Monthly Archives: September 2013

GUEST POST (The Mommy) – Driving Toronto to Florida with a 3 month old!

Guest Post – My wife connie wrote this months ago but I back burnered my blog so it never got posted, better late than never:

I can’t believe I said yes.

I can’t believe that I agreed to travel 5,000km with a newborn.

Am I crazy?

Every mom in my mommy group thought so.

My husband is great at trying new things and pushing me out of my comfort zone so that I enjoy “new experiences”. Leading up to these events though, I am always uncertain, asking questions for weeks and days leading up to the event until I believe that I have covered every single angle of what to expect and have assessed contingency plans for every possible outcome when things change.

When we found out we were pregnant, the first (or second) question from the in-laws was, “Are you still coming to Florida for Christmas?” Knowing the little guy was only going to be three months old, I answered, “We’ll see,” and I maintained this answer throughout our pregnancy. But somewhere between the sleep deprivation and the acceptance of so much help within the first two months, the “We’ll see” turned into “Sure”. How could I break the heart of the woman who helped me get back on my feet, picking up groceries, making food, holding our son after feedings so that I could get as much sleep as possible? I could go on & on with all the ways she helped. So we began to plan our journey.

We monitored the impending weather along our route and guesstimated how long it would take us with a three month old who needs to eat every three hours. I repeat, every three hours. Oh, did I mention that we have a dog too?

Kurgo Kid child seat road trip
Zucca ready for the trip. The Kurgo Dog Hammock works great under the car seat.

The evening prior to our departure I started to panic. What on earth was I thinking agreeing to this??! He’s so little. It’s too long to be in the car. He’s going to get a flat head from sitting too long in a car seat. And I had just successfully gotten him on a sleeping schedule. I was about to through it all out the window. I was worried – had those motherly instincts I kept hearing about finally start to kick in?? Memories of someone telling me that they were told by the hospital when discharged to not leave a baby in a car seat longer than an hour and a half occupied my brain. I googled a British study that identified that flathead can trigger vision problems. I took photos of his head from both sides so I could compare upon our return.

The panic continued into the morning but as my husband explained, the plans had already been set so the show must go on. We hit the road. First stop, Windsor. It was cold, it was dark, and we were parked at a gas station. I breastfed in the backseat (thank God for privacy shades) while my husband took the dog out for a pee and a stroll. I need to supplement each feed with formula so we made enough bottles to last the entire trip. What we soon realized was that we should have packed soap to wash the nipples for the bottles, as we only have four that would need to be reused throughout the trip. We also forgot to pack bodywash for Junior in case he had a blowout of a poo during our trip. Off to Toys’R’Us so I could use their change table, buy the forgotten needed essentials and then get back on the road.

Everything we had read said it was best to travel at night. There will be minimal disruptions to their sleep schedule if they sleep through the night. This totally makes sense, except I like to sleep through the night too.

Why not add Nashville?
Why not add Nashville?

We drove through the night. Every time we stopped, I would feed the kidlet (boob & bottle) and then change his diaper while my husband would walk the dog. If we were lucky enough to stop somewhere that had a washroom with a change table, then I could change the babe inside. If not, I learned to master the diaper change in the backseat, amongst the dog bed, the infant car seat, and the cooler. My husband drove the first leg until about 1am and then I took over until about 4am. When you feel like you are the only car in a sea of tractor trailers and their tail lights look like they are starting to come together, you know it is time to pull over.

The best place to stop along the way is the Cracker Barrel. They open at 6am and close at 10pm (11pm on the weekends). Their washrooms are clean and they are the only establishment that I found (up and down the USA) to have a sturdy table that is specific to baby changing and that didn’t need to be pulled down. McDonald’s is a close second. Their change tables are almost always in the wheelchair accessible stall. Don’t even bother to stop at Krystal (they don’t have change tables) or White Castle (however, the later is based solely on my opinion of their hamburger). I digress.

white castle road trip frozen
Really!? The real ones aren’t good.

We lengthened the time between his feedings and followed this routine every four hours. Each stop averaged about an hour and fifteen minutes. By the time we crossed the Florida border from Georgia, it was a struggle to put our little guy back in the car seat. He was wise to our schedule and would wiggle and scream as we tried to strap him back in. I felt bad but we were so close. We strapped him in the seat as quickly as we could and put the pedal to the medal so he would drift asleep to the rumbling of the tires hitting the road.

He was happy when we finally reached our destination, fifty-nine hours after it began (there was an overnighter in Nashville, complements of Santa), welcoming his grandmother with lots of stretching when we broke him free.

When in Alabama.  Couldn't resist.
When in Alabama. Couldn’t resist.

For the trip back, we decided to switch the routine up a bit. At the three hour mark I would pump in the car. Yes, I pumped. In public. I would pump and use that breastmilk at his next feeding, followed by formula that I heated up with the assistance of the car seat adaptor. The Warm’n’Go by Diono is a handy little device that actually works pretty good! When we pulled over, I had his food ready and fed him right away, then I would take him inside to change him, then pass him off to his dad so that I could go use the facilities myself. We managed to knock a half-hour off of our stop time. Woo hoo!

 

Road trip baby bottle warmer
The Diono Bottle Warmer earned it’s keep.

We planned two overnight stops on the way back and an afternoon visit with family so it took us three days to get home. Our little man seemed ok at the start of the journey but after a day, likely when he realized there was more to come, he started to fuss again when we tried to put him back in his car seat. Luckily for us, he would usually drift off by the time we merged onto the highway. Funny enough, he only had two meltdowns on the trip, the first was in Alabama (sorry to anyone that may have heard his screams), and the second a half-hour from home. At that point, I moved to the back to sit with him while the dog took over shotgun.

Did we survive? Yes!

Would I do it again with an infant? Not likely.

The frequent stops and having to change him, sometimes in the car, in the cold, and having to rinse bottles and wash nipples along the way made for a long, long, long trip. As did unpacking and repacking all the new essentials when we stopped overnight. Upon our return, it took about a week to get him back on schedule and I still swear to this day that his head is a little lopsided in the back from being in a car seat so long. At least he spent his first Christmas surrounded by palm trees to the delight of his grandparents, and had his first road trip with his new best friend by his side.

Westfalia Road Trip Day 10 – Hope to Victoria

We woke up at Sasquatch Provincial Park to a beautiful morning and packed up early to hit the road.  Instead of making breakfast we decided to head out and grab something in town en-route.

Road Trip Sasquatch Park camping
Morning at Sasquatch Provincial Park

Before leaving Connie found a list of the best Ice Cream shops in Canada and one happened to be on our route to Victoria in Abbotsford BC.  It was only 10 in the morning but stopping at the Birchwood Dairy seemed like a great idea.  It’s a cool operating farm in the country that includes a petting zoo, antique tractors and a retail shop featuring dairy products, baked goods and of course ice cream.

Family vacation to birchwood dairy
Birch Wood Dairy for Ice cream
Birchwood dairy abbotsford BC
Archer driving a vintage tractor

One thing that we tried to do was pack light but when heading on a road trip with a baby and a dog it’s not simple task.  We realized quickly that we had brought stuff we simply wouldn’t use.  Before we left the country we decided to hit up the UPS store in Surrey and ship some stuff home.  We had a great experience dealing with the owner of the store Jasbir Mehta who took the time to help us get packed up, if you need some shipping done hit these guys up.

Road trip shipping ups store
Shedding some weight at the UPS store

We headed over to the catch the ferry to Victoria and learned that we should of made reservations.  Our karma kicked in we were one of the last cars squeezed on, whew.  The ferry ride is very scenic and we used the opportunity to have a late lunch in the restaurant, mmm lunch.

We headed straight for Goldstream Provincial Park to check in for the night.  Given that it was a Friday we discovered that there was 1 spot left and it was slotted in with a group of folks that we didn’t feel would be ideal neighbors with a baby.  We headed back to the gate and just as we were handed our refund a lady came to the gate declaring camping wasn’t for them and they were leaving early, we snapped up her spot which turned out to be one of the better ones at Goldstream.  Karma!

Goldstream Provincial Park Road Trip camping
Set-up at Goldstream Provincial Park

Goldstream offered some great hiking so we loaded Archer up in the kid carrier back pack thing and went for a hike around the park.  After our hike we did dinner and hit the hay.  Well before that Connie did manage to get lost and ended being guided back to our site by some wine filled ladies.

Goldstream Provincial Park road trip
Hiking with Archer at Goldstream

Volkswagen Camper sightings:

Accommodation Cost:

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Westfalia Road Trip Day 9 – Chase BC (Kamloops) to Hope

As mentioned yesterday we ran into some problems with the Westfalia late in the day, it started making a disturbing creaking noise when going over bumps.  We stayed at a hotel to regroup and get some internet access to find a shop.  Luckly we found Axel’s Auto Service on Road Haus (Link) who opened at 8:30 am.  With a call to them in the morning they said they would try and squeeze us in to assess the situation.  So far we’re having good karma.

Volkswagen Westfalia repair shop kamloops
Axel’s Auto Service Kamloops BC

Well once on the highway things seemed to be OK as long as we stayed off the bumps.  After a tense 40 minute drive we pulled into Axel’s and met Axel sitting at the counter.  I’m starting to learn people in the VW business have unique personalities and Axel was no different, in a good way.  Turns out we had lost a bolt in the sway arm that was causing the noise.  Luckily they had a scrapped front end sitting around back and they scavenged the parts needed off of it instead of having to wait the weekend for a part to come in, Karma!  We were back on the road within an hour and everything seems back to normal.  They did mention my brakes seemed to need servicing but they couldn’t fit it in, that’s reassuring for the coastal drive ahead.

Since we were unsure of how long we would be in Kamloops we didn’t really make any plans but since we got back on the road so quickly (10am) we decided to head towards Hope BC and see how far we got.

Hope appeared sooner than we thought and we learned at the tourist information center that Rambo was filmed there, how awesome is that?

Volkswagen Westfalia Road Trip Hope BC
Zucca as Rambo in Hope BC

The nice folks at the tourist info centre recommended Sasquatch Provincial Park which was 30 minutes south.  It’s one of those places that just when you think you’re lost and gone too far it’s right there.  The park operates on a partial reservation system which means some sites are first come first serve and did we ever luck out.  When the ranger came around and chatted with us he said of the 100+ sites we had scored the best one, Karma!  Our spot was lakefront with a beautiful view out our bedroom window.  Check my review of Sasquatch Provincial Park here.

Sasquatch provincial park scenery
The view from our campsite in Sasquatch

After setting up our gear and converting the Westfalia for sleep we broke out the Primus camp stove and cooked up a Quinoa and Veggies recipe that Connie had found online.  I was skeptical at first but it turned out to be very tasty and simple to make.  We went for a walk along the water and let Archer play for a bit on the new playground that was close by.  Bed time comes quickly when you’ve had a long day.

Volkswagen Camper Sightings:

Accommodation Cost:

Westfalia Road Trip Day 8 – Banff to Chase BC

Here we go!  After 2 days in beautiful Banff Alberta we are on the road to the coast, a few hours at a time.  Since we’re traveling with 11 month old baby Archer we made the decision to keep drive time to 3 hours a day or less, we’ll see how that goes.

Today’s destination is Salmon Arm BC since it falls into this time slot and seemed like a nice place to visit.  After a slow load up time (will improve with practice, I hope) we reluctantly left Banff in a great running Vanagon Westfalia.

Baby sleeping in VW westfalis
Archer has a nap while we pack up.

We stopped at the Modern Cafe in Revelstoke BC for lunch and it turned out to be a delicious Decision.  We also made a pitstop in Sicamous BC at the D. Dutchman Dairy for an ice-cream, this seemed to be a popular stop that had a line up out the door.  We decided not to check out the barns and petting zoo and continued add of km’s instead.

Road Trip D Dutchman Dairy
D Dutchman Dairy for Ice Cream!

On the road the scenery was beautiful as expected and the weather held up until late afternoon when we started to get rain.  When Volkswagen designed the Vanagon Westfalia with a 90hp motor they must of been been drinking a few too many Marzen’s, this underpowered van does not like hills!  Going this slow does cause a type of relaxation as the world drives by on the left.  That said our Westy was running great until just past Salmon Arm (we decided to press on a bit) when something happened causing a noise like something had bounced up underneath the van.  That caused us to give up on the day and pull into Chase BC and grab a room for the night.

Banff picture
Pictures from the window on the road

After searching the Road Haus site again I discovered Axel’s Auto Service (no website) in Kamloops.  The decision was made to limp the 60km’s to Kamloops in the morning so I left a voice mail on their answering machine to give them a heads up.  Fingers crossed.

We checked into the Chase Country Inn which is a small 2 story hotel right beside the highway.  It was basic, clean and showed a pride in ownership that was appreciated.  A bonus was they had coin operated laundry and a restaurant so we got some washing done while having a bite to eat.

Volkswagen Camper Sightings:  4 Vanagons, 2 Eurovans

Accommodation Cost: $120

Westfalia Road Trip Day 7 – Banff

A beautiful morning in Banff National Park with an early morning agenda, get a site at 2 Jack Lakeside Campground!
I woke up at 7am and cooked up a quick breakfast on the camp stove before hiking over to 2 Jack Campground with Archer in our Kelty back pack kid carrier thingy (which he loves).  For some reason I assumed they open at 8am but it seemed we were 30 minutes early and 3rd in line.  After the super nice park person showed up we scored the last available spot, sweet!  We hiked back and packed up for the move.
Moose in banff on road trip with baby
Saw these guys on our walk over to 2 Jack Lakeside
We unfortunately didn’t get an actual waterfront site but all spots in this small campground are very close to the lake, and its beautiful!  So happy we made the effort.
Once we were set up in our new spot (site 65 on this map) we took the opportunity to hike around the lake and take a quick swim (well I did).  The park information booth in town told us it was too cold to swim in this lake but lots of people had another opinion.  One local said it was much warmer this year.
2 Jack Campground dog swimming on leash
Zucca getting her feet wet near 2 Jack
We walked around the lake to the public beach where our Porty Zucca  made a new friend and burned off some pent up energy.  Can’t describe how beautiful this area is, hopefully these pictures do it some justice.
Banff mountains beautiful
A shot of the mountains from the Westy
We decided to take the camp chairs down to watch the children’s presentation about bears.  Archer at 11 months old didn’t seem overly interested but Connie and I sure learned a lot.  The kids in attendance asked some pretty funny question ie. “If I died on the side of the road would a bear eat me?”
I didn’t mention this before but at these campgrounds you pay an $8 fire fee and they supply you with unlimited firewood, unlimited!!!
Volkswagen Westfalia Fire Wood
No need to get the insides dirty. The Westfalia luggage rack to the rescue.
Fire out in bed by 9pm, oh how things change, haha.
Volkswagen Camper sightings: Zero
Accommodation cost:

Westfalia Road Trip Day 6 – Calgary to Banff

Day 6 – Calgary to Banff
Connie had 2 must see destinations on this trip Banff Alberta and San Luis Obispo California.  We decided to stay 2 nights in banff to help settle into our new home for the next 6 weeks.  Have I mentioned Connie has never camped before!?
We started the day by heading over to pick up our Volkswagen Westfalia Camper van at ??? Garage.  It was there ready to go and they even took a few minutes to make some adjustments for better fuel economy, I would recommend this shop to any VW drivers looking for knowledgable honest service, something that’s getting harder to find these days.
Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia rental return
Dropping of the Alberta rental car
After dropping off our big rental truck we were finally on the road to start our journey in Banff Alberta.  We had a maybe plan of staying in 2 Jacks lakeside campground and learned that we need to get there much earlier in the day to get one of these first come first serve sites.  We settled for 2 Jack across the street which is great but just not on the lake.  Plan – get up early and get a site in the lakeside campground.
Westfalia road trip to banff
Banff is Beautiful!
We had done some grocery shopping in Banff and it didn’t take long to realize we should of done it in Calgary and saved some money.  Dinner on our first night of camping was a sweet potato stew that turned out great.  The Primus Firehole camp stove was starting to earn its keep.
This was the first time that we would actually use the Baby Bjorn travel crib and although it made for tight quarters it seems like it will do the trick.  Well Archer went to sleep easy enough but at 2 am started crying and out of concern for waking up the neighbors we brought him into our bed, not something that happens often at home.
Baby Bjorn in Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia
Westfalia with Baby Bjorn Travel Crib in it
Alarm clock set early to try and get a spot in the Lakefront campsite!
VW camper sightings
Vanagon – 2
 Eurovan – 1
Accommodation cost:

Westfalia Road Trip Day 5 – Calgary to Calgary (Break Down!)

Woke up after a great nights sleep at kinbrook Island Provincial Park a couple hours south east of Calgary.  I fired up the Primus Firehole (review)camp stove for a tasty Veggie Omelette and toast for Zucca and I.  After a little bit of cleaning I packed everything up before taking a shower (clean facility!).
Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia and Primus Firehole
Breakfast before the big breakdown
Well after 4 days of running perfect the Vanagon Westfalia had its first glitch, it refused to start!
Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon won't start
Vanagon Westfalia on the tow truck
All dressed up and nowhere to go I called my old friends at CAA for a tow to Calgary.  Having checked out Road Haus I gave Tony’s Auto Service (611 11 Avenue SE – no website) a call to see if they could get me in without an appointment.  As sympathetic as they were the only thing they could promise would be to get me in on Friday, it was Monday!!!
Well luckily Paul had some pity and took a quick look at it with a diagnosis of a dead ignition coil (the black goop oozing out of it was the giveaway).  Luckily he found a supplier that could get it to him first thing in the morning.
In the mean time I had rented a vehicle which were in short supply for some reason.  This meant the only thing left was a full size dodge pickup truck, when in Alberta…  The reason I need to rent a vehicle was Connie and Archer were flying in at 2pm and it was already 1:45, yikes!  To make things a little more interesting it was Connie’s birthday so leaving them at the airport was probably not a smart move.
Dodge Full Size Rental Truck
A Calgary Rental Car
A quick check on the Expedia app ended up with us shacking up at the Fairmont Palliser for the night in downtown Calgary.  This was not the first night in Banff we had planned but was an acceptable consolation prize, well if prizes cost $200+ a night with parking.
The hotel was within a short walk to Stephen Avenue which is closed to vehicle traffic so makes for a great place to walk around.  Connie opted for Indian for her birthday dinner at Mango Shiva.  It worked out well since our dog Zucca could sit on the other side of the patio while we ate (she would of preferred to be at our feet).  The food was very good and the service was awesome, a great dinner choice to end a not so great day.
The hotel was quite nice and the staff here were very helpful, even lending me a charger for my phone.  The only down side was the several blocks we had to walk to find Zucca a piece of grass, although the park was beautiful.
We ended the night with some surprise room service birthday cake before getting some much needed sleep.  Our trip officially starts tomorrow!!!
VW camper sightings:
Vanagon 13 (Thanks to Tony’s Auto Service)
Bay Window 4 (Tony’s)
Accomodation cost: $245