23 August 2011

Family Vacation 4, sponsored by Ford

So where did I leave off? I think it was mid-week last week... we've done a fair bit of travel since then. And, as I sit comfortably at my home computer, I can reflect back on the 51 hours I sat behind the wheel of the Ford Explorer as it guided me and my family some 3682 kilometers around British Columbia and Alberta.

We took good care of our Ford, showing it more pretty countryside in the last 10 days than some cars see in their entire lifetime. The Explorer got to travel on 4 ferries, visit 2 islands, 7 national parks in 2 provinces and 3 wineries. The journey was pretty smooth, I mean there were a few gravel roads, a dirt road and some wooden docks but for the most part, the highways were new and in great shape.

So, we went spelunking (that's caving for amateurs, folks) one day and found ourselves very far down the inside of a mountain. It was cool, both in temperature (8 degrees) and in it's awesomeness. We'd been in the White Scar Caves in England which are very impressive as they are much larger but they are very commercial and you follow a man made path the entire length of the well lit cave. In BC, you get a guide, a helmet with an LCD light and a waiver to sign. There's no trail other than the path that takes you to the entrance of this cave and that's 800 meters straight up.

The mouth of the cave has a large metal door that is bolted shut to keep out vandals. Right inside the door is a metal ladder that goes down some 20 feet, at which point you only have a small amount of natural light coming into the cave so it's lights on everybody. As we crawled over rocks we got to see some stalagmites, stalagtites, soda straws, cave bacon and all kinds of calcite formations - it was really neat to see these 'in the wild'. It didn't take more than a few steps before we could not see anything without the aid of our LCD lights - at one point the guide asked everyone to turn off their lights and wave their hands in front of their faces - it was completely black - a neat sensation. The province of BC has some of the best natural areas and I'm always impressed by their staff, our guide was from Pennsylvania and very knowledgeable - I'm not sure how BC finds these people, but keep up the good work.

The gravel road heading to Horne Lake where the caves were was no problem for the Explorer, it felt pretty natural.

We explored Vancouver Island, we saw a car show in Ladysmith, we saw a market and murals in Chemainus and we ventured over to Salt Spring Island for their market and to check out some properties... there are some beautiful places on the island(s).

Leaving our condo on Yellow Point road would have been sad if we had any time to reflect upon it - we had a ferry to catch, or miss as it were. Things are pretty relaxed on the island, "you miss this one, no worries, there's another one in just two hours...". Two hours in island time, if you're an islander, is like five minutes of our time. The are pretty relaxed, most don't reach the posted speed on the highways, they'll get there, eventually. What's the hurry?

So, we waited and waited until the ferry was ready for us to board. When we got to the mainland we headed up highway 99 to Whistler, where much of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games were held. Driving along the sunshine coast was interesting, a lot of tourists in rental cars unaccustomed to driving in North America make for an interesting switch from the island. Sure, they were slow, but they 'Stay to the right, except to pass'. A sign which is repeated every 3 kilometers or so, but get's ignored by nearly everyone. I have to say, islanders are actually pretty good drivers - on the mainland, as a whole, Canadians suck at driving. BC mainland drivers frustrate me to no end. They are consistently 10 kms under the speed limit until the passing lane comes up where they find the accelerator, making it nearly impossible to ever pass them in the short passing windows that get presented to you on windy mountain roads. Ugh.

Whistler is known for being expensive, but we actually experienced the opposite, our accommodation was under $100 (and really nice) and we got to see the Barenaked Ladies in the Olympic Plaza - a free concert! We stayed at the Listel Hotel, which boasts one of the top 10 restaurants in Canada... it's partway through a renovation, turning it into a boutique hotel - so far, so good.

The drive from Whistler to Cache Creek is absolutely breath-taking with gorgeous vistas at every turn, which there are a lot of (turns that is). There are some monster climbs that I expect would not be open during the winter months as they are hard very, very steep inclines and declines. The road goes up and down several times over quite a few passes. The Explorer handled it fine, but I wished I was driving it in my car with Deep Purple's Highway Star on repeat for 3 hours. If you ever get a chance to take highway 99 - do it. It was overcast today and rained off and on and it was still by far the prettiest road I have ever driven.

Whistler to Calgary. It's not a drive you want to do often, we were in the Explorer for about 12 hours. As I pointed out to my son, we could have flown to Europe. The ole Ford held it's end of the bargain and was solid mechanically, a smooth drive all the way. Electronically however, we had a few messages and errors appear as we drove...

1. It's close to an oil change, so that alert began coming up today over and over.
2. While passing a car, one of our sensors got blocked (rain? mud? leaf?) and made a heck of a lot of noise - the result was our collision sensor was no longer available to us. Oh well, we'll just have to rely on our other senses to see if we're involved in a collision.
3. At this same time, perhaps the same sensor, knocked out our cruise control as the sensor that detects distance no longer functioned and the cruise control relies on the distance of the car in front of you to work properly. This sucked because I was using the cruise control. After about an hour, it cleared and everything worked again...
4. Tire Flat - the sensor for one of the tires told us we had a flat, I inspected all tires and couldn't even find a low one. This message cleared when we restarted the car. We found a restart changed a few things from time to time, like the USB and Bluetooth availability.

Having an option to use just a regular cruise control or to turn off the gap sensor would be nice - it's a bit scary that the sensor would quit on you - especially if you are using the device as a way of monitoring your speed as I had been doing. Oh well.

From Kamloops to Field it rained quite steadily, the raindrops sounded nice on the large glass sunroof, but some sounded like we were in sitting in a tin can and had a funny twang to them - definitely some funny sounds.

We stopped in Banff for dinner then made our way home. It was a long day, but happy to be home.

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