Monday, 1 September 2014

Summer Review 2014

Tomorrow (Tuesday 2nd September) is the first day of the new school year for Lara, where she will be starting Grade 2. The school have mixed up the classes from Grade 1, so she's in with a few children who were in her Grade 1 class, but also some new ones. Olga spotted three Russian surnames in Lara's class list, so who knows, perhaps Lara might pick up some more Russian as well as French.
She's super-excited about going back to school, unfortunately she has a bad cold at the moment, and in an attempt to get her back to full fitness as quickly as possible, we chose not to go over to Cochrane today and see their Labor Day Parade and Rodeo, which we very much enjoyed last year. She has opted to go to bed early and go straight to sleep without watching any TV, which is rare indeed. We're very happy that she feels this way about school, life would be much harder if there were tears and cries of "I don't want to go".

Given that there have been a dearth of blog posts recently (OK, for the last year or so!) I'll try and summarize the summer activity here.

We dipped our toes into the world of camping here. First, we have to explain the terminology..
"Camping" here is the catchall word for sleeping away from home in some kind of Recreational Vehicle ("RV") or a tent. The act of pitching a tent and sleeping in it is called "tenting", and proportionally very few people do it. We started the summer in that select bunch, we bought a large tent (technically it sleeps 13!) and all the tables, chairs, kitchen equipment, inflatable airbeds and lanterns to go with it. We camped tented at Calgary's amusement park in late May, then at a lake 90 minutes drive north twice more in June. It actually worked better than we expected, the kids and dogs all got off to sleep OK, eventually, and the tent survived everything the weather threw at it, which was some heavy rain and strong winds on one occasion at Gull Lake. It was great to get Lara in particular enthused about the whole "outdoor living" concept, as we intend to do an awful lot more of it in the years to come.

Lara finished school towards the end of June, and we enrolled her in a few week-long half and full day camps at the local sports centre to keep her occupied. But it was the start of a more-than-two-month break..

One of our new Canadian friends here is a supervisor at a rifle and pistol club in Calgary, and in early July he took me with him one Sunday morning to shoot his .22, .45 and 9mm pistols. A friend of his also let me have a go with his .357 revolver. It was a great experience and I'm sure that I'll follow it up by getting my firearms license and taking it up as a hobby. It would also provide some sensible defence from the local wildlife on those future camping/tenting trips and hikes in the country.  Bears, cougars and wolves are all present, if not common, in the mountains here, and there were bear sightings as close as Cochrane and even NW Calgary this summer.

In the middle of July we celebrated my 40th birthday by heading off to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Olga arranged it all, and kept it completely secret from me, even Lara managed to keep the secret. She was allowed to whisper the destination to me when we arrived at Calgary airport to catch our flight! It warrants a blog post in its own right, but here's a couple of photos just to give a taste of what it was like:

Once we came back to Airdrie, we decided to pass some time at the weekends visiting RV dealers to get an idea of the kind of caravan we'd like to buy, or what we could afford. 
Another terminology lesson: what are ""caravans" in the UK are "travel trailers", or just "trailers" here. 
We visited a few dealers, we're lucky that many of the big ones have their showrooms close to Airdrie, without finding exactly what we wanted. Many of the trailers we saw had most of our desired features, but not all. That is until we visited an independent dealer close to Airdrie, we explained what we were looking for, and he cajoled us into his golf cart and trundled us off to see a Rockwood Signature Ultralite 31-foot-long bunkhouse. This was perfect, it had absolutely everything we'd been looking for, except it was utterly brand new and therefore more expensive than we were originally planning to spend. However, after going through the financials, and having two more looks at it, we decided to take the plunge. It's big, and technically would sleep 11 at a push, but that would be rather crowded. 11 adults anyway, but it could certainly accommodate two families. It's got a bunkroom at the back with three bunks and a double sofabed, with a door to close off the room from the rest of the trailer. This was a must!
The problem with buying a 31-foot long trailer that weighs around 7000 lbs (3200kg) is you need a decent truck to pull it.
So this meant more shopping, and a trip to the local Ford dealer. Again, I explained what I needed, and given that the Ford F-150 has been the best-selling pickup truck in North America since Moses was a boy, we figured that was a good place to start. As you may expect, he had the very truck in stock, but perhaps luck was on our side, as it really does have everything we need, and most of the things we wanted. It's a 2014 model, new, with enough engine and mechanical bits and pieces to pull upto 11,200lbs, so we should be OK pulling our trailer, even once we load it up with our stuff. |
After years of driving used cars, we must admit it's very nice to drive a brand new truck. We have had to accept that it doesn't have the in-built DVD player that was such a useful feature of the Dodge Grand Caravan we had, but the kids are using their tablets at the moment on long journeys and that'll do for now.
We picked the truck up early in August, just in time for me to use it to take Olga to the airport for a business trip to Malaysia for two and a bit weeks. We waited until Olga was back to pick up the trailer, as it required us to have a "walk through" by one of the dealer's guys, to show us how everything worked. So on Thursday 28th August we towed it away to a RV storage lot, stopping at a local shopping centre car park to get some maneuvering practise in:

Today I've booked us into a local campground (the Canadian word for campsite. A camp site is where you park your RV or pitch your tent in said campground) for next Friday and Saturday night, so we'll have our first proper attempt at setting it all up, levelling it, hooking up to electricity, water and even sewage!
It's quite an up-and-down road to get to the campground, on the northern edge of Cochrane, so it'll be a good test of the truck's ability to pull the trailer. We've cheated a little by booking a "pull through" site, so I don't have to reverse the trailer into the spot. That will definitely require some practise in a large car park before I try it on a campground with seasoned campers watching!

Olga had her two and a bit weeks away in Malaysia with work, to give some training to clients, and whilst at first I said "no problem, I'll cope, I coped in December when you went to Kazakhstan and it was -40 here", it dawned on us that if Grandma could come over to help, that would be a great idea, especially as it was still the summer holidays, so Lara would get to see more of Grandma than if she came over during term time. So at very short notice Grandma booked her flights and arrived 4 days after Olga left. Lara was so excited in the run-up to her arrival, making plans for what they'd do together, even about where Grandma would sit in the truck on the way back from the airport (in the back, between Lara and Dan). It was a great help for me to have mum here, as well as being great to see her and spend time together, so she knows we're doing OK over here!
We had a trip out to Banff during Grandma's last weekend here, we went to our usual haunt of the waterfalls, the kids like to throw stones in. It seems it's also a favourite place for newly weds to have wedding photos taken, though I can understand why. We also went to the amusement park, Calaway Park, where Lara excelled at the ring toss game, winning two large toys (the game's limit!) within 6 throws of her allotted 20 rings. Even Dan won two toys on one game where he had to throw a ball into a hole. He seems to be very left handed, but if it works for him, I'm not complaining!

So we're nearly up to date.. This last weekend we took a drive on Saturday down through Kananaskis country, past our ski area at Nakiska, and headed on a 100-mile driving loop into areas we'd not seen before, finishing up back in Canmore, one of our favourite towns. There was an ulterior motive for this drive, as it took us right past an RV campground very close to Nakiska, where we are planning to park our trailer during the winter. We had a look around, and saw the pull-through spots they have available, and chose one. We'll be taking the trailer there in the middle of October, and leaving it there until the end of April. Our plan is to use it every weekend during the skiing season, so we'll drive out on a Friday late afternoon, ski on Saturday and Sunday (Lara has lessons booked for all day on Sundays) and return to Airdrie on Sunday evening. The dogs will come with us, and we'll rotate shifts of Dog-and-Dan sitting as needed. This was another reason to buy a very modern trailer, so it has all the necessary insulation to allow us to camp in it during the winter. We'll not be using the water supply in the trailer, the weather is just too severe for that, so showers, toilets and washing up will be in the campground facilities. Luckily we're only a very short walk away from them, given it got down to -27 during the day there last winter! We're investing in electric blankets and portable ceramic heaters too though. We think it's going to be amazing, opening the door on a Saturday morning to clear, crisp mountain air, fresh snow, and silence. Bears won't be a problem, but wolves and cougars will be around, and we're almost certain to encounter moose. Even they can be aggressive and have been know to charge at people who get too close!
Talking of moose, we saw two during this drive on Saturday, one male was drinking in a river and we missed a chance to take a photo, but another Mrs Moose was taking a drink right next to the gravel road we were driving on, and so we were able to get some close ups of her.  We also stopped in a park visitor center where the kids were able to stroke a black bear fur, and see some stuffed examples of the local residents..

So, back to school tomorrow, "camping" Canadian style this coming weekend, and then Olga's birthday in a few weeks time. September looks to be as busy as every other month!