With a feeling of mild exultation, we cruised into Manitoba on July 11th. It had taken us 5 days to reach this point, which wasn’t boding well for our campsite reservations in the Rockies starting on the 17th. With this in mind, we charged on to Winnipeg, stopping briefly across the border to cook some dinner on our trusty gas stove and get told off by Manitoba fisheries rangers who informed us that we were liable for a hefty fine for fishing without a Manitoba fishing licence. Liivi maintained that she helped to schmooze our way out of the fine, but I maintain that it was because she happened to be nervously playing with my large fishing knife while talking to them. Either way, we arrived in Winnipeg with wallets intact and set up camp for our fist night in a Walmart parking lot.
Multiple sources had assured us that this was a done thing, and indeed we met no trouble during the night with the exception of almost being blown over by gale force winds and being a little bit creeped out by the fact that no other RVs were camping out there that night. We soon learnt that you have to pick your Walmart, as some are inexplicably more favoured by RVers than others. Either way, Walmart does handsomely out of the whole unofficial setup, as every time we inevitably go into one and buy food, RV parts, and other nick nacks which add up to a hefty sum over time. Well played, Walmart. Well played.
Next day we unravelled our bikes and embarked upon a cycling tour of the city. It turned out that Winnipeg was actually quite nice (the parts we saw, anyway). The downtown/waterfront area had lots of artsy and/or rehabilitated buildings and miles of pleasant pathways meandering along beside the aptly named Red River. We perused the pleasant Forks market, feasting on treaties and wolfing down some rather excellent macarons as a confusing precursor to a hearty but late breakfast at the local grub joint.
West of Winnipeg, the prairies started for realsies. While the RV was loving life on the flat roads and charging ahead at a whopping 95km/h, we soon found ourselves entering a trancelike state of boredom. However, while the landscape was a trifle mundane, the skies were anything but – rolling clouds as far as the eye could see, with broiling thunderstorms or astounding sunsets in the distance.
We endeavoured to find relatively respectable accommodations that night, surmising that Oak Island Resort would be just the ticket. Located on the shores of the only major body of water for hundreds of kilometres, it seemed like a good spot at first, but when we parked up and rushed down to the beach to cool off in the summer heat, it became apparent that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. My guess is that this lake was receiving all the agricultural pesticide runoff and nasties for miles around, and as such was a sickly greenish colour with questionable floaties and zero visibility. Slightly discouraged but still determined, we dipped in, making sure to keep our heads above the water. Gingerly stepping out of the water and feeling far dirtier than before, we raced back to our RV to wash off the filth of Oak Lake.
The RV Park itself was nicely situated within an oak grove with lots of park space surrounding, but the prices were fairly steep and you still had to pay for the showers. Bit of a ripoff, really. This location did, however, mark our first fully serviced RV site – electricity, water and sewage! Very exciting. (note – my unwashed appearance is due to the fact that these photos were taken BEFORE we had showered at the Park – I think the last time we had enjoyed a liquid cleanse was back in TBay. Also note – ridiculous “Team Richardson Pro Fishing” signage on the RV – a remnant of the RV’s former glory days)
Next stop along the prairies was Regina, Saskatchewan. By all accounts this was not a place to dally, being something of a poohole on be face of fair Canada. This was reinforced by Liivi’s friend Markus, who was on a work assignment in Regina and made it perfectly clear that we should not get our hopes up for a pleasant welcome. From what we saw, he wasn’t wrong. Nonetheless, we met up with Markus and went for a highly enjoyable dinner at one of the more notable establishments in the area, and got the hell out – not before being ravaged by a horrendous and never ending bumpy gravel road – basically the RV’s arch-nemesis. Regina’s revenge for us not appreciating her more…
Post-Regina, darkness was falling and we needed a spot to spend the night, and after driving around down dark gravel back roads for an hour trying to find a campground which apparently didn’t exist, we gave up and drove all the way to the town of Swift Current, which we knew had a Walmart Superstore to welcome us with open arms. Unlike the Winnipeg Walmart, this one was basically an RV mecca – buses, RVs and vans littered the lot like rubishy detritus after a storm. Feeling well at home, we settled down for the remainder of the night.
Next day, on the way from Swift Current to Calgary, disaster struck. We had stopped on the side of the road to stretch legs and generally flail about, and a few minutes later stepped back in to continue our trip. The engine at this point decided not to start. At all. All we received was a faint click upon turning the key, despite all electrics being ok. An hour later, i was forced to call CAA. Another hour later, the tow guy (Bob or Joe or some other generic mechanichy name) arrived and quickly became confused by the situation, failing to jump start the RV but confirming the batteries were good. We made the decision to get towed, but soon worked out that our weight was beyond the max load for his truck. While we waited yet another hour on the side of the Trans Canada for yet another tow truck, I decided to turn the key one last time…the bloody thing started up no sweat!! Feeling mightily relieved and even more mightily confused, we literally ran for the hills.
A blessedly uneventful night in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and the next day we drove into Calgary in a blaze of glory.