Order Tara's Bicycle Touring Cookbook Today!

Hittin' the Road

by Tara

We have enough snacks to feed an army packed in the cooler, our suitcase is stuffed with worn-out marino wool "work clothes", and our iPod is jam-packed with new music. As we put the final pieces of our car-packing-puzzle in place, we hug Tyler's mom, Jodi goodbye. At last, we're ready to set off on yet another drive.

This time, we're headed towards Salt Springs Island, near Vancouver, Canada! We will be attending a week-long cob-building workshop, taught by a women's building collective called the Mud Girls. I'm looking forward to getting our hands dirty in the world of home-building, but right now, I'm more excited about the road trip we'll be taking to get there!

I am the designated long-distance driver these days. Tyler generally assumes the role of computer-programming-passenger—his office can follow him basically anywhere we go. When we turn on the stereo, the sound of church bells immediately begins to ring through our little silver car. We haven't picked a song, our iPod has started playing the first one in our music library.

With a smile, Tyler cranks it up. AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" has been the inaugural song of many a road trip and motorcycle adventure over the years. As we pull out of the driveway, we're overcome by a sense of freedom and excitement. Today, the ribbon of pavement that stretches out before us leads to a string of yet-unknown adventures, not the grocery store, or gas station, or some other equally-mundane destination. Anything could happen!

Our Car in North Dakota Bug-Smeared Windshield

We make our way through rural Minnesota, heading into uncharted territory (for me): North Dakota. My first impressions can be summed up in two words: flat and empty. In the fields around us, a few brown, bushy-topped grasses poke their heads above their fellow scrubby plants, the presence of which only serve to make the land seem more barren.

Bison & Pembina, North Dakota Sign

I'm sure it has redeeming qualities, but I am glad I don't live in North Dakota! Soon, towns and gas stations become sparse, and then disappear entirely, replaced with a deeper emptiness and that "end of the world" feeling that comes with so many border crossings. It is thus we arrive at the Canadian border. Instead of the wave-though Tyler remembers from years ago, the border guard settles in for a long round of questioning, and then, satisfied we've "passed", sends us over to customs.

As we wait nearly half an hour for our passports to be processed, we sit, reminiscing about previous border crossings. For a moment, I wonder if I'll have room in my passport, or if I'll have to buy more pages like Tyler did in Thailand. I'm relieved when the guard finally returns, passports in hand, and stamps them with a big fat "cachunk". Tyler and I thank the officials and head back to the car, giggling about how it was quicker to get into Serbia.

If I was glad I don't live in North Dakota, I'm really glad I don't live in this part of Canada. My impressions of the road north to Winnipeg mirror those of North Dakota: flat and empty. And with slightly crappier roads. I'm surprised to see so many signs in French and so many little town names of obvious French origin. I wonder if they speak French here? I thought they only spoke French in Quebec? Oh, it's abysmal all that I don't know about our neighbors to the north. Sorry Canada!

It's getting to be evening now, and we're ready to be done for the day, so when we see a sign for a campsite in one of the first towns we come to, we pull off the highway to check it out. The town, proudly touted as the "soup pea capital of Canada", feels like an outpost in the middle of nowhere—quiet, quaint, and insular. And as far as we can tell from driving slowly through the four streets that constitute this town, there's neither campsite nor soup pea in sight.

And so we continue onwards over the highway, which doesn't feel like a highway at all, due to it's lack of vehicles. When we spot another sign for campsite, we follow it off the road again, and onto a dusty dirt track that leads seemingly to nowhere. Despite scanning the side of the road for miles (err, kilometers now!), we never do find the campsite. I do spy a nice stand of trees, though, where we might find a hidden free-camp. They're the only trees around for miles!

Sure enough, they'll make a lovely camp. Feeling a thousand memories flood back, I drive off the dirt road, onto a grassy, rutted track, leading behind the trees. We pull in, leaving a nice spot for our tent. Surveying our home for the night, I smile, satisfied with our location. We'll be comfortable, secluded, and fairly out of sight—not that anyone drives on this road anyway!

Tara Grain Thingy Grassy Field

When we open the doors, ready to make camp, a cold wind rushes through my thin clothes. It wasn't nearly this chilly when we left Minnesota, but I suppose we have just driven considerably further north than we were before! The wind blows the tent to and fro as I calmly clip it together. Meanwhile, Tyler is busy pumping up our sleeping mats.

The sun hovers near the horizon, illuminating fields and woods with a tinge of gold, shining against a dark backdrop of blue—there's a front of dark clouds rolling in. The contrast is strikingly beautiful, and I tell myself I'll go take pictures once camp is made.

Tyler Setting up the Tent

But by the time the tent us up, the sun has mostly gone behind the clouds and the golden moments are over. No matter, after a quick tromp through the fields, I'm fine to settle into the tent. I dig out the laptop and begin to journal, while Tyler wades through the tall grasses and woods outside, photographing bugs.

Bug on Car

God it feels good to do this, to be camped who-knows-where in Manitoba with my sweetie. I wouldn't be anywhere else. It's a good life, one lived on the road, feeling like the world is ours to inhabit.

First Canadian Free Camp
Previous Entry
April 2012, in Photos


I had to laugh at the picture of you camping in what is probably a farmers field. You are likely to find that campsites don't open until the May 18 weekend (Victoria Day weekend), which usually signifies the "start of summer" in Canada. If you get a chance to stop, the folks in rural Saskatchewan are remarkably friendly. In the small towns in Alberta there are a lot of campsites operated by the Lions and Rotary Clubs (see our blog). They are a great value - we stayed in quite a few when we rode through there on our bikes.
Enjoy Salt Spring Island! It is a gorgeous place - there is a great little campground on the side of the island near the ferry that goes to Victoria.
Have a fun trip eh!
Posted by Becky on May 6th, 2012 at 6:09 PM
Hey, I'm from North Dakota! :) I grew up 25 miles from the border crossing you drove through. It has virtue. Anyway, I've been inspired by your experiences and I've learned a lot from your site. Keep up the great work! I also have plans to start a project like the one on your own horizon. I'll be checking back on your progress and, no doubt, learning from your experiences. Cheers!
Posted by Jacob on May 11th, 2012 at 1:32 PM