Sharing spaces

Big Knife Provincial park, less than an hour from home, has become one of our favourite places to get away from the busyness of life. We’re just back from enjoying three days of peace and quiet there. 72 hours without cell phone or internet. No news. No politics. Just us and nature!

We certainly weren’t alone, however. We shared our camp spot with a very busy pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. I’m not an avid bird watcher, but these two piqued my curiosity and I had to do a bit of research as soon as we got home. Here’s what I learned.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker that breeds in Canada and the north-northeastern United States. It makes two kinds of holes in trees to harvest sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. The sapsucker inserts its bill into the hole to probe for sap. Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. The sapsucker  laps up the leaking sap and any trapped insects with its specialized, brush-tipped tongue, and eats the cambium of the tree too. New holes usually are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old.

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That’s Mr Sapsucker in my photo. His Missus looks almost the same except her bib is grey instead of red. With thousands of trees in the area, why they chose one in the middle of the campground, I’ll never know, but they were clearly quite comfortable sharing space with us. Apparently, our trailer was in their flight path between this tree and the woods surrounding the campsite, but Mr quickly took to flying directly under our awning even when we were sitting there! Thankfully, there were no collisions as he went back and forth all day long!

We also shared our space with chipmunks and squirrels who checked the site from time to time to see if we’d left anything edible lying around, and a couple of rabbits who just passed on through.

One of the things that we love to do at Big Knife is kayak on the Battle River. Yesterday, we discovered the spot where Big Knife Creek feeds into the river, so of course we had to explore it. The slow moving creek was shallow in spots, but navigable. We went as far as we could (up the creek with a paddle!) until a huge fallen tree blocked our pathway and we had to turn around.

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Pristine, untouched wilderness!

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We quickly discovered that even here we weren’t alone. This time we were sharing space with beaver. Lots of beaver! They obviously weren’t as comfortable as the sapsuckers were with the idea of sharing space with us though. As soon as we got anywhere close, tails hit the water with thundering splashes and they disappeared below the surface. I managed to get a picture of this one just before he gave his warning shot and disappeared from sight.

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Remembering my father

The blog has been unusually quiet for the past week and a half. There was no Fashion Friday post last week and nothing in honour of International Women’s Day yesterday. My father passed away less than 48 hours after I published the last post. All I’ve written since then is his eulogy and a myriad of lists. Lists of things to do and people to contact. In fact, I wrote so many lists that Richard suggested perhaps I needed to make a list of my lists!

As I worked on the eulogy, when we chatted with Dad’s pastor while planning the memorial service, and when we visited with friends and family after the service, it was comforting to recall who Dad was before macular degeneration robbed him of his sight, a stroke stole most of his speech and mobility, and in his final months, dementia began to weaken his mind. My Dad was many things. He was a kind and generous man who was accepting of all people. He had a keen scientific mind, but also loved good literature and often quoted poetry to us. Above all else though, Dad was an adventurer. Even though it was very far removed, he was proud of his Gypsy heritage!

After graduating from the University of British Columbia in the spring of 1946 with an honours degree in chemical engineering, Dad found a job up the coast in the pulp and paper town of Powell River. That fall, he bought an old 24-foot wooden boat powered by an ancient 1927 car engine. With a friend, he sailed it up the coast from New Westminster to Powell River where he spent many hours over the next year sanding, re-caulking, and painting the hull and having the engine overhauled. He also met his bride-to-be that fall and the summer after they were married, they spent two weeks puttering up the coast in that old wooden boat. Apparently it rained every day but one, but that didn’t deter them from further adventures!

It was also during the Powell River years that Dad took up mountain climbing. He was a member of the BC Mountaineering Club for many years and ascended many peaks in the Powell River area as well as around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. Dad always had a passion for seeing what was in the next valley, behind the next hill, or around the next corner. As a climber, he had at least one first ascent because, in his words, he was mad enough go one mountain further back than anyone else had ever bothered!

Dad loved to get away to quiet and remote places. For our very first camping trip as a family, he piled Mom and three kids into the little rowboat that he’d made with his own hands and rowed us across an isolated inlet to a rocky point where we would set up camp and stay for a week. A second trip in the rowboat brought the big canvas tent and the rest of our camping gear across. We had so much fun that we returned to the same spot the following summer!

After we moved to Vancouver in 1963, Dad’s passion for the path less traveled took us to some of the most remote places in BC that were accessible by road. As a child, I remember wondering if some of them were really roads at all and if we were going to get permanently lost! In 1967, we drove the then mostly unpaved Alaska Highway all the way to Anchorage. The following year, Dad chartered a little floatplane and we flew into Garibaldi Lake to spend a couple of weeks camping, climbing, and exploring. While we were there, Dad and I climbed Mount Price together.

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Dad on the summit of Mount Price

Just before Christmas 1968, Dad accepted a job with the newly formed Government of the Northwest Territories. He moved to Yellowknife in January while the rest of us stayed in Vancouver until the end of the school year. Our last long road trip as a family took us from Vancouver to our new home in Yellowknife with a side trip to visit Wood Buffalo National Park. Dad’s role with the territorial government involved quite a bit of travel, sometimes to comfortable spots in southern Canada, but mostly by small aircraft into settlements across the Arctic. On one of those trips, he froze his fingertips while desperately clinging to a komatik (sled) as it bounced across the ice and snow behind an Inuit man on a snowmobile.

In the early 1970s, Dad decided that it was time for he and Mom to begin seeing more of the world. With my younger siblings, who were still living at home, they spent the summers of 1973 and 76 exploring Europe. In typical Dad fashion, those trips took them off the popular tourist trail to some more remote and unusual destinations including Leningrad and Moscow.

In May of 1982, Dad retired and in his words, he and Mom became homeless wanderers. Their belongings were shipped to Vancouver and put into storage while they spent most of the following year traveling North America and sleeping in the back of their little Malibu station wagon. After returning to Vancouver and living in a rented apartment for six months, it was time to set off on an even more audacious adventure. Dad ordered a Volkswagen camper van from a dealership in Vancouver to be picked up at the factory in Germany. Rather than flying directly to Germany, they got there via Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, two weeks in China, and the Trans Siberian railroad across the Soviet Union. After picking up the Volkswagen, they spent more than a year living in it and roaming around Europe and the Middle East before finally shipping it back to Canada. Sometime later, while a niece housesat for them, Dad and Mom were off on yet another adventure living in a rented van in Australia for several months. It was there that they survived a head on collision virtually unscathed.

In retirement, when he wasn’t traveling, Dad quickly learned that there’s no end of things to do as long as you don’t want to be paid. He spent three years working as volunteer office manager and treasurer for the Africa Community Technical Service, an organization committed to providing clean, accessible water to isolated communities in Africa. That led to yet more travel as he and Mom spent seven weeks in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with the director and his wife seeing first hand what their efforts were accomplishing.

Over the years that followed, the Volkswagen van brought them over the mountains to Alberta numerous times to visit their children and grandchildren. Their last big trip was to a resort in the Dominican Republic where they celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. That brought their total number of countries traveled to 67.

Life changed significantly for Dad when Mom began to show signs of dementia. For many years after that he devoted himself to the challenging task of caring for her. As a family, we were deeply concerned that he was burning himself out, but he faced it like another mountain to climb and later, after she passed away in 2014, he was heard to say that those had been good years.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 1, while I stood at his bedside, Dad ascended his final peak and caught his first glimpse of what’s on the other side.

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June 25, 1923 – March 1, 2020

At the reception following his memorial service, I was asked if I had inherited my father’s adventurous spirit and I was proud to reply that, yes, I believe I did! Thank you, Dad!

One more time!

Every fall, regardless of how many times we’ve had the trailer out over the summer or where we’ve taken it, I yearn for one more camping trip. When September arrives, however, the calendar starts to fill up and it doesn’t always happen. The weather didn’t cooperate when we planned on going earlier this month, but this weekend we finally managed to squeeze in two more days of camping, hiking, and kayaking. Now I can clean the trailer out and get it ready for winter without regret.

Big Knife Provincial Park, located in central east Alberta where Big Knife Creek flows into the Battle River, takes it’s name from a native legend. Two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot and Cree who inhabited the area were bitter enemies. According to the story, Big Man, a Cree, and Knife, a Blackfoot, fought near the banks of the creek. Apparently, both warriors died in the battle. In spite of this somewhat bloody history, the park, which is less than an hour from home for us, is now a lovely place to retreat from the busyness of life.

After setting up camp on Friday morning and having an early lunch, we set off to hike the 4.7 km River Flats trail. Beautiful views like these ones whetted my appetite for getting out on the river!

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Unfortunately, it started to rain shortly after we got back to camp and we spent the remainder of the afternoon in the trailer playing crib! As we ate supper, the clouds parted again and the sun came out, so I decided to go for a quick paddle before dark. Richard’s back has improved, but he’s not taking any chances with it yet, so I was on my own in our son’s single kayak again. When I set off shortly after 7:00 PM, the river was bathed in golden evening light.

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Soon afterward, I accidentally took a wrong turn leaving the river’s main channel and I ended up spending most of my time in a shallower dead end backwater. That wasn’t all bad. The quiet arm of the river was bustling with beaver activity! I lost track of how many I saw and how many tails slapped the water when I got too close!

An hour after I set off, the river looked like this and I had to boogie to make sure I got back to the boat launch before it was too late to see anything at all!

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After breakfast yesterday morning, we ventured out to hike the park’s longer trail system, the 5.8 km Highlands Trail. This one climbs out of the river valley and follows a ridge above. I love this view of the meandering river below.

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The Big Knife trails are far from challenging, mostly level, grass covered, and well maintained.

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With the abundance of rain that we’ve had this year, everything is very green, a beautiful backdrop for the fall colours.

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The beavers weren’t the only ones busily preparing for winter. It seemed that almost every Canadian thistle along the trails had a bee busily gathering nectar and they were completely oblivious to me and my camera getting up close. There were clusters of little purple flowers everywhere and just as I stopped to take a photo of one, a bee decided that it wanted to be in that picture too.

In the afternoon, I was back out on the water. The Battle River flows so slowly that looking at it, one might wonder if it moves at all. The fact that I paddled upstream for an hour and a half and returned in an hour, even though I spent some of that time drifting, proves that it really does! The push ups and planks that are part of my daily exercise routine definitely pay off, but by the time I spotted the bright yellow buoy in the distance that marks the location of the boat launch, my arms were ready to say they’d had enough!

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Now we’re busy cleaning out the trailer and getting it ready for winter. If we do get out for any more hiking or kayaking this year, it will be as a day trip.

Coastal adventure continued

On the west coast of Vancouver Island where we camped over the Thanksgiving weekend, more than half the days in October tend to be rainy ones. When the forecast promised sunshine on Saturday and rain on Sunday, we planned the weekend’s activities accordingly. Saturday morning found us back on the beach walking, playing, and searching for treasures washed up on the shore.

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Matt and Robin

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Adding to my shell collection

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Sam and his parachute man

Of course, a sandy beach like this one is an open invitation for castle building!

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is home to numerous hiking trails varying from easy loops of less than 1 km to the rigorous 75 km (46.6 mile) West Coast Trail that takes approximately a week to complete. For Saturday afternoon, we chose the popular Rainforest Trail. Made up of two loops, one on each side of the highway, this scenic 2 km trail took us deep into the forest away from the sound of traffic. The entire trail is a wooden boardwalk that protects the dense undergrowth while allowing hikers to enjoy the magnitude of the towering trees and massive ferns. Though not a difficult hike, there are over 700 stairs along the way!

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That’s a very big tree!

Though much of what is seen in the rainforest is huge, sharp eyes can also pick out many smaller things including a wide variety of mushrooms and other fungus. These ones, growing right in the campground were my favourites.

I almost expected to see a forest nymph or a smurf peeking out from beneath one of these!

As anticipated, Sunday was wet and drizzly. We spent the morning visiting the Kwisitis Visitor Centre learning about the history, people, and wildlife of the area. This small, free museum overlooks Wickaninnish Beach and is located on the site of the original Wickaninnish Inn.

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Rain or shine, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is absolutely stunning!

 

Coastal adventure

When our trip to Vancouver for my father’s surgery fell so close to Canadian Thanksgiving, our daughter-in-law suggested that we join them for their planned long weekend camping trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Not wanting to pull our trailer over the mountains to the coast and pay to take it across to the island on the ferry for just 3 nights of camping, we agreed but only if we could borrow a tent! Tofino in a tent in October? Some people thought we were crazy, but we’re always up for an adventure!

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I think it had been 25 years since the last time I slept in a tent, but we prepared well and were snug and warm in our cozy little cocoon. It wasn’t exactly ‘glamping’, but our air mattress almost filled the little tent and in addition to our sleeping bags, we had extra quilts and blankets for warmth. We even had a little space heater, but we barely used it! When it rained, as it was bound to do, we didn’t even get wet.

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Early Friday evening, we set up camp at Green Point Campground in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The campground is located on a bluff overlooking Long Beach.

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View from our campsite

As soon as we finished setting up camp, our grandsons and I headed for the beach. According to Parks Canada the official length of Long Beach is 16 km (almost 10 miles) but it’s really a series of beaches separated by rocky headlands. When the tide is out, as it was when the boys and I went down, the campground beach is a vast expanse of sand approximately 6.5 km (4 miles) long. “I feel so free!” exclaimed 9 year old Sam as he walked out onto the sand. I know exactly what he meant. It was amazing!

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Most amazing of all though was the spectacular sunset that followed! The sky was ablaze with colour as the sun slipped beneath the surface of the sea.

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Nate watching a Great Blue Heron

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Later we drifted off to sleep in our tiny tent listening to the sound of the surf. Ahhh… What bliss!

I’ll share more of our weekend adventure later in the week. In the meantime, I need to get organized for tomorrow morning’s departure. Sadly, the time has come to leave the coast behind and return to Alberta where snow has already fallen several times!

Back to school week

I loved seeing all the back to school photos on Facebook earlier this week. Here are three of our littles.

photos: Melaina Graham

The campground attendant at Camp Lake Park near Kinsella, Alberta was happy to take our “what retired teachers do on the first day of school” photo shortly after we arrived there on Tuesday morning!

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We had the campground almost entirely to ourselves and we thoroughly enjoyed the solitude. We spent Tuesday to Friday relaxing, reading, going for walks, and exploring the lake by kayak.

Although the colours of fall aren’t as spectacular here as they are in eastern Canada, I still find them beautiful, especially when they’re reflected on the water.

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While we were out on one of our walks, we came across this critter sunning itself on the grass.

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It barely flinched even when I got up close and personal with my macro lens.

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Thankfully, it was a harmless garter snake, the only kind common to this area!

This little chipmunk was curious enough to stick around while I snapped a quick picture too.

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We saw plenty of wildlife while we were out on the water. The ducks ignored us unless we got too close, but the Canada Geese set up quite a squawk if they spotted our UFO (unidentified floating object) anywhere in their vicinity! The lake was calm on Tuesday and Wednesday, but there was a strong breeze blowing on Thursday so we stayed close to the sheltered edge of the lake and that’s when we saw the most wildlife. The muskrats and beavers didn’t stay still long enough for me to get any pictures, but these three white-tailed deer watched us approach and only started moving toward the bushes when we got quite close.

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Now we’re home and unpacking the trailer as this was the last time we’ll have it out this year. On Monday it goes to Camrose for repairs as a result of the golf ball sized hail that hit while we were camping at Bottrel on August 1st. The insurance adjuster found a bit more damage than we had noticed initially, but thankfully it wasn’t enough to keep us from being able to use it for the rest of the season!

Squeezing in a bit more summer

Short summer

Seriously, where did the summer go? It really did seem to go by faster than ever. That’s probably because it was so late arriving this year. After all, there was still snow on the ground at the beginning of April here.

Though I’ve been retired from teaching for 11 years, most of my life was tied to the school year calendar. When the first of September rolls around, regardless of what the weather is like, I feel like summer has come to an end. For the past few weeks my teacher friends have been back in their classrooms making plans, decorating, and getting ready for new faces to fill the desks in front of them. The kids go back on Tuesday morning.

At this time of year, I’m often asked, “Do you miss it?” and my answer is always, “No!” Don’t get me wrong. I loved being a teacher and I still love children, but do I wish I was back in a classroom? Absolutely not! I wouldn’t trade the freedom of retirement for the best teaching job on the planet!

So what do retired teachers do when that school bell rings on Tuesday morning? Across the nation and around the world many of them will be gathering for their annual “to hell with the bell” celebrations! Me? I’m going camping just because I can! The days are getting shorter and noticeably cooler, but we’re going to squeeze in just a wee bit more summer before it’s too late.

 

Digital detox

After two weeks away from my computer and with very limited cell phone access, I’m home and back at the keyboard again. I was able to write my last two Fashion Friday posts in advance and schedule them to publish automatically while I enjoyed a much needed digital detox.

We spent the first week camping with our daughter and her family on the banks of the same lovely little creek at Botrell, Alberta that we visited with them last summer.

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Every now and then, we retreated under the awning or into the trailer when the sky began to rumble with thunder and it started to rain. One afternoon, about ten minutes of golf ball sized hail left us with damage to the awning and a hole in one of the skylights. Those will need to be replaced, but we patched them up with some awning repair tape and carried on.

Another day, we did the same hike at nearby Big Hill Springs Provincial Park that we did last year. A beautiful spot, it also has historical significance as the location of Alberta’s first commercial creamery as well as a failed attempt at a fish farm.

On the trail, our old knees had a hard time keeping up with the grandkids who ran up and down the hills like little deer!

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When they stopped long enough, it was a beautiful spot to get some great photos of them.

Time with these little people is always such a blessing!

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We spent our second week away from home at Camp Harmattan, the Church of the Nazarene campsite located in the valley of the Little Red Deer River between Olds and Sundre. There we enjoyed rich times of worship and prayer and sat under the teaching of two extremely gifted speakers. We also spent most of our afternoons relaxing and reading and evenings visiting around a campfire. What a blessed time of rest and rejuvenation!

Now we’re back in the real world, but feeling very refreshed by our time away.

 

#13 Haunted Lakes

Sometimes we travel long distances to see new sights when there are hidden gems right on our own doorsteps. Though they’re only about an hour and a half from home, I’d never heard of Haunted Lakes until I started looking for new places to golf and kayak.

According to legend, the natives of the plains had been in the habit of pitching their teepees on the eastern shore of the larger of the two small lakes. Once, in midwinter, seven braves camped there overnight and when they woke the next morning, they spotted the head and antlers of a magnificent buck that was caught in the ice on the other side of the lake. They hastened across the ice to claim their prize, but as soon as they started to chop the ice around the antlers, the mighty beast, still very much alive, broke free and smashing a passageway before him, swam straight to shore and disappeared into the woods. All seven braves were drowned and it is claimed that their spirits still haunt the lake. Supposedly, every winter when the lake is frozen over, a huge fissure appears along the exact path that the deer traveled to shore.

Not being even slightly superstitious, I thought it was pretty funny when I phoned ahead to reserve a camp spot and was told that we would be in site #13! It was actually the perfect spot for us as we were able to launch the kayak directly from our campsite.

I absolutely loved the picturesque Haunted Lakes golf course!

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Never before have I had to tee off with a freight train thundering overhead!

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After playing 18 holes our first day there, we kayaked the perimeter of the lake in the evening. Though it was bigger than it appeared from the campsite, it took just a little over an hour. Later, as we sat outside the trailer doing our devotions and enjoying the evening air, Richard glanced up and noticed what looked to him like the hand of God hovering over the water!

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Our first day at Haunted Lakes was so perfect that we  hoped to repeat it the next day, but after 16 holes of golf, we were driven off the course by thunder rumbling overhead and rain beginning to fall. We spent the remainder of the day hunkered down in the trailer listening to the rain on the roof and watching the wind churn up the lake. Considering how dry it’s been here in central Alberta, we weren’t terribly disappointed, but I look forward to returning again some day and hopefully enjoying more sunshine!

IMG_20180712_133842499_HDRSince this is supposed to be Fashion Friday, here’s a picture of me golfing on another course on our little trip. This is a typical golfing outfit for me. As long as the weather allows, I’ll be found on the course wearing shorts or a skort, a sleeveless golf shirt, a ball cap, and golf sandals. And yes, that’s a knee brace. According to one of my doctors, my knees are older than the rest of me! That’s a nice way of saying that they’re arthritic. I bought the brace mainly for hiking, but since 18 holes of golf (even with a cart) was beginning to cause discomfort, I decided to try it for golfing too and found it very comfortable.

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Trailer packing

LogoIn a previous packing post, I mentioned that there are some items that I can take with me in the trailer that don’t pack well in a suitcase. Since we’re out and about with the trailer this week, I thought I’d share my trailer packing techniques today.

As RVs go, our travel trailer is small; just 24 feet from hitch to bumper with no slide-outs. Though we’ve managed to squeeze in an extra adult and two kids on a couple of occasions, it’s really perfect for just the two of us.

One of the things that attracted me to this particular unit when we bought it was the amount of storage space. Last summer, we spent a full six weeks on the road and if I remember correctly, other than washing my bras by hand, we did laundry three times. This year, we’re planning shorter jaunts, but even on a long trip like that one, I had no problem fitting in enough clothes.

On our current trip, we plan to play several rounds of golf and do quite a bit of kayaking, but we’ll also be spending time in urban settings and we plan to attend church on Sunday. When I was packing the weather forecast looked very favourable, but we all know how quickly that can change, so I packed for a variety of activities and conditions. In fact, I probably packed way more than I’ll actually need!

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The trailer bathroom has a roomy closet where we hang most of our clothes. I’m showing you only my half. As you can see, I packed mostly neutral colours, so that it’s easy to mix things up and create many looks with just a few garments. I do like brightly coloured golf shirts though, so you can see some of those in there and I added my bright red jeans for an additional pop of colour. Although the closet isn’t full length, I did manage to take a dress all the way to Dawson City, Yukon for our nephew’s wedding last summer. I hung it at the end of the closet against the wall and laid the bottom portion of the skirt flat being careful not to pile anything on it.

A second smaller closet near the entrance to the trailer is used for jackets and there’s room beneath them for hats.

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The trailer does have a couple of drawers that we could use for clothing, but we have chosen other uses for them. The one in the bathroom holds toiletries, medications, a travel blow dryer and a handy little travel iron as well as a a few other odds and ends. The reason that we don’t need to use the drawers for clothing is that as soon as I spotted the storage space under the foot of our queen bed, I had a brainwave. I bought each of us a plastic bin to fit into that space. Mine holds socks, underwear, camisoles, pyjamas, shorts and skorts… everything that would usually be folded in drawers. They make packing very simple as we can carry our bins into the house, load them up, and return them to the trailer. Easy peasy!

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Just inside the trailer door there’s a cubby where we pack our shoes. There are usually more shoes crammed in there than you can see here, but Richard hadn’t packed his in yet. What you see is my trusty Merrells used mostly for hiking; some old shoes, sandals and flip flops that I use only around the campground, and the slippers that we keep in the trailer for chilly evenings and mornings. The cupboard is much bigger than it looks from the outside, so there are other things hidden in behind including shoe boxes that hold my dressier shoes and sandals.

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I don’t anticipate having access to wifi very often on this trip, but I look forward to sharing our travels with you as I’m able. If there isn’t a Fashion Friday post next week, be sure to look for one again the week after.