In the course of our many years of camping, we have used tents, tent-trailers, conventional house trailers of varying sizes, truck canopies, campers, a 5th wheel, several motorhomes, and even travelled across much of Canada, sleeping in a camperette. But for most of the past 15 years, we have travelled to our house trailer, treating it much like a cabin, and in the process forgetting all the things we used to know about camping.
Of all the units we have camped in, we have always agreed that, for us, the 5th wheel had the most to offer?it could be left behind in the site when you explored nearby areas, and it towed very well. In December of 2008, we found such a unit for sale in Lantzville?priced well, a little bigger than we wanted, but clearly very well looked after. Towing the 26.5-foot Chateau home, made us feel like we had turned back the clock to more carefree times.
Backing down the steep decline of our driveway left no doubt that we would have to swing the axles under the 5th. It came dangerously close to bashing in the top of the truck box as Len navigated the twists and turns of the driveway. This modification was not unexpected as Len had already mentioned the possibility. He prefers the entire unit to have a level look. This is where the fun began?the 5th does not have springs on its axles, instead it sports a torsion bar suspension. How does one raise the unit now? After much consideration and consultation, Len decided to install a piece of channel iron that provided the desired effect.
During the winter, the 5th became the recipient of my old dishes and linens as we purchased new pots and pans as well as a new bed for the house. What a great excuse! Now it was time to take stock of what was missing?cups and glasses, plates, bowls, towels and so forth; so off we went on a shopping spree. The dish set was Corelle?should travel well. Oddly, the cups were not made of the same material but we were confident that things were fine?everything had been carefully placed on nonskid cupboard lining and we often towed trailers in the past where cups stayed neatly placed in the cupboards.
Feeling a little like neophytes in the camping game, we headed out on our maiden voyage in June. Our destination was Gordon Bay Provincial Park. Most of our camping over the years has been at provincial sites and we looked forward to resurrecting those memories. In fact we had scouted out this site near Lake Cowichan a month ago?fees were $14 a night. This struck us as reasonable. So we were surprised when we pulled up to the gatehouse and saw the rates had changed, apparently that very morning, to $24 a night. Of course senior rates are not in place during the summer months at provincial parks, and besides Len had a year to go before he qualified. First lesson learned?campsite fees do not remain stagnant.
Our second lesson involved the use of assigned sites. Although this concept has been in place for many years, we had never actually had a site assigned to us before. And when we tried to navigate into our site, we had to use part of the one across the way as well?in fact the people there generously moved their truck to afford us more room. We should have simply gone back to the gatehouse and asked for a roomier site, but Len was determined to prove that he had not lost his navigational touch.
The third lesson met us as soon as we opened the door?the chair had skidded ? way across the room, the TV was fortunately well fastened, but the dishes were everywhere?or pieces of them were everywhere! Some were in the sink; some were intact, others broken into chunks and many into shards. All those lovely cups, save one, were fragments as were glass casseroles. Fortunately the fridge had not opened and added to the collection.
After the cleanup was complete, we sat in our site, drinking a well-earned beer and discussed why we had lost so many dishes. We had not travelled on any gravel roads so we attributed the problem to the greater sway of a rear kitchen. And it hadn?t helped that the upper cupboards had no dividers, allowing everything to slide from one side to the other. Also, due to a shortage of lower cabinets, I had stowed some heavy pots up top, and their momentum had clearly contributed to the mess.
But this was an exploratory journey?exploring how our new unit performed and also exploring the Cowichan Valley. Soon we were unhooked and on our way to try and find Nitinat Lake. Somehow we must have taken some wrong turns and missed this large body of water in virgin old-growth rainforest. Still, it was a pleasant afternoon.
The next day our destination was better mapped?we decided to drive the Pacific Marine Circle route. This approximately 250 km route was all paved or had surface-treated roads.
Wending through mountain valleys where logged-off areas sported a new mantle of wildflowers and young trees, into older forest, we stopped at many forestry sites and points of interest. The Harris Creek spruce tree, reputed to be the largest spruce in the world, was worth a look and lakes with such names as Lizard and Fairy all warranted a stop, a walk, or a picnic lunch. It continued to drizzle much of the day but we still wished we had brought a canoe for a leisurely paddle on these secluded lakes.
We fell in love with the San Juan River area near Port Renfrew, which is also the head of the popular West Coast Trail. Wandering the beach for hours, we watched a boat running for harbor ahead of the brewing clouds.
From Port Renfrew we travelled toward Jordan Rive,r which is an awesome surfing spot when the seas are high. There are also entry points for day hikes along a marine trail between Port Renfrew and Jordan River. All too soon, we were in Sooke, outside Victoria, and on our way back up Highway 17 for our return to Lake Cowichan. There were so many things we could have seen, including the Sooke Potholes, but we had elected to take this tour in one day. Several days are recommended.
The next morning we pulled out of our site in Gordon Bay Park and decided to stop along the trestle trails and explore the Skutz Falls area just outside Lake Cowichan. Len and I spent several hours walking different sections of these trails. The trestles are beautifully restored and afford wonderful views of the river below as well as the lushly treed slopes.
We returned home, feeling refreshed and excited about having rejoined the travelling RV gang. Little did we know that the next time we took the 5th wheel out, it would be to live in. I had retired a year earlier but I have always thought the semi-retired life was a good mix so I accepted a four-month contract of employment. This meant uprooting our home from Vancouver Island to the beautiful Brae Island Regional site in Fort Langley.
While I went to work for the day, Len amused himself making modifications to the 5th wheel. He built separating compartments for the dishes, and repaired some other minor issues. He was also in charge of water hose insulation, propane acquisition and meal preparations. Pretty good life for me!
We had been a little leery about living in an RV during the winter months but soon found that our unit with its winter package was super comfortable. Our biggest challenge came one evening when the wind whipped our awning enough to shake the entire trailer. So in went the awning, which was kind of a shame since it had given us a sheltered front porch. We had three different sources of heat: propane furnace, heat strip, and an electric oil heater. We rarely used more than the latter, even when the mercury dipped to the minus double digits, unless we wanted to give the place a quick warm-up after a weekend absence.
Once that experience was over, we hauled the 5th home again where it waits for its next journey. I like to think it can hardly wait?I know I can?t.