Nine Days, 4736 miles

June 22, Swift Current, Saskatchewan

My skin's turned pink and freckled and my hair has that dandelion-gone-to-seed apearance, but finally I have found my camping groove. My camp kitchen is organized and I have my minions trained to set up and break camp in an orderly manner. And when I get up off that cold, hard ground in the mornings, I no longer feel battered. With his golf cart battery and inverter, Mr. D*S grinds the coffee beans fresh every morning and declares he could go on like this forever.

No so Panda. For her, the only saving grace is WiFi access in the campground here in Swift Current.

Departure was chaotic. That day we packed like fiends, racing against Dan the mover and his boys as they loaded over 144 boxes, our piano and furniture into the semi-trailer. It was rush hour before we said our farewells and made the last drop-off to the Sally Ann and the library. By the time we had set up our tent by Lake Osoyoos it was midnight. The wind howled over the water like a thousand demons, flinging sand in our eyes and whipping the tent out of our hands at every opportunity. Exhausted but stressed to the max, I tried to sleep, but Lindt chocolate, screaming winds, nagging doubts and a severe lack of padding under my sleeping bag, conspired to keep me tossing and turning for hours. At 3:30 I woke Mr. D*S to ask if he thought the wind might blow the van over on top of us. He gave me that WTF look and I burst into tears, then laughed, then cried again. I conked out shortly after.

Since then, every day has been better than the last, and we're enjoying the experience. I always protested that this tent was too big for me to set up by myself, but here's Panda doing it all by herself in Lundbreck Falls, Alberta.

Lundbreck Falls also had the lumpiest ground of any I've slept on, and here's the little varmint who was responsible.

Camping has changed in the last 25 years. I don't remember ever seeing signs on the water taps warning you to boil the water for 5 minutes, but so far that's been the case. Nor to I remember so many fancy RVs. I've been reading Starting Out in the Afternoon by Jill Frayne, who describes them so well:

...freighted with the comforts of home: campers that puff up into livingrooms sprouting awnings and Astroturf steps, motorhomes equipped with generators to power microwaves, TVs and hot water tanks.... Outside are scooters and bikes, lawn chairs arranged under tarps, twelve-by-sixteen mesh tents rigged over picnic tables. Sheltered under these contrivances are rotisserie barbecues, propane lamps, camp stoves, coolers the size of doghouses, twenty-litre water barrels. Motorboats squeezed ingeniously into the sites, bristle with fishing gear. I notice a practice of keeping a leaping campfire going at all times, even if everyone's inside.

And were there always so many trucks on the road? At least half of all traffic seems to be freight trucks. I'm so glad Mr. D*S is such a confident and capable driver.

We are fascinated by the wind farms in Alberta, and heartened.

June 24, Nipigon, Ontario

We are deep in DEET country, and it's a particularly nightmarish place to be. If you ever must camp on the North Shore of Lake Superior, I suggest you give the Silver Birch Campground a wide berth. Imagine setting up a tent, doing your laundry, eating dinner, all the time all the time one-handed, while you use the other to wave away the mosquitoes. All night long the trucks roar down the highway, but it's really a minor annoyance compared to the bugs. Panda claims 60 bites and some of them are quite swollen.

At first, Ontario is sweet relief from the dry flat prairies and reminds us all of Vancouver Island. By Kenora, we're crabby and getting on each other's nerves, but it all evaporates when we get to our campsite at Rushing River. We're right on Dogtooth Lake, very private with an incredible view. This is the first campsite where I could image staying for a few days. The water does NOT have a warning! I see my first beaver, paddling up the lake with just his head out. The dog next door sees him too, and Mr. Beaver slaps the water with his tail and disappears. Panda sees her first chipmunk, cute as any 13-year-old could wish. What a relief it all is. Across the lake are stacks of canoes and there's a sign warning that wakes are prohibited. We eat salad and hot dogs and corn on the cob, grapes and roasted mashmallows. Too bad this place is 3 day's drive from our new home and we're on such a tight schedule.

Two days before, stopped at a Tourist Information Centre just inside the Manitoba border, Mr. D*S spied a Great Canadian Van Lines truck racing east. "There's our stuff!" he cried, and we hopped back into the van to give chase. It took a good 5 minutes to catch him, but sure enough, it was Dan the mover at the wheel. "Want your stuff?" he called. Unable to maintain his 120+ km/h speed, we let him go.

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