Settling into Vanlife in Ontario

Hello friends and family!

We’ve been on the road for just over two weeks now – high time for another update on our travels. These past two weeks have been a settling-in period for us, getting used to living in our tiny home without stepping all over each other. Lessons have been learned: don’t forget your purse in Picton, thereby necessitating a two-hour backtracking sidequest to fetch it. Don’t forget to empty out the sink’s gray water bucket, sparking a frantic cleanup of overflowing dirty dishwater. Try not to run over red squirrels that dart onto the road (and that pop like grapes, in case you were wondering). And, of course, don’t forget to bring the bug spray everywhere and anywhere, unless you like wearing a crown of deerflies for the entire hike.

Beautiful Silent Lake Provincial Park – but buggy!

Nonetheless, we’ve adapted to our vanlife pretty well, and have established a good routine over the past two weeks. Our general route has taken us from Prince Edward County to Central Ontario, then up the Ottawa River above Lake Nipissing, then south-west over to the French River and Killarney, a little jaunt to Manitoulin, and now up towards our old stomping grounds of Sault Ste. Marie, headed to the north shore of Lake Superior and westwards. It’s been a bit of a dipsy-doodle, rarely planning more than one day in advance, but on the bright side it has also meant we don’t really travel by main highways, and spend a lot of time driving through tiny crossroad towns we’d never even knew existed. There are two key takeaways. Every small town in Ontario has the world’s best chip truck. And no matter how inconsequential, a town can always find a good fact to put on their welcome sign or historical plaque. The birthplace of Ringette. Host of the annual “Cheesebox Race”. Origin of “Canada’s first female mayor”. Home of an obscure Olympian, whose very obscurity signifies their prowess in an unadvertised, unmonetized summer sport. If there’s a semi-famous person who once spent a night in your village, you can put in on the sign, and maybe set up a one-room museum about it!

Over the past 14 days we have stayed in some offbeat places, since we are trying to park and camp for free each night. These have included municipal parking lots, boat launches, random pull-offs, and lots of Crown Land: near an abandoned airfield, along the shores of the Mississagi River, and just outside the abandoned Burwash Prison. We’ve yet to get in trouble for parking anywhere, and keep an eye out for “no camping” signs. The jewel of our experience has been the one I have been longing for since we got the van: the Walmart lot. Oft whispered about by van-dwellers and RVers, the Walmart lot provides access to cleanish free washrooms, proximity to late-night snacks, and the safety of all-night lighting (although blackout curtains recommended). We stayed at the Walmart in North Bay and were also treated to a free concert – a guy sitting in a pickup truck in an adjacent parking lot, windows down, blasting bagpipe music for 2 hours. Hey, it was better than our neighbours at a boat launch outside Bancroft one Saturday night, who bumped a techno remix of “Sweet Caroline” and brought their own light show to project on the night sky.

Though we avoid provincial parks for overnight stays, we’ve visited at least one park per day, really getting the value from our year-long access pass. In order, we’ve visited Presqu’ile, Sandbanks, Frontenac, Bon Echo, Bonnechere, Driftwood, Samuel de Champlain, Killarney, Misery Bay and Aubrey Falls. In each, we’ve done a bit of hiking, doing battle with the bugs in exchange for lovely views and wildlife sightings (or, at the very least, wildlife scat sightings). Parks have other invaluable amenities for the van life: clean water, places to throw out our trash, and comfort stations with flush toilets. We’ve also been graced with countless beaches, which has been a joy, because showers are closed due to Covid. Our bathing process is mostly: locate beach, get in water, shake around, and rub some sand on the really dirty bits. Thus far it’s worked – or we’ve just gone nose blind.

Some general highlights of the trip to date include:

-We randomly stopped in at the Canadian Clock Museum in Deep River, where we received a private 2-hour tour of the 200-odd clocks (being only the 20th people in the museum since the beginning of summer, I think the tour guide was happy to have someone to talk to).

Pure joy at the Clock Museum

-We swam in the cool waters just under the sheer cliffs of Bon Echo.

-We visited a 1910-era homestead outside Bonnechere, where we found scores of monarch butterflies swarming the milkweed plants, and swathes of raspberry canes that we picked clean and turned into homemade jam.

big yum

-We hiked “the Crack” at Killarney, a scramble up slick white boulders to a panorama of the Cloche mountain range.

-We visited Bridal Veil Falls on Manitoulin, and played around under the falling water – the pressure of the falls provided a good exfoliant for our scalps.

-Just yesterday we visited Aubrey Falls, a defunct provincial park south of Chapleau, which breaks up the grand Mississagi River.

That’s all for now! We head tonight to a casino parking lot in Sault Ste Marie, near to the shitty little rental house where Eric and I first met five years ago. Stay in touch, and send us recommendations of Northern Ontario and Manitoba! 

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