Combine a couple of weeks, three prairie provinces, very summery weather with blue skies, long stretches of highway flanked by a mixture of endless fields, leafy green trees, and watery patches of all shapes and sizes, add a motorhome and you have a formula for a pleasant memorable adventure. But add an air conditioner and you have hit Nirvana. Oh, and a can of bug spray, too.

We left Edmonton, headed south and then east avoiding the floods that hit the Calgary area. Our travels took us across Saskatchewan into small towns like Gull Lake (where David's father was born).

We came through Regina during a Supermoon. We pulled into a deserted campground in Grenfell. Just us and one other rig. We got our first hint as to how annoying the biting bugs would be.

We crossed into Manitoba and decided to drop down to Highway 2 and visit Souris. About this time, I began my capture photographically of vintage buildings and signs like the majestic grain elevators, giant monoliths that dot the prairies alongside the railway tracks, and the chocolate shop sign in Souris.

Made our way past Winnipeg using the Perimeter Highway, and out Hwy 12 to Anola and finally to Beausejour, the town of my youth.

From there we visited Lac du Bonnet for Canada Day fireworks and a very profitable farmers market (my books sold out in only a few hours), Lockport (home of the vintage Skinners restaurant famous for its hotdogs), and Milner Ridge to see pink Ladyslippers.

Homebound, we are on an ambling route from the Polo Park mall in Winnipeg to Oakville (home of a massive elevator), Gladstone (watch for the Mennonite peoples and their horse and buggy transports), Neepawa with its garden-class Riverside Cemetery, Minnedosa, Birtle, and Foxwarren, all towns dotted charmingly with vintage buildings.

Finally on to Russell and Inglis (you must see the long line of royalty here - huge vintage elevators), and overnight in Aesissippi Park alongside a fast-flowing creek with lots of mosquitoes. A beautiful spot that was hard to leave, but we have commitments at home.

From here, we have a business appointment in Saskatoon. Then through the Battlefieds to Lloydminster, and finally home, embracing the wide blue prairie skies and hot summer sun all the way.

PictureOur first day with our new rig just hours away from our newbie mishap
Sheree says...

There is no horror like the cold horror of being in the dark, on a mountain road, in the middle of nowhere, and the RV engine is dead.

Do we need a Good Sam membership?

That's the question I asked myself during my research in prepping to collect our used motorhome from a British Columbia dealership.

As RV owners for the very first time, we were completely clueless as to driving a motorhome, propane usage, generators, solar power, holding tank dumps, and club memberships. We had heard of Good Sam, and we had seen the Good Sam sign on campgrounds, but we have AMA coverage. Did we really need Good Sam, too?

Luckily, for us, I decided that we did need a membership. And bought one online. Ironically, we used that membership almost immediately on a lonely stretch of highway, in the mountains, in the dark, between Revelstoke and Golden, B.C. (within hours of pulling away from the dealership in Salmon Arm).

Here is how it went:

After a night and a morning at Country Camping, we felt we had had enough tutoring to comfortably hit the road. We pulled out, the very definition of "happy campers," innocent of the shock that was to come.

We ambled for a few hours, enjoying the freedom that comes with a motorhome: making tea, exploring tourist spots, taking photographs, and finally stopping to take a much needed rest.

We pulled over late afternoon in a trucker turnout. I laid down to catch a nap. My husband, David, decided to catch up on some computer work and treat himself to tunes on our new stereo. But he made a wee mistake. It could have been a devastating mistake were it not for Good Sam.

I awoke a couple of hours later, refreshed and happy. David wore a big smile. He nodded. We silently agreed that we had found the good life.

We decided to get back on the road. It was chilly outside and the gloom was deepening. We wanted to get closer to Alberta where we would be getting the rig safety-checked and registered since we had bought her out-of-province.

We settled into our seats and David turned the ignition key. Nothing. Just clicks. Oh, dear God. He tried again. Clicks.

We stared at each other in horror. Had we bought a lemon? We were still clueless as to how much power we had to stay warm. And we had no idea what to do for an engine that would not turn over.

Our first thought was to call the dealership, but it was closed. No help there. We began to panic. That's when I remembered.

Only a day before, something had arrived in the mail: our Good Sam paperwork and tiny key tag that we had slipped onto our key ring. I examined it and discovered a number. Honestly, I did not expect much help, not way up in the mountains, and not at night. But...

David called the Good Sam number and a young man answered. Fear had made David short on patience and he fairly growled at the man, but the Good Sam rep calmed him down, got our membership number, our GPS coordinates, and then he began to work his magic.

Within a few minutes, we were assured that a tow truck (one big enough to tow our rig, should that be necessary) had been dispatched and would reach us within 45 minutes.

David and I looked at each other, still in shock. Really? Was it that easy? One call and help was on the way? I was still skeptical.

Sure enough, about 45 minutes later, through the gloom, we saw a huge tow truck, headlights blazing. The friendliest man, Bill with Columbia Towing, jumped out and came over to assess our situation. He convinced us to try a jump start first and while he hooked up, he regaled us with a story about a man with a brand new BMW, a dead battery, and a happy ending.

My heart leapt as our engine rumbled to life. Bill disconnected the cables and continued to chatter. We asked what we owed him for the visit and the boost. His answer made our jaws drop: Nothing. Not a cent.

David and I said good-bye and clambered back into our rig. Bill had advised us to keep driving for at least an hour to charge the battery. We were only too happy to oblige. From then on, it was smooth sailing, not a single issue.

Are you wondering about our dead battery?

David would rather I don't tell, but there is a key position on the steering column that is meant for playing a stereo when the vehicle is not running: Accessories. David did not use that setting; he had 1/2 turned the key instead. It took only a couple of hours of grooving to tunes to completely deplete the chassis battery. It is something that will NEVER happen again.

But there is something that will happen again. We will pay for a Good Same membership every year for as long as we own a motorhome.

Thank you, Good Sam!

Oh, and the good times? We are headed to our very first Alberta "Samboree" in a week. We have heard nothing but good things about these get-togethers.

BTW, with huge kudos to the folks at Country Camping, our rig amazed the Alberta safety service technicians. It was perfect. Our 2005 Travelaire has been an absolute joy to own and use.

  1. Good Sam has mobile apps for Blackberry, Android, and iPhone
  2. Good Sam offers 20 emergency medial and travel services
  3. Good Sam will bring emergency fuel, do battery jumps, change flat tires, or tow your rig
  4. Good Sam offers assistance in Canada, the U.S, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Mexico
  5. Good Sam benefits include discounts at Camping World
  6. Good Sam is on FACEBOOK

David relieved with the arrival of Columbia Towing
Sheree says...

Get off the power grid and stay in that secret hideaway. Indulge in light and heat without a power cord.


Solar power!

Are you getting into the RV lifestyle? Maybe you have been in the lifestyle for a while, but have still not fully investigated solar power? Or you have decided that solar power does not merit the cost of equipment and installation.

How wrong you are! Don't wait another moment.

Solar power (the initial equipment and installation) may look expensive, but once you have made the investment, you will never look back.

Solar power means freedom. No more plugging in. No more worrying about the AC voltage coming off an old campground power stand. No more being restricted to civilization.

Imagine a power outage in the mountains during a summer snowfall. Your family stuck in a poorly insulated and unheated trailer or motorhome will be miserable. But that doesn't happen with solar power.

Even without bright sunshine, the solar battery charges, miraculously. With full sun, the results are fast and furious.

Should you decide to go ahead, be sure you speak to a knowledgeable dealer first. You will need at least a single solar panel, a battery (preferably two 6 volt or 12 volt) in which to store the solar power, an inverter, and a solar controller. Here is a tool to help calculate your power needs: GoPower

A bit of an education is advisable, too: how batteries work, how they discharge and charge, the ins and outs of wattage, volts, and amp hours, and the care of solar panels.

After reviewing your family's amp hours usage requirements (light, heat, entertainment), you will be very able to determine how much power you will need to last several days off the grid in that secret hideaway fishing spot. Or even just to take advantage of free parking in a Walmart parking lot.

Solar power is free and clean. Maintenance is minimal. Clean off the dust and dirt or snow...and you will be good to go.

Cost? Stay free and off the grid for only a couple of weeks using solar power...and you will see your solar power investment pay for itself.

I promise! As the sun is my witness. :)

Portable solar power solutions in Canada
More info on solar power kits

Sheree says....

We have just attended our first (and the very first RVDA annual) RV learning weekend. What an eye-opener.

The good news is that we made many smart decisions like installing solar power and an electric fan.

The bad news is that we made some mistakes like using tap water instead of distilled water to top up the coach batteries.

About 90 people, mostly couples, attended the RVDA event held east of Red Deer, Alberta at the Ol' MacDonalds resort on Buffalo Lake.

Friday was reserved for arrival and a "meet and greet," while Saturday and Sunday were stuffed full of seminars overflowing with must-have info for the newbie and seasoned RV owner.

Don't know how to empty the poop chute (the black water tank)? That was covered in all the gory details. (Kidding) Dumping the holding tanks is not as scary nor as disgusting as it might sound. Clever tips shared by John Clarke and KC (2 Guys RV Education) makes the process simple and sanitary.

Want to boondock off the grid? Never let plugged-in power stop you from adventuring again. Doug Grafton of Carmanah Technologies gave a packed schoolroom the lowdown on batteries and solar power. We had already installed a solar panel when we purchased our rig, but we still had questions. Doug visited our motorhome, took a look at our set-up, answered our questions, and gave us his stamp of approval.

Other seminars included RV plumbing, towing tips, rig customizing, RV insurance, and RV checklists. All were well attended.

Saturday night included a hearty beef dinner, entertainment, door prizes, and a bonfire.

Sunday was still full of seminars into mid afternoon, but we were allowed a late checkout time by the resort, so no rushing was necessary. That's good since a black water tank dump was part of our "strike camp and get going" ritual. No rushing that.

David and I wish to extend our heartiest thanks and congratulations on a very successful first-time event to the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Alberta. We look forward to many more of your educational get-togethers.

Special thanks to John and KC (2guysrveducation), Doug Grafton, and the folks with AVIVA and RV Direct insurance.

BTW, the Ol' MacDonald resort is very pleasant. An early morning walk to the lake is a must. Especially for birders and photographers. A feast for the ears and eyes.

Our messy but very comfortable Gypsy Turtle abode
Sheree says...

We arrived in Kalispell, Montana on a bright, sunny afternoon. Not much sleep the night before because we drove most of the night. So, we are tired. We want to stop the world and rest. With no camping fees.

That means boondocking or "dry camping." No plug-ins. So, we go in search of a friendly big box store parking lot.

We tried the Home Depot where the manager said too many slobs spoiled it for everyone else. Who in their right mind would dump tanks on pavement? Pigs! But they did and now motorhomes are not welcome overnight at Home Depot.
He suggested Walmart up the road.

A Walmart customer service rep said the police are cracking down on overnighters. But the assistant manager, Ray, told us to go ahead and park. Too early in the season to be bothered by cops.

Thank goodness. And look at that view.

Photo by Sheree Zielke
An Alberta sunset shot from near our motorhome in Elk Island Retreat RV park. Still lots of snow at the end of April.

Sheree says:

I admit it…this whole RV water system, lines and pipes, tubes and pump, and holding tanks…in freezing weather is really freaking me out.

We just picked up our newest acquisition, a used 2005 Travelaire in Salmon Arm, BC, where the dealership was storing it for the winter. When we picked it up, the winterizing had been flushed out and we were able to use the unit as per normal. But we live in Alberta and despite it being the end of April, beginning of May, we still are getting snow and freezing weather.

I realized how cold it had gotten and I began to panic. What if? What if? We have water in all the tanks: the black water, the gray water, and the fresh water tanks. What if? My brain is struggling with just how cold -7 Celsius actually is. I know it is below freezing, but we keep hearing that the magic number or disaster number is -10C. Our unit is in such good condition. Were we newbies stupidly wrecking our unit by inviting frozen lines and cracked holding tanks?

We can legally keep the unit on our street for 72 hours, so we had already decided that we will pull it across our driveway, plug into the house electrical, and run some heaters. That should work, but what if the damage is already done?

I am freaking…and that’s when I look out my kitchen window at the bird bath. I watch as the wind and snow blow around outside causing little tidal waves in the bowl. Waves. Waves? Wait a minute…those are waves. The water in the bird bath has not frozen. Oh, thank God for small miracles.

Tonight, we will take precautions in anticipation of tomorrow night’s -17 Celsius temps.

That and prayer should take us into an Alberta spring and milder temps…FINALLY!

Photo by Sheree Zielke
David waits patiently at the registry for our paperwork

Sheree says...

So, you are thrilled to have purchased your used RV. Nice, but wait...if you bought that new/old motorhome outside of the province you reside in, you will have to jump through a few hoops if you ever want to have it registered in your home province.

How many hoops?

Well, here is my journal of the many steps I took to get the process started:

Where can an Albertan get an out-of-province inspection done on a motorhome?

I called a local RV dealership here in Edmonton and asked a service agent if I could set up an appointment for an inspection with them. Lawrence at Carefree informed me that they don't do inspections there. But he courteously suggested First Truck at 780-413-9422.

The woman at First Truck asked me if my request was personal or commercial, because no personal inspections are done there. She gave me the number for Buses 'R Us at 780-413-6496. They are located at 16750-121 Avenue. Great, thought I. But no...

I called there and hit another wall. Did our unit have air brakes? Buses 'R Us services only rigs with air brakes. Otherwise, motorhomes must be taken to an automotive outlet like Fountain Tire or Canadian Tire. Sigh...

Okay, I had already done some searching around prior and remembered speaking with a friendly fellow at Fountain Tire in Camrose, AB. Since we are picking up our unit in BC, we will come through Camrose, so a stop at a Fountain Tire there seemed like a good plan.

I called...well, I called the wrong outlet first (the Camrose downtown Fountain Tire does not do inspections). The fellow there gave me the number for the outlet on the highway.

I spoke to Dale who confirmed they do out-of-province inspections for motorhomes, but only the smaller ones. Ours is 25-feet, so it was acceptable. Price $225.00 plus tax. We set an appointment for a few days after we pick up the RV from the dealership, giving us time to get to Camrose. I took an 8 AM appointment since the inspection will take 4-5 hours.

The Fountain Tire in Camrose is located on the highway, near the Tim Horton's at 4720- 36 Street.

What will I need before taking my used RV/motorhome for an out-of-province inspection?

Oh boy, another hoop. The RV owner is responsible for picking up an out-of-province inspection form from any licensing/registry agency. Without one, the automotive outlet cannot perform the inspection. Be sure to have your sale papers and your insurance papers when you go.

Great news!
We went to our neighborhood registry and discovered there would be no running around looking for a registry in B.C. because we could get, along with our out-of-province inspection form, the in-transit permit, dated for any day we wished, and good for 7 days from that date.

The process was nearly painless and ended up costing a mere $30.90 for both items: the form and the permit.

Next step? A 13-hour Greyhound bus ride to get us to Salmon Arm, coaching for a day and a half on all the features of the Travelaire, then on to Camrose, and then (if we get the red stamp of approval) we can register the rig.

Hoping there won't be any surprise repairs, although I suspect we may be hearing about shocks needing replacement.

This is proving to be a major monetary undertaking, but we strongly believe the freedom will be worth it. Looking forward to seeing how the new solar panels perform.

Sheree says...

Oh, sigh...listening to the young man up on our house roof, repairing shingles after a terrible windstorm. Makes me think about how much care our 2005 Travelaire will need, care we are not familiar with.

We have been doing hours of research. Thanks goodness there are so many clubs, blogs, sites that are all dedicated to assisting new RVers. Mike Wendland posts a fantastic blog filled with all kinds of tips and hints, grumbles and happy thoughts, all sponsored by Roadtrek.

We heard something else today that surprises us: Florida now wants all drivers to carry an INTERNATIONAL drivers license. What? Seriously? Yes, they want all licenses to be in English.

But...the new 2013 law is not expected to hold up because it violates some international treaty. The CAA advised the legislators that Canadian drivers should not be included in the restrictions. Florida law-makers have agreed, but it will be a few months before the law is reconfigured. So, in the meantime, if traveling to Florida, you may want to spend the $25 for an international driving permit and the passport photos needed to go with the document. Easily obtained through your Automobile Association (CAA). Download the IDP application first.

"Praying Cowboy" by Sheree Zielke
Sheree says:

So much to do…so much to learn about the RV lifestyle. And we have only just begun.

In a nutshell, things I have learned in just the past few days (we attended the local RV show and did a huge amount of web research):

1.       Do not overload your unit with STUFF. Dear me…my camera gear alone might do that.

2.       An Albertan can claim back part of the HST if you bought your unit in another province because Albertans pay NO provincial sales tax. We still must pay the GST, however. Just fill out the federal rebate form up to a year after bringing your vehicle into the province.

3.       You must make your unit rodent-proof. My mind goes straight to those long, slithery things that live in the southern states, especially after watching the Oasis channel and watching an African python wrap itself around the wheel of the photographers’ jeep. Ewwww…. I have heard of using steel wool to plug entry holes, but it is highly flammable, so I am not too keen on that solution. I found something else called, X-cluder Rodent and Pest Barrier.

4.       Document EVERYTHING! We are starting a binder complete with photos, all paperwork referencing maintenance, insurance, RV clubs, etc.

5.       Get a special hose to help flush out your toilet plumbing (we bought one). Got a clogged RV toilet? It’s probably best not to get the toilet clogged up in the first place.  Here is one of the best tips we learned about RV toilets: Don’t put toilet paper into the toilet. Instead keep a small bucket with a lid (add a little bleach) and dispose of used TP in the bucket. Add a little bleach in the bottom and dump regularly. Keep baby wipes handy and dispose of those in the bucket, too. And, of course, save the bowel movements for other people’s toilets when possible.

6.       Bug spray for the front of the RV unit—a good idea unless you are keen on scrubbing those gucky green and yellow corpses off the grill after every trip down the highway.

7.       A local dealership will give our 2005 Travelaire RV a complete go-over and make suggestions for safe and efficient boondocking, also known as “dry camping” or “independent parking” or living “off the grid.” If you can find BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, you can stay up to 14 days for FREE! Like here in Quartzsite, Arizona. Or on Crown Land in Canada. Residents of Canada can camp for up to 21 days on Crown land unless otherwise posted, but a permit is required for non-residents. For more information : 1-800-667-1940

8.       This is an excellent site with tips for short term boondocking or  long term boondocking.

9.       Not all Walmarts allow boondocking, but there is an iPad app called, “Walmart Overnight Parking Locator,” that can help locate those that do. It costs $2.99 in the app store. Well worth the cost, I think. We shall see. Categories: “Walmart Possible Parking and Walmart No Parking.” Search by state or province. Click on a Walmart and the app indicates the driving distance in kms and miles. It also provides an address and an instant directional guide via Google Maps. If you click on the INFO icon, it will take you to an auto email page with GPS coordinates and questions that you can answer to help others wondering about whether or not to stay there.

10.    RV shows are terrific resources. We met the nicest people eager to help us. We found a contact who will teach us all about the RV, including driving hints and tricks. But there are “learn to drive recreational vehicles” videos online, too. Get RV driving tips and hints from veteran RV owners.

11.   RV clubs cost a ton of money like timeshares, but are they worth it? We have no clue, but we will find out, because the nightly costs of parking an RV in an established campground is as costly as some motels. My question: Why stay in a rig with a teeny shower and limited hot water, when you can spread out in a Holiday Inn and have a long, hot shower? Especially when you can amass points for free night stays as a member of a loyalty program like Priority Club or Choice Rewards.

12.   We found this cool RV stovetop cutting board, a heavy wooden platform, a counter extender of sorts that sits atop your stovetop elements and also acts as a muffler for the clinking and clanking that goes on in your stove when you are moving.

13.   Solar panels and batteries…ugh, all Greek to me…but very necessary since we are planning on boondocking as much as possible. Here is a great site for RV boondocking tips.

14.   The web is full of seasoned RV pros eager to share their knowledge. Got odd smells in your rig? Here is a video to help get rid of smells in your recreational vehicle.

15.   We found a must-do RV boondocking rally in Arizona. We can’t go this year, but we want to go in 2014. I was in from the instant I saw a photo of the “wagons circled” out in the desert. Ah, the Wild West!

16.   Maintenance of our RV! Wow, it’s a daily job, very unlike our house. Lots to do, to check on, to keep everything smooth sailing for the road ahead. Where to start? We found some sites with very good RV maintenance tips.  Here is a site with an almost inexhaustible checklist for RV maintenance.

17.   Mosquitoes and other pesky bugs? Try Listerine. No kidding.

18.   Bugs sticking to the front grill of your RV? Pull out the Pam cooking spray.

19.   Now what to pack? There are all kinds of RV camping lists, including this very detailed stocking your RV list.

20.   Blog every day and share your experiences with others. We are so grateful to all the veteran RV owners out there who have unselfishly shared their adventures, their upsets, and their good advice with us. Bless you!