I have always had this fascination with old and new, a vintage look in a contemporary world. Why do you think I chose an Airstream as my home? I have been lucky enough to visit historic cities like Montréal, Québec City, Williamsburg, St. Augustine, Savannah. Add Charleston, South Carolina to that list and put it right near the top!
The Outer Banks (OBX), a strip of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, was my home for almost a week. It is most famous for Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, the area where the Wright brothers first took flight in their Wright Flyer back in 1903. As a pilot, it was pretty cool to stop at the Wright Brothers National Monument to see firsthand where this magical moment took place.
After 61 days, 24 campgrounds, 10 provinces, four Walmart parking lots, and one brief scolding at the U.S. border, I made it back to the United States by way of the great state of Maine. With no plan whatsoever, I ended up spending the night at a grocery store parking lot in Machias, where the overnight low dipped down to 28° (uh, that would be Fahrenheit).
After thawing myself out in the morning, I made my way to the scenic town of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Imagine a small college town, on the water, and next to a national park. Throw in some friendly people, an airport offering glider flights, some great restaurants, and placement on my Top Ten List is all but assured. It wasn’t just Bar Harbor; I loved Blue Hill, Bucksport, Wiscasset, Camden, Freeport–to name a few.
I’ll admit it. Until recently, I only had a vague junior high recollection of Newfoundland, and I couldn’t even really pronounce it correctly. For the record, the locals place an emphasis on the “new” and “land” parts of the name, and pronounce “found” like “fun”. But more on that later!
I wanted to spend a few weeks in Newfoundland, but the weather and marine gods wouldn’t have it. The main ferry from Cape Breton Island to Port aux Basques broke down, so I spent about a week hanging out in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Once ferry service was restored, there was simply no room for the Airstream. With barely enough room on board for the Touareg and me, I quickly booked my ticket before availability vanished. I felt like I was travelling in the mid-1960s, but Wi-Fi (albeit slow) was available, and the reclining seats were actually pretty comfortable. I ate two meals in the cafeteria, worked on my blog, listened to some tunes, talked with some of the passengers, and before I knew it, I had arrived in Newfoundland. I found affordable accommodations at the MacLellan Inn & Thackeray Suites in Doyles. It wasn’t anything special, but it was in a good location, it was better than a bland hotel room, and the hosts were warm and friendly.
The second province on my tour of the Canadian Maritimes is Nova Scotia. As much as I loved Prince Edward Island, I think Nova Scotia is my new favorite. Technically a peninsula, mainland Nova Scotia is nearly surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. As such, everything seems to revolve around the sea. (Hence, all the photos of boats!)
While PEI was incredibly rural, Nova Scotia has many more urban areas, particularly Halifax. I was pleasantly surprised by this capital city. The geographical location alone makes it noteworthy. Add the historical culture, the friendly people, and the vibrant downtown; I could easily become a Haligonian. (Yes, a Haligonian. I don’t make these things up!) Halifax is in the middle of the province, along the southern shores. This was probably my favorite section of mainland Nova Scotia. The southern shore is one non-stop Rorschach inkblot test full of bays and inlets with small fishing villages around every corner. Peggys Cove, Chester, and Lunenberg are ones that caught my eye. From there, I left mainland Nova Scotia to check out Cape Breton Island.
Raise your hand if you remembered–or even knew–Prince Edward Island is an actual province of Canada. Is your hand raised? Mine isn’t either. Prince Edward Island, or PEI, is about the land size of Delaware with no more than 150,000 full-time residents (tourists don’t count). And almost one-third of the people live in the capital of Charlottetown or the town of Summerside. The result: a pastoral landscape with a relaxed way of life that is hard to beat!
Since it is an island surrounded by salt water, much of the economy revolves around seafood: mostly lobster, mussels, oysters, and tuna. I sampled some of the local lobster and mussels. This time of year, yards were littered with giant fishing boats up on blocks. With its rolling hills of red soil, and clean air and water, the island is also home to many forms of agriculture: grain, dairy, potatoes. Potatoes? Yes, they are everywhere! A third of Canada’s potato production is on PEI. Blue waters, red soil, green vegetation, sandy beaches–the island is practically a giant golf course. In fact, there are 34 golf courses on the island–many of them world-class. How have I not been here before?! I got in a couple of rounds of golf on the island (one round with a great Airstreamer couple I met at Prince Edward Island National Park).
Not only is French an official language of Canada, it is the only official language in the province of Québec. As such, French is extremely prevalent in Ottawa (Canada’s capital city), Montréal, and Québec City; three of my favorite cities in all of Canada. The many dialects of Canadian French are different from traditional Metropolitan French in France, but it all sounds the same to me! With my rediscovery of the French language, I understand much of the written word, but it is next to impossible for me to speak it or understand the spoken dialogue. No matter, for the Québécois–in fine Canadian fashion–are equally friendly to anglophones.
OK, so I know what I said about Yosemite, and I know what I said about Yellowstone, and I know what I said about Glacier. Forget it all! None of them can really compare to the unparalleled size and beauty of the Canadian Rockies, specifically Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
I spent most of my time in the towns of Banff and Lake Louise. Banff is a trendy town about an hour west of Calgary, Alberta. Why is it called Banff? It comes from Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of one of the major financiers of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Lake Louise (named after the daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta) is about another hour up the Trans-Canada Highway. Downtown Banff is full of energy, while Lake Louise is more tranquil and serene. Both have absolutely stunning scenery in every direction. Both are on my “Top Ten” list. From Lake Louise, I took the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper National Park and the Columbia Icefield. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in the entire world. I agree!
Last updated on June 11, 2015
I often get asked for tips and tricks to live full time in an Airstream–and still live a half-way normal life. Now that it has been several years on the road, I guess it is time I write about everything that helps me live that half-way normal life. Who knows? Maybe you will learn something! Even you full-time RVers.
My 2008 23-foot Airstream International CCD weighs around 5,500 pounds full of all of my stuff. With a tow capacity of 7,700 pounds, the Volkswagen Touareg is an outstanding tow vehicle for me. From 2009 to 2014, I towed over 100,000 miles with a 2009 Volkswagen Touareg V6. Then I upgraded to a 2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel. With diesel, I get about a 30% increase in fuel economy, and I don’t have to put in the more expensive premium gasoline that the V6 craved. I also notice the increased torque and decreased number of shifts while climbing the steep mountain passes. While descending, I can manually shift to one of eight gears to reduce braking. While every single Touareg offers the same tow capacity, the benefits of diesel would make it tough for me to ever go back to gasoline. Oh, and to get just a bit more storage capacity, I have an Inno Low Profile 15 Cubic Foot Shadow Cargo Box on the roof.
I finally got a chance to try out that new pilot’s license at a hidden gem of an airport just outside Chicago. The locals call it Cushing Field; I call it heaven. It doesn’t have a control tower. It doesn’t have jets waiting in line. It isn’t surrounded by congested airspace. It doesn’t even have pavement. It is just a grass airstrip out in the country with genuine pilots hanging out there each and every day. I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much, I parked right next to the runway, plugged in to the flight school electricity, and stayed a couple weeks. In those two weeks, I took several people up for airplane rides (15 people to be exact), logged about 10 hours of flight time, and made over 30 landings (about 28 of them were good — don’t ask about those other few). It was an experience I will never, ever forget. Oh, and for those wondering about Six-Zero-One Charlie Foxtrot, it is the tail number of the airplane I flew. Most of the airplanes at Cushing Field have a tail number that ends in “CF”. Pretty cool!
I grew up in Montana, but spent the latter half of my life in the Chicago area. Apparently I had forgotten the vast rawness of the western part of the US. Seriously, other than the highway itself, it felt like man had never stepped foot into many of the scenic byways of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.
As I drove through the eastern side of Yellowstone in Wyoming, the steam from geysers melted the snow-covered timbers burned from a previous wildfire, boulders tumbled down the sheer granite cliffs, bison and elk grazed steps away. I spent several nights on public land, boondocking miles away from modern civilization. I went up and over so many rugged mountain passes, I felt like a sherpa. It was a climate-controlled, leather-bound, front-row seat to an unforgettable experience!
So I meet a lot of interesting people on the road. Every so often, some of these people let me into their own lives. While waiting for some repairs in Long Beach, I met a couple who has lived full-time on Catalina Island for the past 20 years. They invited me on a personal tour of the island, and I quickly accepted.
Part of the Channel Islands, Santa Catalina Island (people just call it Catalina) is about 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles. I opted to take the hour-long ferry ride to get to the island, but one day I will fly to the Catalina Airport myself — one day. It was a pretty choppy day across the channel; in fact, the previous ferry was cancelled due to high winds. It was about as uncomfortable a boat ride as I would have preferred, but so well worth the ride!
Anyone following my journey for the last year has probably noticed my lack of traveling the past few months. Well, that is about to change! The reason for my stationary status was due to one reason, and one reason alone: flying lessons. On my 35th birthday, I passed my check ride and officially became a licensed pilot. Legally it is a certificate and not a license, but I won’t get into semantics. Anyway, with my flying lessons complete, I will finally be leaving the San Diego area to explore the rest of the US and Canada. Before I get back on the road, I thought I would share my experience of learning to fly.
Dubbed “America’s Finest City,” San Diego has always been on my list of cities to visit. And since the rest of the country seems to be permanently frozen, now is a perfect time to stay warm in “America’s Finest City.”
San Diego (and the surrounding area) definitely has my attention. The geographic diversity and climate changes of the beaches, valleys, mountains, and desert are refreshing. So far, I have checked out downtown, Point Loma, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Torrey Pines, East County, and Julian. And there is still more to see!
So I left all my winter gear in storage somewhere in Chicago. That means I will spend the winter months in the warmth of California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. It also means very few blog updates for the next couple of months. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter!
After two and a half years of full-timing it in the Airstream, I have compiled quite a list of “less than stellar” moments. As you can see, I tend to do something at least once a month that makes me just shake my head in amazement.
- April 28 Remember to secure latch, so blender doesn’t fly out of pantry and shatter lamp
- April 29 Remember that lighted cabinets will singe pillows if stuffed absolutely full
- May 2 Remember to lock cargo container, so two backpacks don’t fly out on open road
- May 2 Remember to empty gray water tank, so shower doesn’t back up with water
- May 3 Remember that shower rod can’t hold bag full of heavy items
- May 4 Remember that dirty dishes left in enclosed space will eventually smell like death itself
- May 20 Remember to crank up stabilizer before moving, so it doesn’t rip completely off
- June 9 Remember the weight of the awning will snap the bar right off if it slips
- June 27 Remember to check hitch stabilizer, so it doesn’t fall off driving down the road
- July 4 Remember to make an advance reservation for all popular holiday weekends
- August 8 Remember to remove sunglasses and concisely answer Customs agent to avoid detainment
- September 10 Remember to back up s-l-o-w-l-y and watch for cement walls that suddenly appear
- October 31 Remember to secure all liquid containers — say, red wine — before driving down the road
- November 2 Remember to make sure dump station isn’t clogged before attempting to dump black water
Do you like apples? Do you like apple cider? Do you like apple cider donuts? Do you like small towns? Do you like friendly people? Do you like small towns full of friendly people? Do you like rolling hills, mountains, and change in elevation? Do you like?… yeah, yeah, yeah, you get the point!
Vermont is an interesting state. It is the second least-populated state; it has the smallest capital city; and no other state has its largest city as small as Burlington (around 40,000 people). This small town atmosphere is refreshing. Vermonters are just some of the nicest people I have ever met.
On my way from the West Coast to the East Coast, I stopped in Jackson Center, Ohio for a visit to the Airstream factory. What a cool place! I went to get some repair work done, but I have to admit, I also wanted to tour the assembly line and meet some of the people that made my traveling home. The people could not have been nicer; everyone from the front desk to the technicians doing the dirty work. It truly was a productive (albeit expensive) couple of days.
It all starts at 7AM sharp when a guy with a John Deere tractor picks up the Airstream at the Terra Port (a free campground for Airstreams needing service) and tows it in to the Service Center. Then, one of the technicians comes out to talk over the list – the list of stupid things I have done while on the road: oh, things like a bent step, a hole in the underbelly, a broken shower rod. And then there are the minor annoyances: a sticky dead bolt, missing rivets, a bad battery, a broken black water sensor. That’s what happens after 20,000 miles in five months! After two days, we were able to cross off all 12 items on my list.
I am writing this near the shores of the Pacific Ocean — in front of a campfire — at Harris Beach State Park, easily my favorite of all the campgrounds in Oregon. It is a fitting way to end my exploration of the great state of Oregon.
Oregon, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First, one of the best movies of the ’80s, “The Goonies,” was filmed in Astoria and Cannon Beach. Who doesn’t love that movie? Second, fresh, local, incredible food is available from undiscovered vendors at farmers’ markets in downtown Portland. Pair it with a bottle of wine from any one of the hundreds of vineyards and wineries in Oregon, like Yamhill Valley Vineyards. So good! Third, the same temperate climate that makes great wine is the same temperate climate perfect for lush, green golf courses playable year-round. The best one I played was Langdon Farms Golf Club in Aurora. Finally, Howard Hughes’ famous airplane, the “Spruce Goose,” is at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. I was so happy to stumble upon this museum — like “kid in a candy store” happy!
It has been a crazy busy last few weeks. I left the Airstream at Elwha Dam RV Park (just outside Port Angeles, Washington) and flew back to Chicago. I was relieved to return a week later with everything just as I had left it: in the middle of the woods — unhooked — just running off the solar panel. During my stay in Port Angeles, I was able to see a little bit of Olympic National Park. It is very scenic, but just doesn’t compare to Glacier or Yosemite.
Inching my way closer to Seattle, my next stop was Port Ludlow, Washington. A sleepy little town west of Seattle, it has a golf course (which I had to play), a marina, an excellent pizza place (Cucina Pizza), a surprisingly well-stocked convenience store, and, well, not much else. It is pretty quiet there; a perfect place to spend the work week! Yearning for some culture, I drove over to Bainbridge Island, caught the ferry, and met some friends in downtown Seattle. Overall, I loved my short stay in the Emerald City. Growing up in northwest Montana, I have been there several times, but it was nice to be back and look at it from a “possible place to live” point of view. I am happy to say, it is definitely on the list!
I just spent the last week in British Columbia, Canada, and absolutely loved it! With the metric units, a little of the French language, “loonies”, “toonies”, and “.ca” web addresses galore, it was an exciting adventure. It all started with a checkpoint at the U.S./Canada border in Douglas, B.C., just north of Seattle on I-5.
According to the “real-time” digital sign, the wait was supposed to be “up to 5 minutes”. Clearly, the sign lied. I waited in line with hundreds of other motorists for almost half an hour until reaching a pair of border patrol officers ready to ask me dozens of questions like, “Where did you stay last night? Where were you before that? How long have you been on the road? How much money do you have in the bank? How much money do you have in your wallet? How do work out of an Airstream? Why are you coming to Canada? Do you mind pulling over there and emptying the contents of your pockets on the hood of your car?” You know, the usual. Obviously, I had absolutely nothing to hide, but I must have looked suspicious, so they asked me to wait inside with the other “degenerate failures” while they searched every square inch of the Touareg and the Airstream – for an hour. They apparently took everything out of the back of the Touareg because the gate wouldn’t shut correctly when I finally got back from my “time out” corner. I noticed they also looked at the photos on my digital camera and even looked under my mattress. And, get this, someone from the border patrol looked up my blog, read a few of the posts, and browsed through a few photo slideshows! I only realized this after I noticed several server log entries from “The Government of Canada” at the exact time I crossed the border. So, in a way, this blog totally helped prove my legitimacy. The officers were very official the entire time, but for the rest of the day I was annoyed that I had somehow “failed” a test. That annoyance soon subsided, because the rest of my time in Canada was awesome!
I left the Flathead Valley of Montana, and headed west up through the panhandle of Idaho. This was done entirely to cross “State #31” off my “Golf 50 States” list with a round at an unassuming course in Priest River. It was just me, carrying my own bag, in flip-flops, khaki shorts, and a t-shirt. It was awesome!
After feeding my addiction, I crossed the border into the state of Washington, following the curvy, mountainous highway through towns with names like Tonasket, Omak, and Okanogan. With the record-setting hot weather, wildfires kept popping up all over the region. In fact, the haze was so thick, I couldn’t get much of a charge from the solar panel. I pretty much drained the batteries, and spent one night in an uncomfortably hot Wal-Mart parking lot, irritated that I hadn’t chosen a campground with electricity.
There is nothing quite like going home, especially when it is as beautiful as the Flathead Valley in northwest Montana. I grew up just outside the town of Bigfork, a “picturesque and charming place”–Chamber of Commerce words, not mine–on the shores of Flathead Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi. With well over 10,000 miles logged in the last three months, it was time for some much needed rest and relaxation, time off the highways, and time away from the “ExxonMobils/BPs/Shells/Flying Js” of the world. I have filled up with gas exactly once since I got here over two weeks ago!