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Wisconsin Journey

So I couch surfed in Minnesota, a quick trip through – I really wish I could stay and look around these places but my time scale does not allow.  So onwards on Highway 94, through Wisconsin where the maple trees are turning orange and you can see them from the highway for miles and miles.  Hank the Buick is running well.   I checked him right over today, in the sunshine and have intentions to take him to a mechanic if I can find a reliable one.

I was heading for Madison but as darkness fell and my eyes were heavy with sleep I stopped in Black River Falls, and found a gem of a motel – the Falls Motel.  Quiet, cute, clean, cheaper than those on the highway with loads of character – this is perfect for me.  A few beers on my own and the comedy channel on; 9pm and I pretty much ready to sleep.  Happy that my journey is going well and meeting an old friend in Chicago tomorrow, I am feeling sweet and incredibly lucky to be able to do this.

Into Minnesota…

High spirits as I enter Minnesota.  Hank is running well, roads are good and I am looking forward to meeting up with Elisa, a Couchsurfer who is putting me up for the night.  Going to get Hank checked over as soon as I can – he has done a lot of miles in a short time.

After this I only have 2-3 hours driving each day and can relax into work and some tourism.  Hurray.  That’s what it is about!

I am lucky to know people dotted around the country, or have contacts that know people.  Or I would feel much more worried.  Couchsurfing is a life saver.  It is nice to have someone on the end of the phone, who knows you are arriving.  I am very safe about the whole thing – I always give the address of my host to my sister in Alberta.  But after a long drive it is so good to see a welcoming face.

In Estevan I stayed with a great couple, who welcomed me at 10 at night after my 11 hour drive.  It was so good to meet them both – one a radio host, the other a fitness instructor – what a cool couple!  I listened to the radio station on my way out of Canada, it was lovely to hear Claras voice whilst driving along.

I am currently sat in a bar, having a very cheap bite to eat and an iced tea.  Damn I wish I could have a beer…

Positive Day 3 : North American Road Trip

So after a good nights sleep, lots of work done (meaning worry of my mind and money coming in), a good rest and a good breakfast Hank and I got back on the road.   Even if I was up late listening to the room next door have VERY LOUD sex.  That just made me chuckle to myself.

I am feeling much better about today.  The noises and the wobbles that I imagined Hank making last night seem to have dispersed.  Crazy what you imagine when you drive on your own in the dark.  Yes, okay, no more dark journeys. The wind has dropped.  Everything is better in the cold (overcast) light of day.   I am nearly in Minnesota, where towns seem to be getting closer together.  Hurray!

Tunes on and enjoying the drive in Hank now.  Especially as I have discovered I am a third of the way to my destination.

Sat in a cafe drinking coffee (strange, I do not drink coffee) stealing WiFi from the hotel next door.  ONWARDS!

Lonely Drive East : North America

It has been a stressful 4 days.  I am not a ‘stressy’ person, but I can feel the build up in my neck, shoulders, and in the headache…  But everyday I push all negative thoughts away from me and I do some stretching after every journey to keep my self feeling…ummm….normal.

The first day in these four stressful ones wasn’t even part of my road trip.  I had to “pop” to BC to get my car registered.  That was a 4 hour drive (one way) alone.  To me, that was fun.  I knew people either end of the journey, I was just getting used to Hank the Buick, I saw old friends   I stayed the night then shot back to Calgary, Alberta to pack my stuff (late as always) ready to leave for the North America Road Trip in the morning.

North America Road Trip : Day 2

I am on day two of the actual road trip.  I have travelled from Alberta to North Dakota in Hank, the 1988 Buick Century, and I still have a long way to go until Maine.  Within the first day of my road trip I did an 11 hour drive to make up time.   And it took it’s toll on both me and Hank.  I need to keep resting him, and me.

Hank and I chug along at between 90-100k.  The roads we have travelled so far have been relentlessly windy and unforgiving.  We have been bullied by truck after truck wanting to get on with their working days.  Tumble wind shoots across the road in front of us, like giant spiders scuttling to their holes.  Sat inside him on my own I feel every bump Hank takes, I hear every sound of the engine, take every wobble and blow with him, and I worry and hope he will make it to the next town.  There is vast space between the inviting lights of “life” up here in North Dakota.

I hit the border between Canada and United States. They always question you.  I know that.  And I should always be prepared, but never am.  They always scare me a little bit.  But after they questioned if Hank would get there and what the hell I was doing, my passport was stamped and I was sent on my way.

Driving from the border to the next town felt like FOREVER.  My phone was not working, and there was just miles and miles of land with no houses, no people.  With immigrations words ringing in my ears “Is THAT going to make it to Maine?”, I felt pretty panicky.   What have I got myself into?

Note: Sort out American phone before crossing the border.

It doesn’t sound like fun does it?  So am I brave or mad?

I have confidence that Hank will make it all the way there and I HOPE all the way back too.  We don’t go fast, and he is a trooper.  I put my tunes on and sing aloud and look out at the beautiful landscape we drive through.  And so far we have made it.  Sometimes I wish I had flown, or taken the bus so I do not need to worry, but that would be easy wouldn’t it?

I read about people flying around the world in balloons, or jumping out of a space ship to parachute down to earth.  I don’t think I am the mad one.

I stopped driving early today.  It got dark and the wind battering us.  I was avoiding sleeping in Motels (for the cost), but seeing as my Couch Surfing friend was another 3 hour drive, I bit the bullet and pulled over in Rugby.

Even though it was dark, the little town had a nice feeling, proud of what it had achieved and a community spirit.  I shopped around a bit for a cheap Motel with WiFi.  Some friendly locals at the convenience store rang around for me.  How sweet is that?  I love when you feel a bit down, a friendly face pops up.

One really cosy Motel unfortunately didn’t have WiFi in the room.   So I opted for “that big one” with bright shiny lights (actually called The Northern Light) and a swimming pool.  This actually turned out to be the same price as the smaller ones here on the main highway.  That is around US$85.   I justified that as I did a lot of work (web design for small businesses) in that room.   And I was so glad to be there, as I turned on the heater and listened to the wind hammering on the window.


Introducting Hank the Buick : Roap Trip, West to East, North America

I am just preparing to set off on my own, on a road trip from Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Bangor, Maine, US. I say JUST PREPARING because I know my general direction. That is about it. And I am leaving in 5 days.

Lyn riding Hank in front of The Titan – World’s Largest Truck, Sparwood, British Columbia

How I met Hank

Hank is very dear to me.  He is a 1988 Buick Century, battered and rusted on the outside, well loved and in perfect condition on the inside.  When I first came to Canada back in January I did a ski season in Fernie, BC.  I met two top girls: Lyn (from New Zealand) and Aileen (from Scotland).

At that time Lyn owned Hank, and even on the worst, blistering cold mornings, after being lovingly dug out by Lyn, he made it up the hill to work.   Hank was a real trooper WE  thought: but people were waiting for Hank to fall to pieces.

That Spring we took Hank from Fernie, and drove across to the West of the US where the girls dropped me off in Portland, Oregon (one of my favourite places) and then doubled back to Vancouver.   Hank made it again.

From left to right: Lyn, me and Aileen in Portland, Oregon sat on Hank. Just about to part company.

After Lyn left the country, Aileen bought the car and he had a restful Summer in Golden, but made another major trip round BC before Aileen passed the car over to me.

Will Hank the Buick make the 4564k Journey?

My intention this October was to head to East of the US.   I hadn’t booked a bus ticket yet, I am pretty relaxed and find that things work better sometimes if you leave it late.  This was perfect.  Aileen dropped me an email letting me know Hank was mine, and I knew I was going to take him to the East.

I love him so much I do not want to drive him into the ground.  But I can feel he is as excited about this trip as I am!

So.  Will Hank and I make it?  I have every faith he will make it there AND back.  We will go nice and slow.   We will do a max of 5 hours driving a day.

Make sure you keep up with the adventures of Hank.  5 days to go!

Keep fit when travelling the world

You can keep fit when travelling the world, but it is hard to keep on top of especially with no money.  However, it is important if you are travelling for extended periods of time.  This post is about keeping fit when travelling.

How do you keep fit when travelling the world?

I am not a fitness freak, but  I love activities (ie. snowboarding, hiking, climbing), and I like to feel like I can maintain a strong and active body so I can do these activities, and also look a little better (yes I know, more work needed here).

I find my backpack is weightier because I enjoy “activities”, but I deal with carrying it because I am fitter.  Ha.  (Aside from brute determination).

So whilst I am travelling, with no money I opted to either run (or “jog”, or “lollop”), work out on the floor (any floor), bike or hike.

Free ways to keep fit when travelling

Running is a great way to keep fit – it gets your heart rate up and keeps your costs down. You can run anywhere during spring, summer and most of autumn.  Running in the snow, if you are in a place where it snows, is a little harder and you have to be careful of ice.  Although, in Canada, I have found cleared or gritted road/ pavements during the winter months.   It takes some getting used to though; running in the winter.

I was lucky enough to find a pair of running shoes (trainers if you are from the UK) my size at a thrift store. The Salvation Army thrift stores in Canada are a blessing in my travelling life.  I have bought and loved so many tops from thrift stores, and my running trainers are awesome.  They were in good condition too.

I originally did not bring my runners with me on my trip.  Big regret.  If you like to keep fit, chuck something else OUT of your backpack and stick your runners in.  Or just wear your runners on the plane (I wear my walking boots).  A good idea is the FiveFinger shoes; I have heard you can both run and walk in them.  I have not tried them myself but a pretty good idea to keep your backpack lighter.

Activity app for the iphone

If you have an Iphone then download RunKeeper.   You take your phone with you and you can record your activity.  A little voice will tell you how far you have run. I find this really useful when I am in an unfamiliar city/town – as I cannot judge how far I am going.  As soon as the little voice pipes up “you have run 15 minutes… or 2.5k” I know I can turn back, depending on how far I want to run.  I pretty much run for half an hour at the moment, but aiming for more.  Runkeeper also has programmes that will help you build up to longer runs.  And you do not need credit on your phone/cell.  My Runkeeper tracks me with no credit.

I didn’t run for  6 months, so I myself started at 3k built up to 5k, 3 times I week.  I will keep going till I can get up to 8k -10k at least once in a week.  You can usually find a park to aim for on Google Maps.  I tend to aim for a public park, run around it a bit and then head home.

Biking is great too – and a lot of kind people leant me their bikes when I was couch surfing.  It is a great way to see a city, and keep fit.  Also there are loads of bike trails around now, through the countryside. You do not have to be an expert.

You may feel like a fool but reflective clothing if running or biking at dawn/dusk on the road is a must.

Floor exercises whilst travelling

I have worked out in many a hostel room.  Some people will look at you as though you are crazy, but keep in mind you are doing this for yourself, not them, and you will handle your hangover better than them in the morning.  Other people have total respect and want to join in.

I like to do exercises that I can do it a small space.  I am 6 foot and take up a lot of room, but find I can usually get the following done in any area.  I sometimes go outside, round the back of a building if the weather is good.

Indoor fitness programme for travellers

Generally I will do the following, twice:

  • 30 sit ups
  • 10 full good press ups
  • 20 tricep dips (just use a bed or a chair, anything)
  • 20 lunges
  • 20 squats
  • Bridging x 10
  • Hip abduction on your side x 10

Just do them once to start for a few weeks, then build up to two.  It does not take long, maybe 10 minutes each round and it just keeps you on top of it.  It goes without saying – if you are stronger than me, do more.

Remember to drink plenty of water and take the time to stretch down before and afterwards, or you will feel the pain.  I will add some some more advice to this post when I can.

I am not a fitness expert and if you hurt yourself doing these exercises it is NOT MY FAULT.  You should know what you are doing and be fit enough to take on the programme.   Do not try to run 3k if you have never run before.  You should seek some advice on how to start.   Make sure you know where you are going, and do not run in the dark in unfamiliar towns or cities.  Keep safe!

Yoga whilst travelling

Travelling, I have done loads of yoga.  In Canada or the US you can get very cheap introductory classes (for up to a month) or attend community classes, which are either free or you pay a donation.   Some yoga schools do a free “first” session.  Also sign up to Meetup.com because you can find some good deals on there.

I lived in Portland, Oregon just for a month.  I took up a class for $40 for 1 month introductory.  I went 4-5 times a week.   That is about $2 per session.  I loved it – it was well worth it.

I am sure other sports do introductory fees too, so make sure you look out for them.

Free ice skating in Canadian towns

Look out for free ice skating in small towns throughout Canada in the winter months.  In Fernie BC there is free public ice skating on a Tuesday and Thursday morning (please check days and times) at Fernie Memorial Arena.  I am a terrible ice skater, but  I would go for 45 minutes and work up a sweat and I eventually got quite fast.   Also I know you can sign up to play in baseball teams in the summer, but you would have to be pretty settled in one place.

Good luck with your fitness whilst travelling!

Road tripping : British Columbia

It’s April 2012.  People we met on our road trip told us April is not the best time for a road trip.  This can be agreed in ways as we saw a lot of CLOSED signs, but as we did not want to spend money on Museums, and do not mind the cold we smile and agree to each other that we have beaten the crowds and that the country looks beautiful on crisp Spring mornings, with a sprinkling of snow here and there.   The roads are clear and, for the most part, the sun is shining.

We hired a car, a small car, from Enterprise on Granville Road, Vancouver.  The office is a hop, a skip and a jump to the Samesun Backpackers Hostel – although Enterprise footed the bill for a taxi, after withdrawing their offer to pick us up.  We giggle when we realised how close the two are, but with heavy bags we were appreciative.

Our little car was a new Mazda, with 4000 kilometres on the clock.  With our route planned, we opted for unlimited mileage, which was an extra $10 a day.  For this trip you will need it.

The plan follows:  Vancouver; Wells Gray Provincial Park; Revelstoke and then back via the South of BC so not to follow our tracks back too much.  And this was a perfect 7 day round trip in BC.

Road trip – BC, Canada to Seattle, US

After a road trip around BC, at the end of April 2012 I headed back to Fernie from Calgary on a Greyhound bus (please listen whilst reading LOL).  The greyhound is about CA$90 and an easy journey.  I joined friends ready for a road trip in Lyn’s Buick, named Hank. I had lived with these friends in Fernie for three brilliant months, mainly snowboarding (ok and partying).
The four of us were heading across the border, toward Seattle via Spokane to eventually reach Portland, Oregon. Click here to see the route to Seattle.

I would be travelling with the guys for just under 2 weeks and splitting from them in Portland. They were to head back up North, I was to head South, eventually travelling down to Nevada.

It was still pretty cold, but the sun was (just about) out as we excitedly packed the trunk with our four pretty small lives.

Crossing the border, US to Canada

This was my first time going across the border by vehicle from Canada to the US. Grab some US money before you cross if you can. It’s easier if you have cash to pay the border crossing fee, which is around US$6, but they do take cards.  You pay US to get into the US, and Canadian when you enter Canada.

Spending Canadian money in the US

Generally you cannot spend Canadian money in the US, apart from a few places close to the border (I once got caught on a toll outside of Chicago with no cash apart from some Canadian coinage; they begrudingly took that). However, I’ve discovered most places in Canada are happy to take US coins. I can’t confirm notes (bills).

If you are in the US, take your ID with you

We stopped over for one night in Spokane.  We did not get to know Spokane terribly well.  We stayed in a cheap motel and ate cheap food.  I suppose I have to add (as I have kindly been reminded) that I did not take my ID out with me.  Take your ID with you EVERYWHERE in America.  How the guys laughed as I was refused a beer at 31 (oldest of the group).

In Washington State, whilst you can sell alcohol in a grocery or a convenience store at 18  (if supervised), the legal age to consume, sell, transport, or serve alcohol is 21.  Servers are really strict, as state law says they can go to jail or be fined (as an individual) for selling alcohol to a minor.

There is no actual law in the United States requiring citizens to carry identification of any kind.  But you will not get served.  Just looking 72 with grey hair is not enough.  Carry your government issued ID – a drivers licence or a passport.

Seattle, Washington, US

It was pretty exciting hitting Seattle. My first big American city.   All of us with limited money.    Four of us sharing a room.   The only food we could afford was McDonalds.  A haven for the poor. Of course, we were all saving money to go out on my birthday in a few days. Waaaaaay more important that eating.

What to do in Seattle, Washington, US

We each bought a Seattle City Pass. At time of writing it is $74 for 5 amusements, which would cost you $129 to go to all of them individually.   We did the Space Needle, the Seattle Aquarium, EMP Museum, Woodland Park Zoo and a Harbour Tour by Argosy Cruises, on which you are bound to see seals (yey).  All of the attractions were pretty cool.

Travelling means I am pretty tight on money, but in my first US city I am so glad I bought the Seattle City Pass.

I loved the EMP Museum.  If you like music do this, it is worth every penny.   Buying tickets for the EMP museum online is $5 cheaper than on the door.  EMP stands for “Experience Music Project” in case you were wondering.

Pike Place Market, Seattle

We had beautiful weather in Seattle: hot, hot sun. The shorts were on, white legs out, as we wondered around the infamous Pike Place Market, (1st & Pike in Downtown Seattle).  If Seattle is the only city you visit on the coast try Chowder, a thick creamy seafood stew served inside a large bread roll. NOM!  Chowder is readily available in Pike Place Market.

Far too much fun to be had spending money in the Magic Shop, with coin operated fortune teller and Elvis.

We bought a picnic and sat, with the rest of Seattle, on the grass overlooking Elliot Bay. When the sun comes out the entertainment comes out – hugs on sale for JUST A DOLLAR (Lyn got one of those), preachers, sellers, buskers, dancers and painters all bustled in and out of our day.

Downtown Seattle is also really nice and easy to walk around.  There are some lovely shops… we will avoid those seeing as we are travellers ;-)

 Drinks out in Seattle

The 23rd, my Birthday, was the day we did the Aquarium and then spoilt ourselves with dinner at a sea food restaurant at the waterfront.  All of us dressed in shorts and flip flops, after a couple of happy hour beers in Red Robin…  classy!

Then we rolled into a bar called The Central Saloon – claiming to be the oldest saloon in Seattle.  This bar was full of character, had great staff and a few fun loving locals.  Good times.