviously had to ask myself the same question. I got asked pretty much every time we were gassing up how much she took (usually $150-$190 – we lucked out on gas dropping the day we left), but people were genuinely intrigued. One man noted the boys climbing back on board in Halifax after a donut stop, and told me to take advantage of this “magical” time for such a trip. As the boys started arguing through the open window, I debated the magic, but appreciated the sentiment.
While the RV industry is definitely weathering the same storm that all luxury items are right now, several factors come into play that offer some food for thought.
Prices on units have dropped dramatically; the unit I drove sells for $79,912, about $30,000 cheaper than it was just a couple of years ago due to the dropping American dollar. Or, in high season, the unit rents for $1,945 per week, half that in the off season. Six of us headed east – airfares would have been about $3,000, 3 hotel rooms would have added at least $240 nightly to that, and we’d have needed to rent a van to get around. Campgrounds averaged $25 a night – total – we cooked most of our own meals, and, I’m not going to lie – while we spent $1400 on gas, having the space for six people to travel relaxed and stretched out was a blessing.
That’s the nuts and bolts part. The much tougher part to define is the experience. I have been schooled in the importance of getting to know the people of this country, and any other one I have the good fortune to visit. As we sat on huge rocks at the ocean’s edge in St. Ann’s on Cape Breton Island, I was overwhelmed with just how vast Canada is. We see glossy ad after ad for places like Disneyland, but this is where you need to bring your kids, or just yourself, even once. The RV community offers a multitude of configurations for any traveler – and I was astonished at the generosity of the people we met.
We’d traveled a long and bumpy road into this remote area on the Island. Talking to some other campers, we were told there was a ferry that reduced the hour drive to ten minutes. The only concern was whether our RV was too long to clear the ramp. I started investigating – we had no internet connections, and I was learning how much I rely on it. The boys were long past their withdrawals pangs.
“Is there a guide for the ferry?” I asked the campground owner.
“No, but it’s just a couple of minutes down the road,” she replied, with a smile.
The Poor Sod and I decided to walk “just down the road” and take a look. After walking nearly 2km, we came upon a small antique store, sitting hard up against the roadside. It was the only commercial building we’d seen. Going in, we were greeted by the owner.
“Are we far from the ferry?” I asked.
“No, no, you’re half way there already! Are you from the campground?” she enquired.
“Yes, we’re trying to see if our motorhome will fit on the ferry. I’ve heard the ramp might be too short, and we might bottom out…”
“Oh, well, it surely would have fit on the old ferry, but I’m not sure about the new one,” she replied.
“When did they get the new ferry?” I asked.
“Last week. But you know, you probably could fit on at high tide,” she mused.
“High tide? Can you tell me when the tide will be in?”
”Oh, every six hours. It’s listed in the local paper each day,” she said indicating the paper beneath her hand. I peered at it upside down.
“Oh, this won’t be much help,” she continued. “This is yesterday’s paper.”
“Do you know where I could get today’s?”
“Oh, sure, over the ferry….”
We continued our walk, smiling. Ari came dashing down the road to us on his bike – we’d tucked both bikes into the hold for the kids. I asked if he was going to come down to the spit with us to watch the ferry.
“Nope!” he flung over his shoulder. “We found some mussels – we’re going fishing!”