We’re back. We pulled into Peterborough, Ontario late one night last week, ending the journey by reversing into the same parking place in which we had loaded up the van one and a half months ago. There was an overwhelming rush of emotion – a strange concoction that never quite revealed what it was, but felt like a bittersweet mixture of relief, accomplishment, emptiness and slight anti-climax. We think they all stemmed from the fact that we never thought we’d actually do it. There were too many variables, too many ways in which something could go wrong. In the end, it all went fine. The things that went wrong had solutions better than the original plan
We last left you on our way to the Grand Canyon. We made it there as planned and cooked ourselves a simple meal whilst watching the shifting light of the sunset slowly leave the canyon floor and then its walls. We returned to Page, Arizona that night but not before seeing the moonrise opposite the setting sun above the eastern side of the canyon. Beautiful symmetry.
As the sun set in the west, the moon rose in the east. Photo by Sam
The setting sun burns up the walls of the Grand Canyon. Photo by Sam
The next morning we drove into Colorado, to Mesa Verde National Park. Robbie, our archaeologist had suggested this stop and we are thankful to him for it. Mesa Verde was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites. The park is home to some of the world’s best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites. It was almost as fun to explore the area and listen to the ranger-led talks, as it was to just watch Robbie walk around smiling. Absolutely in his element and so happy about it, his good mood was entirely infectious. We spent two days at Mesa Verde, a stay that unexpectedly became one of our favorites of the entire trip.
Robbie, a happy archaeologist. Photo by Sam
We left Mesa Verde to begin a journey that was ultimately the last homeward leg of the journey. Almost. First, we had one last stop to make – we had been talking about white water rafting for the longest time and our last chance to do that was before we left Colorado. We got out on the Lower Animas River after a period of extended rainfall. The water level had fallen enough for tours to restart just earlier that day. The rapids were insanely fast compared to how we’d imagined they might be and the water still rose to frightening heights at times. We made it though, thanks to the help of an awesome guide, who despite leading us through the most turbulent sections of water, managed to keep us all safely aboard. It was crazy good fun, a great last activity to do together before we got back into prairie country.
A break in the rainclouds, Colorado. Photo by Sam
We zoomed across Nebraska and Iowa to reach Chicago the next evening. It was here that we would be saying goodbye to Dian. She was flying back to Europe ahead of us to take up a great opportunity to work at a Dutch festival that had suddenly presented itself.
Having a quick (long) splash in Lake Michigan the day before Dian’s flight home. Photo by Sam
Saying goodbye hurt. It signaled the end of the road trip and the six weeks of fellowship that the five of us had shared. The journey back to Peterborough that followed was not the same, it was something different – it served no purpose other than getting us home.
The final tally. In a straight line around the equator that’s almost halfway around the world.
We’ve all gone out separate ways now. Robbie home to Scotland for summer, Lara to Indonesia for a research project, Sam to Indiana to visit friends and Ciaran to Washington D.C. to meet up with friends for another month’s worth of North American travels. After so much time together you begin to expect one another’s company forever. Now that we’re all apart it’s comforting to think that the journey we shared and unforgettable experiences that came with it will bind us together strongly enough that ten, twenty or fifty years down the line when we’re all grey and old, we can do it all again.
Of course, we plan the next trip to be much sooner than that – hopefully you can all join us when that time comes. Thanks for reading, and thank you to Osprey for the fantastic gear!
As a wise man once said, you can’t always get what you want. Our intention had been to take the car through Death Valley at night on our way back east but we ran into some unaccounted-for difficulties and at around 2am, on the advice of one the few locals still awake and driving around, we turned back for the main highway. Without air conditioning and only a half tank of gas until the next attended gas station (our European cards weren’t accepted at the self-serve stations) he strongly recommended that we drove around rather than through. “It’s called Death Valley for a reason folks!”
The next day we made it a priority to find a garage to charge the AC system a little. This done, and now, for the first time in weeks feeling deliciously cool and *not* sticky, we drove on towards Zion National Park, arriving in the evening. Our track record for early starts over the trip has been pretty terrible but we made it out before 6am the next morning. We were walking up Angel’s Landing – a tall, narrow rock formation and one of Zion’s more popular attractions. After a long slog up the trail’s switchbacks we made it onto the ridge. Sunlight was just starting to spill into the valley and the temperature began steadily rising. The final part of the walk takes you along some fairly steep rock sections that are chained to help people along. There were a few points with some pretty intense exposure (think: two foot-wide ridge with roughly 1000 foot drops on both sides). The summit widens out and gave gorgeous panoramic views up and down the valley. The red cliffs dominate the view but also visible is the subtle green of trees filling the valley floor but also speckling up the cliffs.
We would have loved to spend more time in Zion but at this point in the trip we’ve started, sadly, to become aware of a certain degree of time limitation. We’ve laid out a plan for how we’re spending out last days and that required driving on further west. We stopped in Page, AZ, where we stayed at what turned out to be one of our favourite campgrounds. The nights were so warm there that we pitched our tents without the rain covers and could watch the stars through the mesh ceiling as we lay and fell asleep. Before that though, we drove to the famous Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River for that evening’s breath-taking sunset. We think that the frequency with which a person is able to sit and just watch a sunset or sunrise is a viable method for measuring quality of life. By this measure, our quality of life has been at its absolute peak these past few weeks.
The next morning we went to Lower Antelope Canyon, a beautiful example of a slot canyon. (more…)
Highway 1 runs along the very western edge of the North American continent. We were driving north to south, with the Pacific a constant companion to the west. After only seeing it for the first time when we reached Tofino, it had already started to feel like an old friend. We last left you as we were entering the Big Sur region. That’s where we’ll pick up.
That morning we had said goodbye to two friends who we had studied on exchange with us at Trent University. Their time in North America was coming to an end and it was difficult to see them go. Their departure marked us as the last exchange students from Trent travelling around the United States.
We took the driving easy. Big Sur was great at accommodating that. There are limitless opportunities for forays down the steep cliffs to explore the shoreline or equally up the steep slopes away from the ocean to try and find views inland. We passed the famous McWay Falls near to which we came across two unfortunate travellers who had been unlucky enough to lock their keys inside their hire car. We gave them a ride to the nearest town. Steve and Beverley – if you’re reading this, we still all intend to take you up on the offer of a place to stay if we ever visit Boston.
Leaving the Big Sur region we reached another milestone in the journey. We turned east. We lost sight of the Pacific and wouldn’t see it again for the rest of the trip. Although east was a homewards direction it didn’t feel like we were nearing the end of things. Our next destination was Sequoia National Forest.
From the offset we’ve had a tendency to arrive late regardless of when we set off in the morning. Sequoia was no different and we drove the last portion of the steep uphill switchbacks in darkness after watching yet another killer sunset.
The next morning we woke up early to have some time with General Sherman alone. General Sherman is the world’s largest tree by volume. A giant sequoia, its massive bulk sets it apart from a grove already full of giants. You cannot see its top from the base, you cannot hear the voice of someone talking loudly at the opposite side of its trunk, and you cannot fail to be amazed by just how absolutely enormous it is.
We walked for the rest of the day, from Moro Rock along a trail that lead to the beginning of the High Sierra Trail and from there back through the sequoia groves to somewhere absolutely not where we started, or where we’d left our car. A slight misjudgment on our part. The sun had set and our car was parked about four hours walk away. Feeling a little tired (and perhaps a little lazy) we decided to head back to camp, eat the food we had left and take a free park shuttle bus up in the morning. At camp we ran into a Scottish/Slovenia couple. They advised us that leaving our car out there all night was leaving it at serious risk of bear break in. They very kindly drove us up to where it was parked and we were able to retrieve it that night.
Good deeds come around very quickly on the road, it seems. (more…)
Canada had become a safe and familiar place for us over the year we had been studying at Trent. We were about to leave all of that behind and cross the US border into Washington. After some initial confusion from not realizing that speed limits were now in miles per hour rather than kilometers – so people weren’t actually travelling almost twice the allowed speed all the time – we found that much of what we saw felt like it could fit into a Canadian landscape.
We didn’t have a route south planned out – for a couple days we just drove as far as we could towards Yosemite, our first US destination. Unfortunately that meant driving straight past a lot of places that we could have spent weeks exploring but we had the second date of the trip to keep as a week later we had arranged to meet friends in San Francisco.
We arrived in Yosemite Valley in darkness late at night and pitched our tents at the North Pines campground. We woke up as the sun entered the valley the next morning. Yosemite was a place that we had all seen pictures of before, we knew the names of the domes, some of the famous climbs, and we felt like we had a slight grasp of what Yosemite was. Actually we had no idea. That first morning, was spent in a state of incredulous awe, staring up at the enormous granite rockfaces that surrounded us in the valley on almost every side. Far more eloquent writers than us have written about the valley and it’s tempting to quote Muir or Adams but instead we would urge people: just go. We had all read the words and seen the pictures but neither went any way towards really preparing us for what we saw that morning.
Slight delay in getting this blog uploaded as we’ve been away from an internet connection for the past while. We last left you with us about to set off north along the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. Another incredible road to add to the lengthening list of incredible roads we’ve driven. We spent a night in Jasper, spoiled ourselves on a big diner breakfast the next morning and set off west.
A day later, on the steep road down into Whistler we had our first car trouble. Sam’s inexperience with driving (before setting off on the trip he’d only driven once since passing his driving test, on flat rural roads in Iceland) was largely to blame for the four smoking, seized brakes that greeted us at the bottom of the mountain descent – we didn’t know that the T&C’s ‘L’ gear was meant to be used when descending steep slopes and so drove the 3-ton fully loaded minivan down the mountain solely on the breaks. Oops. We started joking about the fact that we at least made it to the other side of the country but to be honest, we all thought it would be the end of our beautiful trip. The car was towed to the nearest garage in Whistler – a place on the edge of town called Barney’s. There, we sullenly unpacked our gear to spend the night in a nearby campsite contemplating our options. Happily in the end, the mechanics simply needed to flush out our boiled brake fluid and top it off again. We were on the road towards Vancouver Island again the next morning, having found the name of our car, Barney.
That evening we had our very first view of the Pacific Ocean. As we drove north along the road to Tofino we had glimpses of it through the trees but it took until we arrived at our campground to get a proper view. Every night of the journey so far we’ve been following the setting sun west. At Tofino we ran barefoot down a sandy beach towards the ocean. In front of us the sun approached the horizon and we felt a quiet contentment knowing that we’d reached a huge milestone in our journey. We had driven across Canada, as far west as we could possibly go.
We slept that night within earshot of the waves rolling onto shore and woke the next morning to the same sound. After months of cold Canadian winter, Tofino became our little paradise. Sun, sea sand – it was perfect. We could stay there forever – all these feelings, just from our first morning in the campsite.
Wow! The few days that have passed since we last wrote have been intense! We arrived at Dinosaur Provincial Park on the evening of our last post. The park appears suddenly and in stark contrast to the pleasant, but remarkably unspectacular surrounding pastureland. As we crested the low hill from which the first view into the park valley is revealed, the sun was close to setting; we had maybe an hour of light left. Sense told us to pitch camp and start cooking in daylight but our gut had us running out and climbing the tallest hill that we could find with a view to the west.
After two days of prairies and almost 20 hours driving it felt so good to be out of the car. We ran around jumping, shrieking and laughing as the sun lit the surrounding prehistoric clay and rock mounds in a golden orange. We stayed out long after the sun had set and the orange and reds had cooled to blue and purple before finally making our way down to pitch camp and cook in the dark, energized by what we had just experienced. (more…)
The empty spring fields of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are proving to be less-than entertaining so this one’s coming to you from the road. We’re four days out of Peterborough, Ontario and just about to cross the Alberta border.
Traveling long distances by car is something that you acclimatize to quickly, we’ve found. Who sits where is already well-established. The Town & Country has a “two, two, two” seat arrangement. Sam and Lara, our drivers, take turns in the two front seats. Ciaran and Dian are settled nicely in the middle. They are the car’s providers of snacks and drinks, having a cardboard box full of each under their seats. We removed one of the seats in the rear to make room for all of our gear and Robbie is tucked very cozily in the (little) remaining space back there.
Perhaps not unexpectedly for people that know us, we set off incredibly behind schedule on the first day and underestimated the time it would take to cover the 700km from Peterborough to Sault Ste. Marie. As a result, we arrived there at around 1:30am and checked into the first 24hr motel we saw.
Day two saw us start to get into the swing of things with a slightly earlier departure time of 10am, still leaving time for everyone to shower and have a leisurely breakfast in the morning. Within half an hour the first shrieks of European excitement were erupting in the car. We’d driven past a moose. Half an hour later, we saw the first bear; a young black bear, loping along the tree line that disappeared almost as soon as we’d seen it. Adrenaline levels definitely spiked.
We don’t have an adequate way of describing our reaction to Sam having to brake to avoid a second black bear as it crossed the highway in front of us but we lost it. Completely. The fact that situations like that even exist is so foreign to us, the idea that we’d ever experience one ourselves – well, we’ve not got our heads around that yet. (more…)
Road trip. Two months. Five European friends across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver and through the States from San Francisco back to Toronto via as many cool places in between as we can find. We’ve used cities as way-markers but our interest is in the land we’ll travel through between them. Along the way we’ll pass through more National Parks than you can shake a stick at. Camp stoves, beaches, forests, mountains, waterfalls, adventures and waking up in a tent somewhere new every morning.
Introductions. We are Ciaran, Dian, Lara, Robbie and Sam – we’ve spent the year on exchange at Trent University but now exams are finished, school’s out and summer’s nearly here; time for a change of scene. You’ll get to know us along the way but for now:
Ciaran, 20, from England studies history – his most recent big adventure was climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro.
Dian, 21 from the Netherlands studies psychology and is our most seasoned road-tripper – having driven all over Europe in what’s possibly the world’s tiniest two door hatchback.
Lara, 20, from Germany studies environmental sciences, we’re all convinced that if she’d been growing up in the 60’s she would have made a great hippie.
Robbie, 21, from Scotland studies archaeology and spent his childhood scrambling up the Munros of northwest Scotland.
Sam, 21, from Scotland studies astrophysics and spent last summer hitchhiking and walking around Iceland. Very rarely spotted not carrying at least one camera.
The Jam in the Van crew has made their way over to the world famous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a momentous scene—this meeting of jazz and heritage—has stood for decades since as a stirring symbol of the authenticity of the celebration that was destined to become a cultural force. Stay up-to-date on their very latest exploits by following Jam in the Van on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or by subscribing to their YouTube channel.
We can definitely dig what they are laying out in New Orleans and look forward to seeing the Jam in the Van Jazzfest performances online soon! In the meantime, and without further ado, Osprey Packs and Jam in the Van bring to you a session from SXSW 2014 with American Aquarium, a band (like many of their musical heroes that paved the way before them) can wrap some of the ugliest feelings in the most spirited soundscape.
Originating in 2011, Jam in the Van is a motorhome/HD mobile recording studio that travels across the country inviting bands and musicians to capture a 2-3 song live performance which we share exclusively on our website and YouTube channel, boasting more than 15k subscribers. Operating entirely via state-of-the-art solar panels, our intimate sessions and mobility make Jam in the Van one of the fastest growing music discovery series on the internet.
This summer Osprey Packs is teaming up with Jam in the Van, a crew dedicated to providing authentic, original recordings from incredible musicians at some of the most sought-after festivals in the nation.
At Osprey, our love for music is serious — so we are thrilled to have our packs accompany the passionate & committed Jam in the Van team as they combine great artists, live music, festivals and life on the road! While we wish we could be out on the road rocking out, we’re stoked to partner with the #JAMINTHEVAN team and we’ll be sharing fresh Jam in the Van recordings with you every Monday to get your week started off right! (more…)
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