Our Chalet Truck Camper

Our Chalet Truck Camper

Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24 - Ontario to NH and the exploding battery

May 24 - London (Ontario) to W. Chesterfield, NH and the exploding battery

Rain again this morning with wind but not as bad as the last three days. Took PR401 to PR403 at Woodstock, Ontario and then to Queen Elizabeth Parkway at Bayview. This is a high population area and traffic was heavy but moved well. It is also an area along Lake Ontario where many vineyards are with wineries everywhere.

Followed PR405 at Saint Catherines to the  border crossing just north of Niagara Falls at Lewiston, NY. Amazingly there was only one car and one RV ahead of us. The lanes are a lot more clearly marked now with "Cars/RVs" instead of leaving you to wonder if you are a truck or a car.  Smooth crossing with the usual questions. The US Customs always wants to look inside the camper but never asks us to put out the sliders. It's so good not to be worried about an inspection if one occurs.

I-190 to I-290 to I-90 all the way to Albany NY. From there I-87N to Route 7 which crosses NY. This same road changes to Route 9 at the Vermont border. The traffic going through Troy NY at the start of 7 was fierce and we found ourselves back in highly aggressive driving. Up and up over the mountains through Bennington, VT which is a picture perfect small New England town.

Just after Bennington we heard a loud pop like a quart soda bottle exploding. It sounded like it was in the rear seat but there was nothing there to blow. We pulled over, did an inspection, found nothing and thought maybe we had struck a bird with the nose cone of the camper and it echoed. Continued on to Truck Camper Warehouse in W. Chesterfield, NH just over the border from Brattleboro. Bill had said he would look at the "wrinkle" we put in the diamond plate side of the camper which fits in the truck bed. He said it was cosmetic, caulked a few places for us and took a look at the weep holes. All checked out fine UNTIL Joe opened up the battery compartment to tighten up on the lock latch. One of the batteries had exploded, leaving chunks of plastic, acid and wire all over the battery compartment. Bill's guys cleaned it up and we replaced the older batteries with two new Interstate Pros which will give about the same performance and weigh two batteries less. Thanks go to Bill and his crew for the instant service and kindness in taking care of us just as they were closing for the day. We're staying over in the yard tonight, listening to even more rain and ready to head home in the morning.

This is all the acid splattered all over the battery bay.

Moral - do NOT overfill your batteries. Leave some room at the top of the battery for outgassing. My fault as I'm always after Joe to check and fill the batteries. Sometimes fate works in  your favor, being so close to TC Warehouse and finding the blown apart battery here instead of in the boondocks of the Grand Tetons. Who knows how much damage would have been done by an open vat of battery acid before the electric system quit.

May 22 and 23 - Rain, wind and ever eastward

May 22 and 23 - Rain, wind and ever eastward

May 22, 2013 was another drive day through heavy rain and winds. Many camper friends have asked on Facebook and email why we don't just hunker down and wait for the storm to blow through. We are trying to get to Truck Camper Warehouse in NH while Bill is there to look at our weep hole/leaks but mainly to see if we damaged the camper on the Chaco Canyon Road. We hit one rock that bounced out of the road, back up under the camper, opened a road hole and dropped one tire down in. And no we were NOT going fast. That caused the camper to bounce in the bed of the truck and crinkled the diamond plate that is against the inner fender. We are pretty sure it is cosmetic but want someone who knows what they are doing to look. We've already caulked the wrinkle against any water intrusion.

Wisconsin is windy but welcoming. We stopped for lunch and had a "pasty" which is basically a meat and potato turnover. Very friendly folk in the diner who all wanted to know about our travels.

Stayed on Route 2 all day and overnighted in a Michigan State Park at Indian Lake near Monistiquet. This was on a large lake, nothing like Lake Michigan, but there were white caps kicked up and the sound of surf all night. We always laugh that no matter where we camp be it in the remotest forest there will be a railroad nearby. Even here on this lake there were railroad whistles at night.

May 23 - Into Canada

Lake Michigan is an inland sea. We sang a bit of the "Edmund Fizgerald" as we drove along this Great Lake.

We followed Route 2 to the Mackinaw Bridge to I-75.

Took I-675 at Saginaw due to construction, back on 75 and then I-475 at Flint. From there Route 69 to Port Huron, MI where we crossed the border back into Canada for the short distance over to Buffalo, NY. We were asked some unusual questions this time but sailed through quickly. Thankfully, cars and RVs use one lane because if we had been classed a truck, we would have been there for hours. I anticipate more of a delay going back into the States just from volume. No matter that you know there is not one single illegal thing in your truck, camper or person, there is still this nagging stress that you will be chosen for an inspection. There are now bomb, radiation and probably other sniffers at the border crossings so they probably pick up a lot they didn't before. I always make a list of any fruits, veggies, liquor, and purchases before we get to the border to make it easier.

High winds and heavy rain again today. The farmers must be ecstatic but the travelers less so. At times it was hard to drive especially right after crossing into Canada at Port Huron. Lake Huron ends against this point of land and there are mostly large farms with open fields. I kept waiting for the camper to tip over. The weep holes still seep in the big dinette window but not in the bed area anymore. I'll add more caulk to the weep holes as this is where the wind/rain is hitting the side of the camper constantly. There is no sign of water at all anywhere on the window, only in the bottom track.

It's still raining but the heavy wind has finally quieted a bit. We just turned 11,000 miles on the new F-450. Joe could not be happier on how it has handled and worked for us this whole trip. We are back up to 10.8 mpg for the trip even with the winds.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May 20 and 21st - Travel days through the storms

May 20 and 21st - Travel days through the storms

Our plans were to return to Teddy Roosevelt National Park North Unit and camp by the Cottonwood River for a few days.

Storms put a rapid end to that plan. May 20th was a pure hell travel day. There was nothing to do but keep slogging along and try to make the best time possible. The same storm system that created devastating tornados south of us, produced sideways rain and gale force winds in North Dakota. We travelled all I-94 from Miles City, MT to Fargo, ND. It is rare that we don't enjoy driving and being on the road but today was one of them where we would have rather been holed up somewhere. Our 10.8 mpg diesel rate dropped to 10.5 trying to get through the storm even at much lower speeds than anyone else on the road. At least the drivers out here are polite and give you a lot of room.

We were very impressed with the agriculture and industry in ND. The farms are neat and tidy, the oil line looks like it is booming with well heads going in everywhere (could be natural gas if you pump it like oil?). The agricultural symbols for their state appear everywhere.

When we finally stopped in Fargo at a Walmart to resupply and sleep, we found that the dinette and driver side bed window had both leaked. The dinette cushions were wet but not soaked; the rug by the bed was wet. Joe also found water in the lower outside storage compartment below the dinette. This was the side toward the storm and really took a beating. Dried out the best we could but didn't immediately find the window leak. The lower storage door is the culprit for that leak as there is no caulking from the metal door trim to the door itself. Don't you think we would have learned our lesson after the rear door leaks?

May 21st was another very unpleasant day but not quite as bad as the 20th. There were spells of light rain instead of deluge.

We made it from Fargo, ND to just south of Duluth, MN. Wanted further but just too tired and needed a down time. Found a campground and did all the camper things - fresh water, dump, laundry, long, hot showers, Getting this far today was not easy as we were trying to keep as straight a path as possible. In MN roads that look good when you start out, often end up dirt and five ton limits so you backtrack. Most of our back country driving was pretty, along many of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, but our mind set is now home and we are headed there as straight as we can.

Hard to beat the difference in gas and diesel though. First time in years we saw gas higher than diesel.

The leak in the dinette window was probably partially plugged weep holes. Bought a can of compressed air and blew them out well and they are now dry. No ladder with us to inspect the window from the outside though you can see most of it by leaning out the window. I'll keep paper towels stuffed in the window track until we know it's okay. Tomorrow we head for Sault Saint Marie and cross the border for a short cut through Oh Canada!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 19, 2013 - Yellowstone, snow and BEARS!

May 19, 2013 -  Yellowstone, snow and BEARS!

Heavy rain and 43F when we got on the road. We were really glad to have put the TC back on the truck the evening before. As we started off, the temperature dropped to 34F and it started snowing once we got to 7250 feet. It was a little weird to see snow sticking to the trees and backs of bison in lateish May.

We stopped at Madison Junction and walked some of the trail loops and then stopped at Norris and walked about two miles. The trails here are boardwalks as you are going over bubbling mud and through steam vents. It's actually quite exciting as long as you don't think about the volcanic caldera you are striding through.

We met three women from Virginia who were intrigued by our camper. We gave them a tour, all the cards like Truck Camper Magazine etc. so they could start to do their research. It's always fun to meet people who are interested and who asked good questions about use and suitability for how they want to camp.

Then the fun part of the day. After we left Norris we spotted people standing in the road ahead near a swamp. We thought moose but they were not looking at the water but up a hill. As most of them had parked in the center of a tiny two lane road we were dead stopped. Joe was driving so out I popped with camera in hand to go see what was up. Mom black bear with three cubs about 100 yards up the hill !!!! The cubs did everything little animals do - wrestled, jumped, ran and ignored mom. One started down the hill and she must have made a particular sound as the cub scampered right back up. Finally she wandered off and the traffic log jam broke up.

I have to hand it to the US Park Service and the care in building and maintaining the road systems within the parks. Most are rut and pothole free and some of the bridges quite beautiful. With the harsh weather conditions, several of the circular roads within Yellowstone were still closed.

We left the park with regret knowing how much more there was to see. Even on our second visit, we've barely scratched the surface. There are great advantages of being there out of high tourist season mostly fewer people and easier to travel roads. We do however miss the warmth and the flowers that must bloom a bit later. We will be back.

May 18, 2013 - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

May 18 - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Finally flipped a propane tank before we refilled it so propaned up plus fresh water. Off and on again rain and then brilliant sunshine on route 287 south out of Townsend. We never realized how much wheat is grown in Montana. The fields stretch endlessly to the horizon with irrigation being the source of the riches. The other major crop is alfalfa/hay for the cattle in the winter. You often see huge barns filled to the rafters with baled hay.

All along Route 287 we saw abandoned buildings. You can't help but wonder who lived there and what happened to them.

Fishing season has just opened and in every good sized stream we saw fishermen. Hope they had on thermal, waterproof gear because that water is still snow melt and cold. On the Madison river, we saw fishermen in wooden batteaus rowing so there must be a no engine edict on that river.

We kept seeing billboards for Wheat Montana, a bakery and deli and figured we were safe since Wheat wasn't showing up on our maps. Turned out to be the name of a company and yes we stopped for a morning muffin. At Grayling we switched over to Route 191 and into the National Forest Campground called Baker's Hole in the Gallatin National Forest just outside of West Yellowstone. This sign greets you as you enter.

We met up with Paul and Sue Schultes, truck camper friends, who had moved to Montana from upper NY State. We took the TC off the truck and drove the four of us into Yellowstone for some animal sightings and a view of Old Faithful.

First stop was at Fountain Paint Pots area with fascinating geology and active bubbling pools of mud. They exploded with big bursts of bubbles and the steam spray smelled like sulfur. There are boardwalks out into this active area.

Once again we missed Old Faithful by minutes and didn't really feel like waiting around 90 minutes of so for a repeat. The elk and bison were everywhere particularly on one stretch of canyon like road where the two bison were walking down the middle and yielded to no one. Fun to watch them snort and walk past stopped cars and give you that "dare you" look.

If you haven't seen a bison up close, they are enormous beasts who I doubt tolerate much. They are still dropping their winter coats so look quite shaggy. This visit we only saw one calf but it was running and bucking like any youngster.

Hard cold rain tonight so we have all had supper and retired to our respective campers, warm and snug. We did put the camper back on the truck so ready for tomorrow's adventures.

Friday, May 17, 2013

May 17 - Glacier NP to Canyon Ferry Lake, MT

May 17 - Glacier NP to Canyon Ferry Lake, MT

Early morning start and a walk rewarded by a view of three elk. They were quite close, very skittish but didn't run for a long time. No antlers and no young but beautiful. We again saw the fox who was not as shy as I would have liked as she/he got quite close to us before we saw it

Logan Pass which is the Going to the Sun Road is still closed with snow measured in the 20 foot range. The red bus does come around from Apgar to St. Mary's as the ride around Route 89 is beautiful and the view out over St. Mary's Lake iconic. One of these years we will actually come to Glacier in July just to ride on the bus. We know there is a TC rally planned for Glacier during that time but we won't make it this year.

When you see the signs out west for "Open Range" or "Free range stock" be careful. It normally refers to cattle but these horses were right on the road. Montana deserves the name of "Big Sky Country" as often there is nothing for miles and miles but wheat fields, cattle herds and small oil pumping stations. The land just goes until it crashes into the mountains.

What must it be like for teenagers who live out here? The school bus ride must be endless. We see signs all the time for 4H Club activities so at least Montana is growing its next generation of ranchers.

Years ago we met a couple from New York state who came to one of the North East TC rallies. Paul and Sue are delightful people and, after they moved to Montana, said to drop in for a hello. We wander, never knowing exactly where we are going to be when, so it is hard to plan ahead. They want to go to Alaska next year so we wanted to drop off all the info we had collected. Called ahead but they were off probably camping. We did make cell contact later and will meet them near Yellowstone tomorrow. Tonight we are camped on Canyon Ferry Lake and this is our closest neighbor - a pronghorn.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16 - Banff, Alberta, Canada to Glacier National Park, Wyoming, USA

May 16 - Banff, Alberta to Glacier National Park, Wyoming, USA

The decision has been made to, once again, not continue to Alaska. We've got 8,500 miles in on the trip so far and are enjoying every single mile of it. Using the DeLorme Street Atlas software to make our route from Lake Louise to Fairbanks and back to the lower states plus what we wanted to travel in Alaska added another 6000+/- miles. Add yet another 3,000 miles home for a total of 17,500 miles. We'd be worn out for a year! If we had known we would be on the road as long as we were before heading to Alaska, we would have signed up for Mike O's Xtreme Camper cruise to Alaska so we would finally have gotten there. Joe wants to save up and do a three week cruise with all the side trips of train, helicopter, etc. and plan that for next year.

Today was a travel day to get back into the USA. We walked around Banff this morning and then drove up into the HooDoo area. From there you could see the old Banff Hotel and an amazing view out over the Bow Valley. Talked quite a while to yet another Australian couple RVing around North America. We've yet to meet an Aussie couple without a great sense of humor and a spirit of adventure.

We took Provincial Highway PH1 to route 22 and then onto PH2. This route starts in the Rockies and flattens out into vast fields of wheat farms. We saw bison farms along the way and a lot of wide open land.

Crossing the border at Carway was totally uneventful. It is such a quiet crossing that they border guards seemed glad to see us. The did mention that we were a foot or so past the yellow cones where we should have stopped and waited to be motioned forward. We had gotten into the area of the yellow radiation detectors!! They don't emit, only sniff but if they go off because someone has been stopped in front of them too long, there is an inspection and a lot of paperwork the guards have to do. Next time, we'll stop way back. This statue was near the crossing.

Pulled into Glacier National Park at St. Mary's to find that the visitor center is not open yet. Signs did indicate St. Mary's on this northeast side was open and Apgar on the west side was open. We drove down as far as we could on the road that becomes the Going to the Sun road. Views out over the lake and mountains are why this park is one of my favorites. 55F, sunny, very strong wind, snow on the mountains and what looks like an overgrown population of ground squirrels. They are everywhere and chatter madly as you walk by.

We are camped at St. Mary's, totally alone, $5.00 boondock. There are times that being early in a season can be a pain if you want to visit a place or go into a museum, etc. This is not one of those times. I so look forward to walking outside tonight to see the stars. I'll keep a hand on the camper in case there is a loud snort from a grizzly passing by.

May 15 Lake Louise, Banff and a Bear

May 15 Lake Louise, Banff and a Bear

Left the horrible CG in Revelstoke and headed up PH 1 towards Lake Louise. There is no way to describe the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, snow capped, huge, looming, majestic. The informational signs said that the Canadian Army and their Avalanche Specialists are in charge of keeping this road open in the winter. Looking at the shape and steepness of Rogers Pass and all the avalanche paths, it must be a daunting task. Rogers Pass is inside the Canadian Glacier National Park. How settlers ever got through here is a wonder - had not to have been in winter!

 We are seeing a lot of truck campers of all brands, ages and sizes. No Chalets yet. Probably two thirds of the RVs we see are rentals. Just as Joe turned off the camera and set it on the back seat, a herd of mountain sheep was standing by the road behind jersey barriers. He did get a shot of the trailing sheep. We had passed an animal bridge a few minutes before and can only hope they were heading that way and not trying to cross the road. Most of the roads have tall elk/sheep fences with periodic pass over bridges for the animals.

A bear!!!! A HUGE black bear just strolled out of the forest and started eating wild flowers. We were able to pull over about 100 yards away and watch it for quite a while. We have seen black bear in Maine but they look like cubs compared to this bear. She/he finally just laid down in the sun and contentedly kept munching away. We have yet to see elk or moose but the elk droppings are just about everywhere you stop in a wooded area. 

Near Field, BC you enter the Yoho National Park and then cross over into Alberta to Banff National Park. Lake Louise is a gem, still not clear of ice and with a glacier at the end of the lake away from the lodge. Railroad barons built the lodge for tourism. It has burned twice and each time was rebuilt larger and grander. The lobby is utter class and we felt odd not having our ball gowns and tuxes on (as if we owned them!)

Leaving our Lake Louise walk and passing by the hotel again, we spotted this "thing" which I think is an Earth Roamer. Joe said Roy, our camping friend with the pop up, needs one of these.

From Lake Louise we took PH 1A which is called the Bow Valley Parkway. We had hoped to camp in one of the National Park campgrounds in a remote location but every one of the camps is still closed due to snow. We walked a trail down to the river looking over our shoulder the whole time for bear. We probably shouldn't have even gone a short distance as we were not prepared for any animal encounter. Sure was gorgeous though.

Banff is a good town for walking. It isn't large and the business, shops, coffee houses all have the same type of architecture to keep it looking like a mountain town. There was excellent RV parking near the town park and we walked from there around town for quite a while. We got in and out of two hand made chocolate stores with nothing !

Tonight we are camped in the Banff National Park trailer (RV) camp up Tunnel Mountain behind Banff. On all sides are towering peaks with snow in the crevasses, a very brisk, cold wind but incredible views. In order to keep this campground open all year, they built a series of wide, paved roads that run up the side of a hill. Each RV gets a wide part of the road and has power. This would be easy to plow in the winter to keep it open for all the skiers who must want to camp. We have been very impressed with Canada and their road system and how well maintained it is. I keep thinking of Ted and Cheryl and all the hiking opportunities here, anywhere from 4 to 25 KM right out of this park. I know Ted has bear spray and knows how to use it. We also think of Donna and Ed as we constantly pass bicycles laboring up steep inclines but having that exhilarating ride down.